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Best toys 2021: The best toys for 3-year-olds to 8-year-olds and up

Nathan Spendelow Kate Hilpern
11 Jan 2021
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Keep your kids entertained with our pick of the best toys suitable for 3-year-olds and upwards, from £6 to £180

Looking for the perfect present for a child? Here’s our pick of the best toys available right now. We’ve not only selected the biggest-selling, highest-profile toys and games, but also found you some less obvious choices that your kids will love.

All of the toys below have been tested and approved by our very own team of little testers, while we adults have observed the play value, tracked how much interest children maintained in the toy over time, and perhaps most importantly, weighed up value for money. Here you’ll find a trove of toys that tick all the boxes, and we’ve separated our recommendations into broad age groups – three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six- and seven-year-olds and eight-years-plus – to make it easier to find the ideal toy.

Looking for baby toys? Click here to read our guide

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How to choose the best toy for your child

What types of toys are best for what ages?

Newborns may not be able to play actively, but newborns soon start taking an interest in the world around them. Bold geometric black-and-white shapes fascinate younger babies, but you only have to watch them around bright colours to see they get a kick out of those too. Suspending toys such as crib mobiles and playmats are good for tiny tots; once they can sit up, go for anything they can move around or get a reaction from. Basic toys with textures, sounds and lights will prove a big hit, but then again so will a simple rattle.

Toddlers love sorting and building, as well as anything they can push, pull or sit on – especially if it makes a noise. Imaginative roleplay kicks in now too – cooking, cleaning, driving, using a phone etc – so miniature versions of household items are always welcome, as are dolls. Basic musical instruments are good, as well as basic puzzles and bath toys – just make sure they’re age-appropriate.

For kids aged 3-5 roleplay really comes into its own, so dressing-up outfits and toys will go down a treat. Creative and messy play is also popular: paints, crayons, Play-Doh and basic craft materials will be well received, as will anything to do with water and sand. Also consider action toys, musical instruments, large-scale construction toys (such as Duplo and Playmobil) and vehicle sets. Children of this age can also cope with basic games and jigsaws, as well as interactive electronic toys.

Kids aged 5-7 will by now be developing their own interests – which might mean anything from action figures and dolls to basic science or crafts. They may start to take an interest in sports or computer games. Kids of this age often get a real kick out of remote-control toys, as well as board games that include some strategy. There are many good active toys aimed at this age group, such as Nerf guns.

Kids aged 8 and over may be quite settled in their chosen sports or hobbies, and have longer attention spans, so they can appreciate gifts that take time to master. More intricate construction, model and craft sets may go down well, as can computer and board games that give them a sense of mastery and competence. Some children will enjoy elaborate STEM-related toys, including robotics-related projects.

What about gender?

Don’t assume that cars are just for boys and dolls are only for girls. Toys focused on action, construction and technology help kids of both sexes learn spatial skills and problem-solving, while toys focused on role-playing help them learn about social skills. Both boys and girls need to develop in all these areas, and research shows that if they’re left to their own devices, they enjoy all of them.

How much should I spend?

A high price doesn’t necessarily mean more enjoyment – especially not with younger kids. Think before you splash out on larger toys too, as storage space can quickly become a problem. And remember, only buy toys from reputable outlets, and make sure that what you buy is suitable for the child’s specific age range, particularly if you’re buying for a child under three.


Best toys for 3-year-olds and up

1. LeapFrog LeapStart 3D: The best interactive educational toy

Price: £45 | Buy now from Argos

We’ve come a long way from Speak & Spell. This interactive 3D learning system helps children with reading, as well as maths and problem-solving. There’s a library of over 25 books (but be warned you have to buy them separately, although there is a sampler book included) covering two- to seven-year-olds with 30 activities in each. We liked the way they have different levels that children can use as a learning ladder, along with the holographic and interactive animations that our young testers thought were magical. If your child is visual or auditory learner, this is absolutely the toy for them – and best of all, it comes recommended by teachers too. We found the tough casing really durable – this thing can take some serious knocks.

