This year's must-have toys
Some bounce, sing, talk and light up. Others are classic and make kids do all the work themselves.
This year's hot toys run the gamut -- brand new technology, old classics, retro characters and favorites from today's cartoon world. Some will help kids be creative, others will help them get active and yet others will simply make them giggle.
The variety is pretty impressive, retailers say.
"It's mostly the toys they see on TV," said Bob Rutka, store team leader at Target in Barboursville, saying Disney dolls sell really well. Furbies too are hot, and then there are longtime favorites like Easy-Bake Ovens and Legos that seem to fly off the shelves as well.
"'Elf on a Shelf' is tough to find this year," he said, referring to the 2005-published children's book phenomenon, with accompanying elf doll. "I'm out of it. I'm supposed to be getting more in."
Keep checking, he said.
Whatever this year's hot items may be, shoppers hunting to find them is a pleasant sight for local and national retailers.
The holiday season can represent anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of annual sales for some retailers, the National Retail Federation said. In 2011, holiday sales represented 19.5 percent of total retail industry sales, the federation reports.
According to Toys 'R Us spokeswoman Kerry Smith, parents are buying a good mix of the old and the new. Kids will be unwrapping some of the same toys their parents did 30 years ago, as well as some of the latest technology and cartoon favorites.
One of the toys particularly difficult to keep on the shelves at Toys 'R Us this year is Doc McStuffins -- a doll based on a Disney cartoon in which a girl plays doctor and treats all her stuffed animal toys.
"She is flying off store shelves as soon as we get it in," Smith said. "She nurses her animals back to health. ... She comes with a stuffed lamb and a stethoscope and other included accessories. She sings, 'Time for your checkup.'
"This item is hot, hot, hot," Smith said. "We get shipments every day, and there are people waiting at our stores to pick these up."
Also challenging to keep stocked this year is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair play set, 32-inch high play set with "so much play value jam-packed" into it that kids should be entertained for quite some time, Smith said. Kids can have their Nina Turtles do everything from science experiments to zip-lining with this one, she said.
That's also a toy that highlights the wave of toys that have returned from the 1980s, she said.
"We're seeing is a rad return from the '80s -- a lot of nostalgic play things that (today's parents) played with as kids," she said.
For children ages 2 to 4, a popular toy is Bounce Bounce Tigger.
"Parents love this item because we also loved Winnie the Pooh when we were younger," Smith said. "This item is going fast right now."
A popular toy for budding artists is the Australian-made Gelarti Designer Studio.
"There's still the affinity for the classic toy," Smith said, and many of the arts-and-crafts inspired toys fall in line there. But this has a little twist in that it comes with a special 3D formulated paint and 30 stickers such as dogs, flowers and cakes.
"They'll stick to the wall and clothing, but what parents love is there's no mess, no fuss. When you peel it off the wall, there's no messy residue," Smith said.
To help some older kids come down from their Christmas cookie-induced sugar shock, many parents are turning to a new three-wheeled scooter, called Y-Volution YFliker F1 Scooter.
"You don't have to use your foot to push forward. ... It's so cute to watch kids riding it, with hips swaying back and forth," Smith said. "Kids love it, and parents love it, too, because it really gets kids up and active."
There are many more as well, she said, including a new kid-friendly tablet, the Tabeo, that Toys 'R Us has designed. It has a variety of features for kids and parental control options, such as customizing the amount of time kids can spend on it, the time of day they can use it, and the sites they can visit.
It sends email alerts to parents, asking a child's permission to access a site.
Other popular items include classic board games, some with a new twist, such as light-up checkers.
Learning through play
Not everything found under the tree this year will be a new battery-operated gadget or cartoon character. Latta's in downtown Huntington is selling toys without batteries that can teach kids problem solving, creativity, motor skills and more.
Riding toys are always popular, according to Latta's owner Mike Mullarky.
Here's a rundown of some of the most popular toys there, from Mullarky and manager Tara Murphy:
MARBLES: There's also the Wall Coaster Extreme Stunts Set, which is a design-it-yourself marble run that kids can create on their wall.
"It's a learning toy because as way you set it up, you have to figure out which way the ball is going to go. It's problem solving," Murphy said.
MAZE: The Perplexus Epic is a maze inside of a ball. Players have to turn the ball in all directions to get a marble through different obstacles. That has been very popular also with older kids, Murphy said. Like the Rubik's Cube, it's hard for some players to put down.
SCIENCE: Indoor and outdoor science kits are selling. Some involve working with the weather and rocks.
GROWING: The Hoberman Sphere is a popular one, Murphy said. It's made with parts that contract and expand and it goes from 9 1/2 to 30 inches in diameter.
"The kids love to watch something almost grow in front of their eyes," she said.
PRESCHOOL: For younger kids, the Roll and Play Preschool Game is a good seller, she said.
"It asks you to count on your hand to five, rub your belly, moo like a cow -- different things to get kids to learn and get active," she said. "That was voted on by (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) as one of the best toys for kids for 2012."
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