Gift ideas for creative kids

Top toys invite girls to build, boys to nurture and everyone to code

It’s time to clean out the toy box and make room for new arrivals.

Toymakers have been working hard to come up with the next must-have plaything. Is it on these pages? Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim think it might be. The mother-daughter duo are the toy experts behind the website Oppenheim Toy Portfolio ( They see hundreds of new toys each year and get kids across the country to rate them.

“Coding” is big this year, Joanne Oppenheim says. Also, “we’ve never seen so many toys that run on apps and screens of smart devices.” And there are more online videos that help with craft and building projects.

Joanne Oppenheim likes that gender roles are blurring. Girls are shown on games and building sets that once would have been marketed only to boys. “On the flip side, we are also seeing more boy dolls this season,” she says, “encouraging boys to tap into their nurturing side.”

Here are some of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio’s top picks for 2017. The prices are those suggested by the manufacturer. Shop around and you might find a better deal.

Games and puzzles

You Do

This family game promises nonstop silliness. Players pick five cards and race to be the first to do whatever tasks are on them. Bark like a dog? Cry like a baby? Put a sock on your ear? No problem, unless you just can’t stop giggling. There are 500 tasks, so no two games are alike. And there’s no computer involved, so everyone - ages 5 to 95 - can play. Age 5 and older. Ann Williams, $19.99.


Qwingo starts simply but requires strategy to finish. Players call out numbers and roll a die with icons on it. The object is to list those numbers in ascending order on a score sheet in the column that matches the icon on the rolled die. The strategy involves not calling out numbers your opponents want. Up to five can play this game, or you can go solo. Age 8 and older. Gamewright, $10.99.

Go Nuts for Donuts!

A table of tasty treats awaits up to six players in this hot-from-the-fryer card game. The cards represent mouthwatering doughnuts with varying point values. Collect the most doughnuts (er, points) and you’ll be hungry to play again and again. One drawback: You’ll also be hungry for some real doughnuts, so plan ahead. And don’t forget to get a carton of milk. Age 8 and older. Gamewright, $14.99.

Q-BA-Maze 2.0: Stunts

“Favorite toy ever,” one grandparent raved after buying some Q-BA marble mazes for a 6-year-old grandson. Teens seem to love them as well. The pieces interlock in endless combinations for an a-MAZE-ing new challenge each time you play. Make your marbles bounce, zigzag and swirl as they shoot through tubes and down the path you’ve created. Age 6 and older. Mindware, $79.95.


Budsies Custom Dolls

Who could resist a cuddly, one-of-a-kind doll made from your own drawing, or a doll that looks just like you, your pet or someone you love? Send in your artwork or photo, and Budsies will do the rest. These hand-stitched, 18-inch dolls take about a month to make, but you’ll get updates as you wait. Start drawing now so Budsies can start sewing. All ages. Prices vary.


Wooden Robot Kit

Not one, not two, but three robots are waiting to be built, painted and played with. Each kit includes three sheets of stickers, 12 paint pots and two brushes. Movable arms and legs make these bots perfect for pretend games after you make them. If robots aren’t your thing, Kid Made Modern has lots of other make-me kits, including bongo drums.

Age 6 and older. Kid Made Modern, $29.99.

Unbored Time Capsule

Time capsules are peeks back into history. Someday you, your kids or even grandkids may want to know what life was like now. This kit has great ideas for interviewing family and friends and saving memorable items. Kid testers loved the adjustable date stamp and photo storage sleeves. You’ll like this gift today but even more in 20 years. Age 8 and older. Mindware, $29.95.

Perfect Craft Heart Keepsake Box Kit

Mix learning and fun along with the plaster as you pour and mold a heart-shaped keepsake container. The mess is minimal. And there’s enough material and paint for two boxes, so you can make one for Mom and keep the other for yourself. Watch what happens when water is mixed with the plaster powder. It’s not magic - it’s science. Age 8 and older. Skullduggery, $19.99.

Build and play

Mega Construx American Girl McKenna’s Gymnastics Competition

McKenna and her friend Toulane are going for the gold in gymnastics. Whether on the balance beam or uneven bars, they’re confident that they’ll be on the winners’ podium when it’s over. But just in case, there’s a cast and crutches among the 302 pieces in this set. Will the girls have gold medals and flower bouquets when the event is over? You’re the judge. Age 8 and older. Mattel, $29.99.

Pharaoh’s Pyramid

It took thousands of workers 10-plus years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. But they didn’t have Playmobil’s easy-to-assemble design. The mummy looks harmless, but watch out for tricky traps and puzzles, skeletons and spiders. As with all build sets, the small pieces are choking hazards, so be sure to keep them away from any King Tots in the house.    Age 6 and older. Playmobil, $69.99.

Space Cruiser 12-in-1 Building Set

Laser Pegs’ family of light-up toys keeps growing. Like earlier kits (featuring dinos, race cars and trucks), there’s not just one way to build this space cruiser. Follow the directions or don’t. Either way it’s fun. Then flip the switch and watch your creation glow and pulse. For bigger projects, the pieces work with other major blocks such as Lego and Magformers.    Ages 8 to 14. Laser Pegs, $42.99.

Lego Creator 3-in-1 Park Street Townhouse

It’s a three-level townhouse, a busy cafe and a two-story suburban home all in one box. Which do you want to build first? The townhouse folds out so you can enjoy the detailed interior, which includes a flat-screen TV and a fireplace. With 566 pieces, this set isn’t for building-block beginners. But once it’s done, you’ll want to move right in. Ages 7 to 12. Lego, $49.99.

K’nex Lunar Launch Roller Coaster

If K’nex ruled the world, every kid would have an amusement park in his or her bedroom.

The company’s newest ride is this lunar launch coaster. Stomp on the launchpad (no batteries!) and blast your rocket ship into space - four feet high, in this case. Toy testers agreed: Houston, we have no problem with this thrilling space adventure. Age 9 and older. K’nex, $69.99.

Pricey, so ask Grandma

Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit

The Force shows no sign of going away. So join the “Star Wars” crew and build your own mini R2-D2, complete with 20 sounds from the blockbuster films. You can play with the toy as is, but to really bring your droid to life, you’ll need access to an iPad, iPhone or Android. The free app has 16 special missions and other challenges.    Age 8 and older. LittleBits, $99.95.

Lego Friends Heartlake Hospital

Jump into action when the helicopter or ambulance arrives at this three-story, fully equipped hospital. From the high-tech X-ray lab to the waiting-room fish tank, nothing has been left out. Once you’ve built the hospital, follow the doctor as she makes her rounds, and check on the newborn in the nursery. There’s so much to see and do, the fun is infectious.    Ages 7 to 12. Lego, $99.99.

Logan Everett

America didn’t get its first female president in 2017, but it did get its first American Girl boy doll. Meet Logan, 18 inches of gray-eyed, brown-haired adorableness. He’s the drummer in Tenney Grant’s country western band. But if you want to hear him play, you’ll have to also order his fab drum set ($68). Logan’s hands have been specially formed so he can keep the beat. Age 8 and older. American Girl, $115.

Lego Boost

This toolbox introduces younger kids to simple computer coding. Build Vernie the robot (it can throw darts!), Frankie the cat (it purrs) or three other models. You need a tablet to download the free app that gets you started. (Compatible tablets are listed online.) Warning: Grandma may tsk-tsk at your robot’s farting noises, but we think you’ll love them. Age 7 and older. Lego, $159.99.

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