Key detailsAge range: 2+

Buy now from Argos


2. Carousel Wooden Train Set: A great value train set

Price: £15 | Buy now from Tesco

This 60-piece train set includes different shaped FSC-approved wooden track pieces that can be turned over to make a road instead. The chunky pieces fit together beautifully, even for less dextrous young hands, and the set also includes trees, animals, people and buildings such as fire station, hospital and sweet shop – so you get a long of bang for your buck. No wonder it won Best Wooden Toy category at the 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards. These pieces will withstand almost anything and our little testers found as much fun putting the set together as they did playing with it.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? No

Buy now from Tesco


3. Wicked Megabounce XTR: The ultimate bouncy ball

Price: £6 | Buy now from Amazon

Do you know a kid who doesn’t love bouncy balls? Exactly. And so this, the bounciest ball ever, is the ultimate stocking-filler. Dropped onto a hard surface it bounces to 85% of its original height (a regulation basketball manages just 56%); throw it down hard and watch out for birds – this thing goes seriously high into the sky. Available in red, blue and yellow, be prepared for it to hit the ceiling if you don’t get them playing outside.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? Yes


4. Sylvanian Families Creamy Gelato Shop: The best playset for imaginative play

Price: £25 | Buy now from John Lewis

Sylvanians, to the unacquainted, are those tiny animal figurines that have been around for yonks, yet still capture children’s imaginations. There are so many in the collection that once you start down this road you’re pretty much set for Christmases and birthdays for years to come. The all-new Creamy Gelato Shop is beautifully designed, with counter, table and – of course – oodles of plastic gelato. It’s all reassuringly twee and comes with lots of tiny accessories, each part demonstrating impressive attention to detail. Some of the pieces really are minute, so watch out if you have under-3s in the house, and be warned that you have to buy the characters separately.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? Yes

Buy now from John Lewis


5. Robo Alive: The best animal-themed toy

Price: £10 | Buy now from Smyths Toys

Any amphibian-loving child under the age of 10 will love this lifelike toy, with its glaring eyes, soft rubber tail and – this is the best bit – a head-tilt sensor that makes it stop and search for prey when you tilt its head. There’s a snake available in the range too, with moving eyeballs and equally realistic movements, which kids can get to silently slither up family members on Christmas Day, giving them the shock of their life. You’ll need to buy batteries separately and don’t expect too much of it – it doesn’t respond to your movements, for example – but for fifteen quid, it’s is a good mid-priced toy that will guarantee amusement (and probably a few shrieks) for Christmas and beyond.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? Yes

Buy now from Smyths Toys


6. TP Muddy Madness Wooden Kitchen: The best kitchen playset

Price: £150 | Buy now from Amazon

Forget your conventional indoor wooden kitchens; this is what the kids will really love. Aimed at kids aged 36-months to 12-years, this mud kitchen will get them mixing mud, getting creative and making the most of nature. Including an oven with opening door, removable splash tub, refillable butt and tap, plus a range of accessories (stainless steel pots and pans and a mixing whisk), kids can get as messy as they like and it all wipes down easily afterwards – we kid you not, this looks as good as new afterwards.

Made from FSC certified European timber, it took us an hour to put together and our testers have barely left it alone, even though the weather hasn’t been great. The blackboard to write on is a nice touch too.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? No

7. Dumbo: A soft toy that will appeal to kids of all ages

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon


Rare is the young child that doesn’t like soft toys and this one is instantly loveable, especially for kids who have seen the original or new version of the movie Dumbo, about a baby elephant who finds he can fly using his ears. This one is suitable from birth, but due to the movie, is likely to appeal to slightly older kids too and it comes in a lovely box, making it a great gift. Approximately 18cm tall, it’s a decent size and very cuddly and soft, as well as being good for imaginative play. Our little testers said their favourite bit were the big floppy ears.

Key details – Age range: 3+; Other colours/versions available? No


Best toys for 4-year-olds and up

1. Bosch Workbench with Sound: The best action toy

Price: £60 | Buy now from Early Learning Centre

Four-year-olds love role play, make-believe, making things and enhancing their fine motor skills. But probably most of all, they just love to copy mum and dad. All of which combines to make this realistic toy workbench a dream-come-true for this age group. This one comes with oodles of tools – including a saw, drill, hammer, simple spanner, screwdriver, pliers, elbow spanner and a tool for the bench vice – plus screws, nuts, a ruler and a pushing nail function. It’s more robust than others on the market and it’s easy to store all the bits and pieces away. Plus, it has a real brand name behind it. Just give yourself plenty of time to assemble it.

