Holiday toy shopping 101

Tips and trends to help you navigate the toy aisle:
By Margaux Vega

No matter what is going on with the economy, families want their children to have a happy holiday and this year is no exception. To get families ready, Step2 wants to share smart shopping tips and the hottest toy trends for the 2008 holiday season:

1) Go with toys that grow with child - For infants and young toddlers especially, look for fun toys that can evolve as children evolve.

-- TOY: Thinkativity's Feed & Learn Singing Croc - Get to know our crazy crocodile that sings for food and teaches children. Feed the interactive croc and he sings 26 different songs about letters and words. Includes letters A-Z that can be stored in croc's tummy. Tots can play with mom and dad at first then challenge themselves as they learn their ABC's. Ages 18 Months+; Retail: $14.99 @ Target Store: San Mateo Fashion Island, San Leandro Bayfair and

-- TOY: Loopapalooza - Perfect for keeping children occupied and stimulating multiple senses, this colorful hanging toy has intertwined loops with sliding bugs, teether, peek-a-boo mirror, jittery bug and linkable loop for easy attachment to car seat or stroller. Baby will discover more as they develop including the retractable jittery that teaches cause and effect. Ages: 6 Months; Retail:$14.99 @ Target

2) Look for creative play opportunities - Can your child play more than one game or invent more than one magical land using the toy?

-- TOY: Step2 50's Diner - This new retro style 50's kitchen will have toddlers boppin' to the oldies from the tabletop jukebox! Whether they're the waitress, fry-cook or customer, the Diner's 2-sided design offers numerous pretend play options while the realistic sounds made by the grill and coffee pot make it all the more fun. Ages 2+; Retail: $149.99 @ all Toys 'R Us stores and

The Step2 '50s Diner has won the following awards:

  • Toys 'R Us - "Fabulous 15 for 2008"
  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio - Platinum Award Winner (Highest Honor)
  • 2008 Parents' Choice Recommended
  • Toy Wishes All-Star
  • Parents Magazine "Best Toys of 2008"
  • Parenting Magazine "Toys of the Year"
  • American Baby Magazine - "Best Kid Tested Toys of 2008"
  • Today's Parent - "Top Toys of 2008"
  • A FamilyFun "Toy of the Year" (Ranked Second)
  • Canadian Toy Testing Council - Children's Choice

-- TOY: Thinkativity Soar & Explore Storyteller - Kids can reach new heights as they build their own stories and learn different languages along the way. Introduces eight different languages through creative play. Ages: 2 years+; Retail: $24.99 @ Target Store: San Mateo Fashion Island, San Leandro Bayfair and

3)·Monkey around - From the big screen (Space Chimps) to the playpen, everyone seems to be monkeying around. Toys that incorporate themes with animals, particularly monkey play figures or monkey patterns are popular for 2008.

-- TOY: Infantino Monkey Jungle Retreat Activity Gym - Large textured mat gym with four great activity toys. Also includes a large peek-a-boo mirror tiki hut that plays two, 10-minute tunes, plus has lights that coordinate with the beat so that babies can rock along. This activity gym is great for both tummy time and seated play. Ages 0 Months+; Retail: $59.99 @ Babies 'R Us & (TABLE TOP PRODUCT)

4) Find good values - There are a lot of price points, but keep in mind the life of the toy and its durability. Look for toys that will last for years and can even be passed onto cousins and friends. There are many classics in plastic that can be easily wiped clean and are durable for inside and outdoor use.

-- TOY: Creative fun never ends with this art project table built for two. The large surface is big enough for friends and siblings to create masterpieces together. The cup holders and side storage keep supplies organized and at an arm's reach. Ages 3+; Retail: $129.99 @ Target and

5) Safety is always key - Toy safety is still a top concern and doesn't need to be compromised for cost. Companies such as Step2, Infantino and Thinkativity are stepping up their testing procedures and increasing the toy safety information that they provide on packaging. For example, Step2's "Made in the USA" label also calls out exactly from where smaller accessories are imported, allowing parents to make informed purchasing choices.

6) Have FUN! This is a special time in your family's life - enjoy the holidays with your children.

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About Margau Vega:

Margaux Vega is a toy expert who works with mommy bloggers, parenting magazines and other experts in the industry to identify and award outstanding toys in the infant - young child category. Her experiences working within the toy industry have given her a deep understanding of the power of play. She is devoted to helping parents find the right toys for their child's creative development and hours of fun.

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