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Parents' choice holiday guide

We asked Parents' Choice, the nation's oldest nonprofit guide to quality children's toys, to recommend great gifts for this holiday season.

By Claire Green, Parents' Choice President

Kids are born scientists; they're natural explorers. They're creative, open-minded and eager to hang on your every word. In short, kids want to learn, and they want their moms and dads to teach them. Don't panic. You don't need to have a Ph.D. in education, science or art. You do have to choose toys, media and games that are interesting, challenging and fun.

With toy safety in the news, you'll also want to be sure to check the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's recall list for unsafe toys and children's products.

Parents' Choice has been reviewing and recommending quality children's media and toys for almost three decades. We know what good toys are, and what they are not. We know that just because a toy is promoted as "hot," it may cool off before the wrapping paper has been recycled. Parents' Choice knows that kids don't tire of toys that challenge them to think and prompt them to find new ways to play. For the youngsters in your life, Parents' Choice offers the following suggestions for holiday gifts with staying power.

Look For Toys That Fortify Imaginations, Not Flatten Them

If your daughter loves dolls, let her provide the voices and shape the personalities. She'll improve her vocabulary, weave elaborate storylines and learn about caring for others. From tried and true baby dolls to the newest line of ethnically diverse Karito Kids, pretend play is best when left to the imagination.

Open-Ended Play Breeds Open-Ended Thinkers

Construction kits, building blocks and playsets don't have to be festooned with television characters to bring out the imagination. Mobilo from HABA, MainStreet Village Community Helper's Collection, Playmobil's Jet Plane and Hospital, LEGO 7690 MB-01 Command Base, or 7994 Port of LEGO City, BRIO Colored Blocks are great. African Safari and anamalz. Play kitchens, from the small My Creative Cookery Club to the extra large LifeStyle Grand Walk-in Kitchen offer hours of play. The Original Fortamajig is one of the most innovative play structures we've seen in quite a while.

What About Tech Toys?

Sure, some "hot" tech toys can be fun, but their appeal doesn't necessarily last. Good toys are not one-trick ponies. If the kids on your gift list are clamoring for an electronic present, look for toys or games where the technology adds to the play value, not subtracts from it. FLY Fusion, EyeClops, zPix, Hyper Dash and Magnetix iCoaster are good examples of this year's offerings.

Games

If you thought playing games was only about gathering the most objects and declaring yourself the winner, think again. Whether taking a walk through Candyland or solving a word puzzle on a restaurant menu, your child is developing, in different stages and degrees, hand/eye coordination, vocabulary, discipline - and that's just for starters. Cat in the Hat - I Can Do That!, Froggy Boogie, SILLY STIX, Qwirkle and Cover Your Tracks are among this year's tops.

The Art of Creativity

Curious DragonBonz, ShapeScapes - Sculpture in a Box, ARTLAB Fashion Studio, Fine Art Studio: Painting and A Book of Artrageous Projects all speak to the artists in residence.

The Bottom Line

The best advice for holiday shopping? Pay attention to your child's interests, do a little homework and browse the Parents' Choice Holiday Guide, check the recall lists and always read the package. No matter how smart your child may be, age recommendations and videogame ratings exist for a reason.

And after the holiday hubbub subsides, Make-Your-Own™ Thank-You Notes will jumpstart a well-mannered new year.

Established in 1978, Parents' Choice is the nation's oldest nonprofit guide to quality children's media and toys.

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