Key details – Materials: Plastic; Weight: Unknown; Age range: 3+

Buy now from Early Learning Centre


2. My First ABC Brainbox: The best educational toy

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

Gary Wyatt came up with the idea for the Brainbox range when he spent far too much time stuck in traffic on his commute. As he started passing time creating words from numbers, then making words from the letters, then linking them to animals, he realised he was onto something. Sixteen years later, the range boasts 40 products sold across 57 countries. This one is an easy-to-play, fun educational game that’s designed by a primary school teacher to improve early literacy, observation and memory skills – and it was an instant hit with our four-year-old testers who felt really grown-up playing it and couldn’t wait to get stuck in again the next day. And all the while, it’s clear they are learning, especially when it comes to phonics. Education at its finest.

Key details – Materials: 70% recycled card; Age range: 4+

3. Play-Doh Buzz 'N Cut: The best toy for messy play

Price: £25 | Buy now from Amazon

Play-Doh is a staple in most households with children in their younger years. While there are other modelling clays available, they don’t come close when it comes to vibrant colours and ultra-pliable dough. And other sets don’t tend to have the same wide range of accessories either. New for this year, this playset includes a salon chair so that one of the two characters (included) can get ready for some stupidly silly hairstyles using – guess what? – the Play-Doh. Our testers loved using the lever to crank out the coloured hair and use all the tools (there’s even an electric shaver with buzzing sound) to comb, style and cut the hair. Offering hours of fun and a lot of laughs, this is one of the best sets for messy clay play we’ve come across.

Key detailsAge range: 3+

4. FurReal Ricky, Trick Lovin’ Pup: The best electronic toy

Price: £100 | Buy now from Amazon

The previous big FurReal toy was Tyler, a cuddly little tiger cub that went down a storm. More recently, Ricky is the star of the show. A cute looking pup, he may be, but this is definitely not one for youngsters to cuddle up to as they go to sleep - unless you want them to be up all night playing. During the daytime, though, this is a fabulous virtual pet that responds to sounds and touch (with sensors on his cheeks, mouth, nose, paw and back), with over 100 motion and sound combinations that make him feel as much like the real deal as possible. He licks and does tricks, and even gives high fives. And you get a bone accessory, treats and a pouch thrown in. If your child is bugging you for a dog and you have no intention of getting one, the advanced technology really does make this one come alive.

Key details – Materials: Plastic, fabrics; Age range: 3+

5. ELC Key Boom Board: The best music toy

Price: £50 | Buy now from Early Learning Centre

Many four-year-olds love nothing more than to sing, dance and, well, do anything that involves music. With this toy, they can actually make the music with their own recordable music station. Featuring animal sounds, demo and learning songs, drum sounds and rhythms, it’s set up so children can DJ, drum, record and sing – and the stool and stand are both included, along with the detachable microphone. There’s some fantastic detail for younger kids, including our favourite – the ‘light up’ drum pads that help your child keep up - and you can attach an MP3 player too. Don’t forget the batteries – you’ll need four AAs – and don’t expect it to be the most robust bit of kit. It won’t last forever, but it will work straight out of the box to see them through a year or two (or more) of heavy use.

Key details – Materials: Plastic; Weight: 1kg; Age range: 3+

Buy now from Early Learning Centre


6. Le Toy Van Doctor Set: The best toy for fantasy play

Price: £40 | Buy now from Jojo Maman Bebe

Truth is, most kids aged two upwards would get excited by this. Find us a child, after all, who doesn’t like playing doctors in their preschool years? But we think this doctors’ kit comes into its own at around four years old – when children can get stuck into slightly more complex role play. And while there are seemingly infinite doctors’ kits available, this one stands out for its vintage style and beautifully made wooden medical instruments including a toy stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, blood pressure gauge, ear scope, reflex hammer, scissors and two medicine bottles – all of which pack away into the cute bag provided. Imaginative play doesn’t get much more exciting.

