For Kids 0 to 2 Years Old: Bright Beats Smart Touch Play Space
This is a great grow-with-me toy—which means it’s an awesome value. “You can introduce it to children when they are still on their backs, and they’ll still be playing with it when they start walking, too,” says Schacht. There’s plenty of lights and music to keep kids entertained while they are learning colors, numbers, and letters.
To buy: $60, fisher-price.com.
Go! Go! Smart Wheels Ultimate RC Speedway
Kids use a remote-control steering wheel to speed cars through 4.5 feet of an interchangeable racetrack that even includes a stunt ramp and an elevator. “A huge hit with the little ones!” says Schacht.
To buy: $60, vtechkids.com.
Play All Day Elmo
“My favorite Elmo ever—he doesn’t look high-tech, but, in fact, he is,” Schacht says. Like a real-life playmate, Elmo can play a mean game of Red Light, Green Light, meaning he’ll actually determine if your child is moving or not. Better yet, unlike other electronic plush toys, he’s amazingly soft (ideal for cuddling at bedtime).
To buy: $48, hasbrotoyshop.com.
Tomy Toddler Toys Jumbo Jamboree
When you push this pretty elephant, it plays music like a one-man band. The twist? Each body part can be removed—the nose is a saxophone, the ears are bells, and there’s also a drum and a harmonica—for your own child to try out his or her musical skills.
To buy: $33, tomy.com.
For Kids 3 to 5 Years Old: Disney Frozen Sing-A-Long Elsa
“I know some parents wish the Frozen craze was over—but it’s hotter than ever,” says Schacht. And now your daughter can perform a “Let It Go” duet. When the mike is in front of the doll, Elsa sings, but when it’s taken away from her mouth, it’s your child’s turn to sing.
To buy: $40, toyrus.com.
Doc McStuffins Pet Vet Checkup Center
Perfect for the junior animal lovers in your life. The life-size playset is stocked with all the tools for helping sick pets. “This offers so much pretend play for kids—they can listen to a heartbeat, check x-rays, and even give a bath,” Schacht says.
To buy: $65, walmart.com.
Furreal Friends Starlily, My Magical Unicorn
Unicorns are always cool. But what makes this one extra special is that when you touch her head, cheeks, back, or horn, she responds by batting her lashes, picking up her front hoof, flapping her wings, or neighing. “Truly magical,” says Schacht.
To buy: $100, hasbrotoyshop.com.
Giant Leonardo Playset
Standing at 2 feet tall, Schacht christens this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “the wow present under the tree.” The Giant Leonardo is poseable, but he then opens up to reveal a gnarly nine-room lair—complete with skate park and meditation room—for all the Turtle action figures.
To buy: $88, target.com.
Imaginext Ultra T-Rex
According to Schacht, dinosaurs are big this year—literally. This massive 2.5 footer is sure to wreak havoc when he roars, stomps his feet, and shoots mini projectiles.
To buy: $100, fisher-price.com.
Minions Interactive Action Figures
Both the young and not-so-young won't be able to contain themselves when Kevin, Stuart, and Bob speak Minionese, pratfall, and make silly sound effects. Sold separately.
To buy: $35, walmart.com.