According to Oppenheim, puzzles have been making a comeback in the past couple of years — and the coronavirus pandemic solidified their popularity this year. “Everyone is very hungry for something that is very low-tech and doesn’t involve a screen. I think, more than ever, it’s just a nice way to spend time together,” Oppenheim says about puzzles, which usually have the highest ratings of the toys she tests and reviews.
Puzzles can be educational, but science-related toys have a more obvious connection to learning.
“Parents are very hungry for them, and kids enjoy them,” Oppenheim says about science-
related toys, such as experiment kits, which have also been a hit in recent years. She is quick to add, however: “It has to be fun. I think that’s the best way to spark a child’s imagination and interest in science or math.”
Dolls make Oppenheim’s list every year. While she has always made an effort to include gender-balanced options, Oppenheim has noticed that companies have been making more gender-neutral options.
“What we are always looking for are dolls and doll props that work for both boys and girls,” Oppenheim says. “I think we always had diverse choices, we always tried to reflect all of us.”
Every year, one animal turns up in toy stores everywhere. “The unicorn was the animal last year, but it’s continuing . . . that definitely continues to be the animal of toy land for 2020,” Oppenheim says. So be on the lookout for toys decorated with the mythical creature.
Although Oppenheim acknowledges that the pandemic has slowed innovation in the toy industry, she is excited by what she sees and the toys she picked.
“There were still some really outstanding winners,” she says. “The list is very well-rounded, a lot of diversity.”
Check out some of Oppenheim’s best toy picks below. (Prices are manufacturers’ suggestions.)
Ages 7 and older.
Standing 16 inches tall, this NASA-inspired rocket-launch model will put you in the center of space travel excitement. With 800-plus pieces, building the set will make you feel like a NASA engineer.
Blue Orange, $13.99.
Ages 7 and older.
Snip! Snap! Be fast! In this game, two to six players roll their dice and hope for images that match. Call out your matches the fastest, and you win.
American Girl, $110.
Ages 8 to 12.
Courtney is the new American Girl historical doll, and in case the scrunchie doesn’t make it obvious, she is from the 1980s. She loves music videos and the arcade game Pac-Man. She comes with a denim skirt, a bright-blue crop top and, of course, her own story.
Ages 6 to 10.
Lottie’s Kid Activist is inspired by real-life kid activist Mari Copeny of Flint, Michigan. The seven-inch-tall posable doll comes with a sign declaring “Kids’ Voices Matter” and a pin on her jacket that reads, “Stand Up.”
Ages 8 and older.
This is a card-based version of the popular Qwixx dice game. It’s for two to four players and involves playing numbered color cards in a sequence and crossing off the related numbers on the score pads. Crossed-off numbers earn points, and the player with the most points wins.
Creativity for Kids, $19.99.
Ages 6 to 12.
Create substances that fizz or ooze with this science kit. Ingredients and tools for 11 experiments allow for hours of science fun.
Ages 10 and older.
With everybody at home more often than they used to be, puzzles are all the rage. This 500-piece puzzle won’t disappoint. Its round shape makes it distinctive, and its bright colors make the finished product beautiful to look at.
Ages 3 and older.
Ages 5 to 10.
This cam kit comes with a camera, a tripod (which can also be used as a selfie stick) and a green screen. More than 20 backgrounds are included, along with the ability to edit on the camera. This cam kit is perfect for creating movie magic.
Creativity for Kids, $24.99.
Ages 7 and older.
Creativity for Kids partnered with the anti-bullying campaign #HATNOTHATE to produce this blue-hat-making kit — the color blue representing solidarity and support of bullying prevention. Yarn for two hats is included, and the loom can be used over and over.