Key details – Materials: Wood and fabric; Weight: 812g; Age range: 3+

Buy now from Jojo Maman Bebe


7. ELC Cash Register: The best for playing shops

Price: £28 | Buy now from Early Learning Centre


Playing shops is right up there as the favourite sociable imaginary play for littluns. At four, your child should be able to progress onto introducing some more realistic features than just toddling around with a shopping basket, making this plastic cash register the perfect addition. It’s colourful and gets kids doing some basic sums and used to handling money. They even get a scanner (our tester’s favourite bit) thrown in, along with a credit card, play money and some food. The working microphone is also popular with your preschool tykes (‘Mummy to the till, please, Mummy to the till’). To our horror, there’s a pink one available (does a cash register really need to be gendered?) but this one is an excellent choice and likely to be a big hit with any friends that come around to play. It requires three AA batteries, which are included.

Key details – Materials: plastic; Weight: 946g; Age range: 3+

Buy now from Early Learning Centre


8. Star Wars Ultimate Co-Pilot Chewie: The best Star Wars toy

Price: £60 | Buy now from Amazon

Set to be a bestseller this Christmas, this interactive Chewie stands 40cm (16in) tall and has over 100 sound and motion combinations, making him quite the sidekick for little Star Wars fans. Features include talkback interaction, in which Chewie roars at any noise you make, and he also responds to being stroked or tickled, and can even take a nap (a godsend for parents). Kids can treat it like a regular action figure as the legs move, but our favourite bit is the wide variety of facial expressions, which are bound to bring a few giggles to all the family. Be warned that you’ll need to buy the four AA batteries it requires separately.

Key details – Age range: 4+; Other colours/versions available? No


Best toys for 5-year-olds and up

1. Hatchimals Surprise: The best interactive toy for five-year-olds

Price: £70 | Buy now from Amazon

Just because your child has started school doesn’t mean play is any less important – it’s the primary way they learn and build social, emotional and thinking skills. Couple this with the fact that children of this age often tend to be very nurturing and enjoy the responsibility of ‘looking after’ things, and you can see why Hatchimals are such a hit. Once your child has taken the egg out of the box, it takes around 20 minutes to hatch; after that, your five-year-old ‘raises’ these interactive furry twins, teaching them to walk, dance, play games and more. Our little testers’ favourite bit was the way the creatures interact with each other, even bickering. And while the toys certainly aren’t cheap, this double-bubble version undeniably gives you more bang for your buck (and they’ve come down in price since Christmas). Parents will be very grateful for the shut-off button, however; Hatchimals can be seriously noisy.

Key details – Materials: plastic, fabric; Weight: 798g; Age range: 5-10

2. Aquabeads Box of Fun: The best craft kit for five-year-olds

Price: £20 | Buy now from Argos

Rare is the littlun that doesn’t like arts and crafts, and crafting is good for their development too, tuning those fine motor skills and getting young brains into gear with creative ideas. With this kit, you get a whopping 3,000 beads in 24 different colours, as well as a sprayer, flip tray and template book – everything, in other words, that you need to arrange the beads into the shape you want then spray them into place. Plus, you can display them in a stand. We also found the playmat handy to ensure the tiny parts don’t all go rolling off into the darkest corners of the lounge or playroom.

Key details – Age range: 4+

Buy now from Argos


3. L.O.L. Surprise Under Wraps: The best collectable toy

Price: £46 | Buy now from Amazon

L.O.L. Surprise is back this year with the Eye Spy Series Under Wraps dolls – 15 in total, which are promoted as collectables. Each doll has a different disguise, which turns into multiple fashion accessories and you can find surprise clues with the spyglass, as well as feed or bathe the doll. You can use the different outfits of the dolls interchangeably to create new looks and the packet can be used as a carry case and doll stand. Be warned they’re addictive, so expect to be hassled to buy more of them. Or you could get the Bigger Surprise, which has exclusive dolls and even more accessories – this one recently made headlines when Asda slashed prices instore to make it more affordable. A good job too as many customers say the full price of £85 is too expensive, given what you get inside, a view with which we sympathise.

Key detailsAge range: 6+

4. Boxer: The best interactive toy for under £50

Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon

There’s no shortage of interactive AI robot buddies on the market, but this one stands out for offering such a lot of play value for under £50. Initially, we were surprised how small Boxer is, but what he loses in size he gains in personality. You don’t have to do anything except switch him on and he runs around making sounds when things get in the way. He responds to gestures, sounds and touch controls and he does tricks. You can also play games with him such as Go Kart, Bot Bowling and Paddle Bot, including with the ball accessory. If we were amazed by his powers and tickled by his humour, then our little testers were blown away, shrieking with delight. Makes sure you download the app so you don’t miss out on any of his capabilities. Shame there’s no volume control, though.

