Finding the perfect gift for the kids and kids-at-heart on your holiday list is an important mission. Something that excites and delights the recipient is key. Educational and well-made toys get bonus points, too. But that can sometimes feel like a tall order. Standing in front of a big-box store’s toy shelf jammed with options can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to make a solid pick. But not at Mastermind Toys.
Since the ’80s, Mastermind Toys—the nation’s largest speciality toy and children’s book retailer, with 68 locations across Canada and online at mastermindtoys.com—has been easing the sometimes-tricky navigation of toy buying. How? First of all, they carefully curate, not just populate, their shelves. At every store, you’ll find a well-stocked selection of top new toys, iconic classics, exclusive items and everything in between. They also categorize by play pattern, not gender. There’s free gift wrapping, Perks membership benefits with early-access deals and plenty of knowledgeable, toy-loving associates keen to help you find the right thing.
Mastermind Toys also believes that play is kids’ work. Studies prove that play boosts creativity and develops imagination, dexterity and emotional intelligence—something especially important in these unsettling times.
Top picks of the season
As much as we’d like to test every single new toy for our Today’s Parent toy guide, that’s just not possible—after all, there are thousands of new toys launched every year. So we asked the experts at Mastermind Toys to have a peek at our list of the best new toys of the season and then add any of their favourites that we might have missed. We’re so glad we did—these toys, books and games sure look like winners to us!
Paint & Pottery Set
Roll up your sleeves and don an apron because this is a real-deal kids’ pottery wheel. The two-in-one set includes air-drying clay, paint, two brushes and scrapers. When you’re done with the clay, change mediums and use the wheel to paint abstract works of art. Owl Toys Paint & Pottery Set, $40, mastermindtoys.com.
Star Wars™ The Child
Everyone loves Baby Yoda, so the cuteness level on this 1,074-piece set will score high with Star Wars: The Mandalorian fans. The finished build stands at 7.5 inches tall and features poseable features like ears, head and mouth for depicting different expressions, all super adorable. Lego® Star Wars™ The Child, $100, mastermindtoys.com.
Gators in my Waders
Great for encouraging physical activity, this silly game launches alligators into the air and it’s up to you to catch them in the giant waders you’ve got on. Keep your eye on the flying reptiles and manoeuvre your body so they’ll find a landing spot in your trousers. Whoever catches the most gators wins. Gators in my Waders, $25, mastermindtoys.com.
Hydraulic Cyborg Hand
Need a hand? How about a mechanical cyborg one with hydraulic pistons that let fingers grip and lift light objects? There are no motors or electricity here—adding water to the piston tubes does the trick. (No more searching for batteries!) Configurable in three ways, this 200-piece build can fit virtually any hand type—right, left or claw-like (with thumb in the centre). Hydraulic Cyborg Hand, $40, mastermindtoys.com.
SmartTech Sound Action Tunnel Travel Set
All aboard! This 37-piece interactive train set is high-tech with sounds, multicoloured lights and motion to enhance the experience. Tap the red button on top of the engine to record your very own sounds, then watch as the locomotive travels along the figure-eight track and through tunnels that play your recording back. Brio SmartTech Sound Action Tunnel Travel Set, $240, mastermindtoys.com.
Kensington Market Wooden Play Kitchen
Named after the famous Toronto neighbourhood, this sturdy wooden play set has everything a creative cook could need. It’s urban chic with gold-toned cookware and a butcher block end table for chopping and stashing. The gas range lights up and makes realistic sizzle sounds. More of a baker? Crack open the oven door. KidKraft Kensington Market Wooden Play Kitchen, $200, mastermindtoys.com.
This year's best books
Imaginations flourish from reading. Whether it’s reading independently or a shared read at bedtime, curling up with a good book is important. Mastermind Toys isn’t all games and play—it’s one of the nation’s leading children’s bookstores, too. Give the gift of adventure and creativity with some of its experts’ favourite new titles. Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Adventure, $18, mastermindtoys.com; Where's Waldo? The Boredom Buster Book!, $18, mastermindtoys.com; Class Act, $16, mastermindtoys.com; I Promise, $25, mastermindtoys.com; What We'll Build, $24, mastermindtoys.com.
Family-friendly jigsaw puzzles
Not only are puzzles perfect for families to tackle together, but they help develop kids’ visual-spatial processing skills and boost concentration and memory. Plus, is there anything more satisfying than poking in that final piece? Unplug and spend time piecing together their favourite Pixar characters, or keep the fun going with puzzles you can interact with even after they're fully assembled. The Scratch OFF World Travel Map lets kids colour-code the countries they've already visited or plan to visit, while the Wrebbit Harry Potter™ 3D Puzzle Knight Bus can be toured around to spark imagination. Wrebbit Harry Potter™ 3D Puzzle - The Knight Bus, $30, mastermindtoys.com; Ravensburger Baby Yoda 500pc Puzzle, $22, mastermindtoys.com; Ravensburger Disney·Pixar Toy Story 4: Made to Play 35pc Puzzle, $17, mastermindtoys.com; Scratch OFF World Travel Map 1000pc, $25, mastermindtoys.com; Owl Toys Astronaut 4-in-1 Evolutionary Puzzle, $15, mastermindtoys.com.
Packed-with-fun stocking stuffers
Don't forget some small-but-mighty stocking stuffers. From cool science experiments to classic collectables, these mini favours pack fun in their own right. Have kids crack the Alphabet Ranger puzzles, which transform from letters into robo-dinosaurs, or inspire a space expedition with the Kidz Labs Moon Torch Projector. Lemon Clock, $6, mastermindtoys.com; Kidz Labs Moon Torch Projector, $7, mastermindtoys.com; Ravensburger Ornament 3D Puzzle Ball 54pc, $13, mastermindtoys.com; Ty Beanie Boos Clip-On Heather the Caticorn, $5, mastermindtoys.com; Alphabet Rangers - Letter A: Stegosaurus, $4, mastermindtoys.com; Mastermind Toys Gift Card.
This article was originally published on Nov 18, 2020