Where you do your holiday shopping matters just as much as what you buy. Supporting local stores provides real benefits to your community. Local businesses create jobs and help fund your town’s essential services such as public schools, police and fire departments through their tax dollars. (Read more about why my experience serving on a local school board turned me into a strong advocate for small businesses in my community.) Shopping local is good for your town, but it’s also good for you as a consumer.
Whether I’m buying toys or new eyeglasses, I seek out small independent retailers in my neighborhood. I’ve discovered that these small business owners provide better customer service (such as complimentary gift-wrap for toys or fast repairs for broken glasses) and have a more diverse product selection than what I find in big box stores.
When you visit your neighborhood toy store, you’ll discover a selection of toys chosen for their ability to promote open-ended or creative play. Every year, more than 500 independent toy retailers gather to select the Best Toys for Kids. The Best Toys for Kids selections are based on their experience as toy store owners as well as feedback from thousands of customers and children. (Note: I’ve been an avid supporter of ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, for many years, and I helped launch the first ever Neighborhood Toy Store Day in 2010. Click here for details about Neighborhood Toy Store Day.)
In previous years, I’ve purchased or received samples of ASTRA Best Toys for Kids Award Winners and seen how delighted my children were with my choices. Some of our favorites from previous Best Toys for Kids lists are still daily favorites in our house years later. For example, in 2009, I purchased Sophie Giraffe (which two of my babies loved as a teether) and discovered ChickyBoom and Bananagrams. In 2010, my son fell in love with a Folkmanis Golden Retriever Puppet that he named Sammy Dog, and toddler now enjoys the Rody Horse that his older brother adored. Last year, I appeared on Fox 29 Philadelphia with my friend Colleen of ClassyMommy to showcase the 2011 Best Toys for Kids and demonstrated the Spooner Board and Pic N Pop, which are still favorites during playdates. Last year, I finally had the chance to try the EzyRoller (a 2009 Best Toys for Kids Award Winner) and saw how my purchase inspired several other moms to buy an EzyRoller for their children after seeing it during a playdate at my house.
This year, I received a selection of 2012 Best Toys for Kids Award Winners to review, and I agree that these toys should be on every mom’s holiday gift list:
Roll & Play
By ThinkFun | For ages 18 months +
My two boys love playing Roll & Play– the first game designed specifically for toddlers! Toss the big plush cube and look which colored side faces up. Choose a matching color card and perform the simple activity for an interactive first game experience!
For ages 3+
I’m obsessed with this active toy that combines soccer, flying discs and golf. It REALLY gets me moving. Throw the flying disc made of natural rubber and then try to kick the large golf ball onto the disc to score a point. Seriously, I wish this were a sport! I would want to join the league. I will definitely purchase more of these for birthday party presents for my preschooler!
Kidoozie Deluxe Build-A-Road with Elevator
By International Playthings LLC
For ages 3+
I cannot wait to see my son’s face when he gets this exciting new set at Christmas because he begged for it after playing with a sample. Aspiring race car drivers can design roadways for the two battery-powered cars with over 15′ of flexible track, ramp, turn-around and elevator. My husband also thought this toy was “cool,” which is rare for him.
(Disclosure: I am an ASTRA Ambassador, but I did not accept compensation for writing this post as I have en existing business relationship with ASTRA and support their mission so strongly. This is an issue I’m passionate about based on my experience serving on the local school board.)