Key detailsAge range: 6+


Best toys for 8-year-olds and up

1. Rubik’s Original Cube: The best classic toy

Price: £10 | Buy now from Argos

Ernő Rubik’s colourful little cube is the world’s best-selling toy, shifting more than 350 million units since its heyday in the 1980s. With over 43 quintillion moves possible, it remains a fascinating and absorbing puzzle, and worldwide competitions take place year after year as more and more young people get addicted. You can buy cheaper imitations, but they always seem to lack the smoothness and durability of the original.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available? No

Buy now from Argos


2. Anki Cozmo Robot: The best STEM toy

Price: £299 | Buy now from Amazon

It may be pricey, but this is a clear winner among STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) toys. Created by a team of roboticists, animators and developers, Cozmo is great fun – not just for kids but for adults, too. He’s like one of those pet robots you see in the movies, with a natural tendency to play, a personality that draws you in from the off, and seemingly endless capabilities. More than 25 new ways of playing have been added to his skillset since his launch last year. With facial recognition, Cozmo learns who he’s talking to (although he occasionally muddled up our children) and there’s no shortage of games he can play. Robust, portable, funny, adorable: Cozmo is a great addition to the family, so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, which is required to make him work. Check out this year’s special limited edition colour.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available? No

3. 3Doodler Start Essentials 3D Printing Pen Set for Kids

Price: £50 | Buy now from Amazon

For any young artist with big ideas, a 3D printing pen is surely a dream-come-true – and before you ask, no, it doesn’t get hot and doesn’t harm skin. Using non-toxic, biodegradable plastic, it lets kids draw any 3D shape they want. Honestly, it’s quite incredible to watch, and because there’s just one temperature, button and speed, it’s really simple for youngsters to use. We also like the fact that it comes with plenty of ideas to guide first-time users, covering themes like architecture and robotics. If you have a creative youngster to buy for, it really doesn’t get better than this.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available? No

4. LEGO HarryPotter Hogwarts Express Train Toy: The best Harry Potter toy

Price: £56 | Buy now from Argos

Our testers couldn’t wait to get their mitts on this. They were concentrating so hard on building the train set, railway bridge and – of course – platform 9¾ that they barely stopped to eat. There’s plenty of attention to detail, including four seats on the carriage, which also has a removable side and roof, and a Trolley Witch with sweets trolley. There are accessories, too, including wands, chocolate frogs and newspapers. All the usual suspects are present in minifigure form, so even with the initial build complete there’s plenty of potential for imaginative play. Don’t miss the Hogwarts Whomping Willow Tree, too, which is aimed at the same age range. It has spinning branches, a flying ford Anglia car model and Hogwarts castle, with masses of accessories.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available? No

5. Nerf N Strike Elite Rukkus ICS-8: The best blasting toy

Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon

We’ve lost count of how many Nerf guns have been created over the years, yet these plastic guns with foam bullets still top children’s birthday and Christmas lists, even if they’ve got a collection of them already. We’ve even been to villages where they have organised nerf wars for all the local kids. We like this one because, while you can get cheaper plastic guns, these knock the socks off them both in terms of quality and the distance the bullets will travel. It looks pretty menacing with its eight-shot cartridge, and while there still might be tears before bedtime, it won’t be because anyone gets hurt.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available? No

6. LEGO Technic 42095 Remote-Controlled Stunt Racer: A great LEGO Technic toy for older children

Price: £60 | Buy now from Amazon

LEGO Technic is a great range for children who prefer more complex LEGO toys and, as with any LEGO product, you get to have as much fun building the toy as you do playing with it. Featuring two motors, battery box, switch and remote control, our testers didn’t take very long to get through the 85-step build process, but then spent hours steering it to move backwards and forwards round the room, making the most of the impressive acceleration on this spectacularly durable toy and absolutely loving the wheelies.

Don’t expect the usual pack of the traditional LEGO plastic bricks – most of the 200 or so pieces in this set are pins and track elements – but this is a great purchase for older kids who might want a LEGO set with a difference. Granted, there are bigger LEGO Technic toys available, with even more play value, but they’re also a whole lot more expensive. You’ll need six AA batteries, though, which aren’t included.

Key details – Age range: 9+; Other colours/versions available? No

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