1. Leapfrog Tag Reader Pen When I first heard of this I was skeptical. My kids don't need a pen to read them stories, I read to them all the time. Plus the books are kind of expensive. However, this toy has saved my sanity on many a car ride. (Thank you, Grandma) The original pen only has 16 MB of memory, which is about 5 books. Now there is a pen out with 32 MB. Both of my kids love this. The pen is essentially a camera that works with the specialized paper to play words and music when it recognizes images. There are also learning activities and games that go along with each book. When these first came out they were $50 each, but last week I bought a 32 MB pen for $27. The books are generally retail priced at $14 each, but I have gotten several for $5-6 with sales and coupons. If you are buying this one for the first time and not finding a smashing deal somewhere else I recommend going to the Leapfrog website. A starter bundle is cheaper there and you can find numerous coupons on the internet, plus you can get an Ebates bonus. The only drawback is that they take AAA batteries and the pen will warn you that the batteries are low for a few hours before they actually need to be changed. :S
2. Leapfrog Tag Maps I love these maps! They have interactive games that work with the Tag reader pen and teach about geography and culture. And they have been another hit with the kids. (Or the one they have at the moment, the other one is for Christmas.) Amazon has the USA map for $20 and the world map for $50, but I found both of them for less than $28 shipped from Leapfrog.com with a sale and coupon. If you're feeling brave this holiday season, I've heard that Toys R Us has them for $20 each, but that place is just crazy this time of year. They are much bigger than I expected and are not a toy that can easily be used in the car.
3. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band in a Box We have had this one for years and my kids still love to play with it. There are enough instruments that I can sit down with both of them and we can have a "jam session" trading instruments as we please. My son likes to slobber all over the recorder and then try share with others. It has pretty much become his exclusive recorder. (Amazon lists this one for $43. I swear I got mine for $22. Shop around.)
4. LEGO Duplos Yes, Legos are more expensive than many other building blocks out there, but they are good quality products that encourage imaginative play. My kids love to build things with them, and even though my kids can be kind of rough on toys we have yet to have any of these break. For my son's birthday last year I managed to score 3 sets in the Dino Valley series for $35 together shipped (retail at the time about $170) from Lego.com. (Part of the reason I got such a good deal was that the packaging had been smashed, but the toys themselves were still good.) I think it would have been worth it if I had paid full price for them, he plays with them that much. Here's a post I found awhile back on how to get good deals on Legos.
5. Melissa and Doug Puzzles We have about a dozen of these. (My kids are only grandchildren.) My kids love to put them together over and over again. I like them because they are sturdy. We may have lost a few pieces, put we have yet to break any. Another good quality toy. I have found that I can usually find these at reduced prices at Ross and TJ Max.
6. Melissa and Doug Pound and Roll Tower Whoever came up with this one either has spent a lot of time with small boys or is a genius. It involves balls, a hammer and a ramp. What more does a little boy need? (And at the moment it is only $13 on Amazon.)
7. Melissa and Doug Pound-A-Peg Funny story about this one: One evening my daughter was playing with this toy (she was two at the time) and my husband said to her "It's time to get ready for bed." She replied "No, it's Hammer Time!"
8. Bouncy Balls- The kind that are slightly smaller than a playground ball and you can get for about a dollar. My kids have just as much fun with those as their more expensive toys.
9. Fisher Price Little People A to Z Learning Zoo Ok, my kids haven't actually tested this one yet, but I have read several reviews before deciding that this one will be my son's "big toy" this year. I'm excited about it, it plays music, it has little animals and it will help him learn his alphabet. They have a few other Little People toys that we have been happy with. (Another toy that was bigger than I expected.) I found this one for $48 shipped at FisherPrice.com, plus they gave me a code for $10 off $50 "10thanku4" and another small free bonus toy that will make a good stocking stuffer.
Pop-Up Pirate We kind of have a thing for pirates at our house. (See right.) This is a good game that all family members can play and enjoy together. Y'aargh! A pirate's life for me.
11. Playskool Ball Popper I can't believe I almost forgot this one. My son loves this and has spent countless hours playing with it. It's basically a fan with a tube slide and 5 plastic balls. Of course he figured out how to use it like a blow gun, but it doesn't pop the balls out hard enough to hurt anything.
Check out my post about tips for online shopping.
What have been the most successful toys in your family?