Task: Find the right fit when it comes to gifts for kids
The Experts Sisters Mandy Merrell and Melody Craig are the experts behind ìThe Toy Testing Sisters.î These toy connoisseurs share information on all the latest and greatest toys, as well as detailed and age-specific toy guides. In short, they wade through the thousands of toys on the market and tell you which ones are worth your money. Mandy lives in northern Utah and Melody is in Highland, and they have five kids between them to help out with all the testing/playing. @toytestingsisters
Yes, you can just stroll the aisle at Walmart and pick up whatever is the shiniest and biggest, but youíll miss some real gems. ìWe love being able to help parents and grandparents know about unique toys that will last and get played with forever,î Mandy says.
Mandy and Melodyís toy guides are often grouped by age range, and they have found that for toddlers ages 2 to 4, itís all about ìopen-ended play.î Items that follow this philosophy encourage creativity and unstructured exploration. ìFor this group, we love acrylic blocks, a nice wooden playhouse, and play couches,î Mandy says. ìAnother great idea is to invest in a silk. Silks are getting more popular and you will be blown away at the things your kids will think of to do with them. My kids love to make up games with them like ëthe floor is lava,í setting up play scenes, and dress up.î
ENTERTAIN THE BRAIN
For ages 5 to 7, Mandy and Melody recommend items that engage the brain with problem solving, imagination and creating. ìIn this range, itís all about building, whether itís a race track or pretend-play items,î Mandy says.
HERE WE GROW
Mandy says between ages 8 to 10, things get a little more challenging for toy buyers. Some of her favorite options for big kids include a 3-D printer, Beblox (a lego alternative), marble run (Trestle Toys is a great brand), baking items and jewelry kits.
NAVIGATING THE PHASE MAZE
Most kids go through phases where they get obsessed with a specific TV show or movie and want every toy to be based around that theme, whether itís Paw Patrol or Mario. But Mandy reminds us that all those phases come to an end. ìI always suggest that if your child is into a specific character, buy them smaller items like figurines of the character rather than something big like a large dollhouse with that theme,î Mandy says. ìOften, those bigger items that are branded specifically donít have the quality you want.î
ìEspecially in Utah, where we have lots of kids, I love recommending family toys like a swing or a play couch that works for all ages,î Mandy says. ìThese things take more investment, but you will get your moneyís worth because everyone will play with them for years.î
The Toy Testing Sisters love shopping local, and some of their favorite Utah-based shops are Teton Toys (located in Lehi and Orem), Blickenstaffs (Provo) and Over The Moon (Bountiful). As far as Utah-based toy companies, they love Hello Sugarhouseís blocks and wooden toys (find them on IG at @hellosugarhouse).
Most parents are trying to find ways to get their kids off screens and into the backyard. A cool toy like a zipline or a mud kitchen can help. ìGetting a nice, solid-wood mud kitchen is fantastic for encouraging outdoor play,î Mandy suggests. ìAnd it will last long enough that your grandkids can play with it someday.î
When your child gets invited to a birthday party for a neighborhood or school friend and you are not sure what to get, Mandy has a couple go-to items that are general and gender neutral. ìI love picking out a fun game and pairing it with a cute treat or a NeeDoh Nice Cube.î If you are wondering what in the world a NeeDoh Nice Cube is, allow us: Itís a cool new sensory toy that you can squish and squash and it goes back to its original square shape. You get the fun factor of slime ó without the carpet-ruining risks. Youíre welcome.