With Christmas ’round the corner, we’re finally at that point where influencers show you the hottest toys and what you should spend your money on this Christmas. You’ll see posts full of affiliate links galore as we sell our pound of flesh… but I don’t want to take that route.
Christmas is a strange time for my Christian family.
While we don’t want our kids to feel like outcasts in school when we choose Christ over Claus this December, we find it essential to make Christmas a time to spend with family, friends and our church community as we get ready for another year of challenges and celebrations ahead.
But you’d better believe we’re still going to get them some toys.
This Christmas marks the first year we can start moving from toddlers’ toys to ones I might want to play with, and I plan to take full advantage of it!
Despite Sarah’s qualms over the space in our home versus how much I review, I’ve been blessed to check out many of this season’s new toys up close and personal these past few months. From tech to STEM to collectables and more, I’ve hand-picked some toys that I think you’ll find dope for the little people in your life.
So let’s get to it!
(And don’t you worry—for those of us in a rush, I’ve created links to all the product below for easy access!)
Xbox One S Minecraft Limited Edition Bundle
The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch DX2
VTech Touch & Learn Activity Desk Deluxe
The VTech Zoo Jamz Stompin’ Fun Drums
VTech 4-in-1 Stroll & Grow Tek Trike
#StikBot Farm Movie Bot
The PAW Patrol Sea Patroller
The Etch A Sketch Freestyle & The Etch A Sketch Joystick
Hatchimals Glittering Garden
Mayka Toy Block Tape
The Original Fidget Cube by Artsy Labs
And suddenly, Casa de Palmer was the place to be.
A couple of months ago, Microsoft held an Xbox Together event to showcase its new Xbox One S. While I was honoured to be invited, going so far as to make it a boys’ day out with my eldest son, but adulting happens, and I needed to be elsewhere to support a friend.
And I thought that’d be the end of it—shame I couldn’t attend, but maybe we’d connect sometime in the future so I could see what the Xbox One S has to offer!
That is… until they got in touch to send me one instead.
That time the Palmer fam got their game on.
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Let's talk about Toronto's gaming community. Last night was @MDee14's #TTCHYPE, a Toronto-area meetup for those who partake of the Twitch community. As a non-gamer myself—more someone who HANGS OUT with gamers, INSTEAD—it was dope how seamlessly I still blended in as everyone found their place in the evening. And you know, the entire thing reminded me a LOT of Twitter's tweetups back in 2011-12—minimal corporate intervention, no "big names" stealing the show… just a bunch of content creators doing their thing. Good people, good grub, good times. I look forward to hanging out with everyone again! #events #people #gamers #gaming @raidersesportscentre #Toronto @Twitch #Twitch #TwitchGTA #TwitchCanada #meetup #esports #videogames #stream #fun #Canada #social #community #Discord #friends
So for context, I’m not much of a gamer. I sometimes hang out with gamers, but I hung my controllers up some years back, giving a couple of consoles and thirty or so games to a friend who’d make better use of them than I could.
It made this a bit troublesome at first, with Sarah believing we’d changed our lifestyle to one more minimalist than before… but that was until she saw the joy on the faces of our son and other kids who came by, checking out games like Minecraft and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure!
In fact, since they sent us four controllers, I got Rocket League this past weekend so we could use them all at the same time! I’m still getting used to it, but the Xbox One S makes for a very different experience from what I’m used to, with features like:
- The option of downloading games directly to your Xbox One S—even while it’s turned off.
- Built-in multitasking so you can do things like Skype while you game and do it side-by-side
- And for those of you who are all about the multiplayer (i..e who aren’t me, trying to keep my children’s innocence as long as possible), Microsoft’s working hard to continually improve their Xbox Live service, backed by 300,000 servers, an extensive reputation system to keep the jerks at bay, and smarter matchmaking to give you opponents that’re fun to play against!
The Xbox One S — The Verdict!
I can see the Xbox One S being a household staple for some years yet—doesn’t hurt that it’s the only Blu-Ray player in the house—and it’ll take us one step closer to building an environment where our boys and their friends can feel comfortable just being themselves!
The Xbox One S—it just might change the way you game!
- 1) Xbox One S Minecraft Limited Edition Bundle (1TB), MSRP $499.00 CAD
- 2) Xbox Wireless Controller — Minecraft Creeper, MSRP $84.99 CAD
- 3) Xbox Wireless Controller — Minecraft Pig, MSRP $84.99 CAD
- 4) Xbox Wireless Controller, MSRP $74.99 CAD
- 5) Disneyland Adventures, MSRP $38.99 CAD
- 6) Rush: A DisneyPixar Adventure, MSRP $38.99 CAD
- 7) Super Lucky’s Tale, MSRP $38.99 CAD
- 8) Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection, MSRP $38.99 CAD
A little while back I found myself in the Royal Ontario Museum’s RBC Foundation Glass Room with Maureen Dennis, Marc Saltzman, and some of VTech’s finest as we previewed their best new toys for the upcoming holiday season!
They may be young at four and two, but I’m already getting to know their personalities! The older guy’s all about using his hands and experimenting with new actions, while the younger one’s all about scribbling and dance. And with birthdays in November and January, I can’t just get them Christmas gifts—here’s a look at what tech they can expect in their futures!
For his birthday, my older son got a Kidizoom Smartwatch DX2. I’d noticed his fixation with my Samsung Gear S2, playing with the screens and notifications on my wrist. So why not give him one of his own?
The Kidizoom Smartwatch DX2 comes armed with more features than you find in most adult smartwatches:
- two cameras with photo effects
- a built-in video camera to let kids record on the fly
- more than 55 watch faces on both analogue and digital displays
- a touch screen just like your smartwatch
- games and active play challenges that keep things fun while keeping kids moving
- and it’s splash- and sweat-proof, too!
So far it’s one of his favourite toys, and though he can’t quite tell time yet, he’s happy to explore the world through his approach—and all kids should have the chance to do so, right?
- Ages 4-12
- MSRP $69.99 CAD
Sometimes I’m that parent. The one who’d rather get the kids something educational than something “fun.” I’ve got high standards for these boys, and believe you me—I’ll do everything possible to give them a competitive edge where sharp wits can often take you farther than just the letters after your name!
Which is why I submit for your consideration VTech’s Touch & Learn Activity Desk Deluxe, a 3-in-1 learning desk with interactive cards that can teach your child all sorts of things! With five learning pages included and eight expansion packs (sold separately), it covers letters. Numbers. Music. Colours. Nursery rhymes, reading skills and animals if you’re keen! Heck—it even transforms into an easel and chalkboard with plenty of storage space for art supplies, too!
- Its LED display help little ones with letter and number stroke order and how to draw basic shapes
- The toy telephone lets kids use their imaginations to chat with whoever they’d like
- And the music player comes loaded with fun tunes to keep the good times going!
If you’ve got a kid like mine who’s often stubborn about their extracurricular learning, give VTech’s Touch & Learn Activity Desk Deluxe a try! Who knows—your kid might surprise you!
- Ages 2-5
- MSRP $79.99 CAD
Drums are easily one of the most enjoyable instruments to learn, but parents often shy away from them because they’re too noisy.
But that need not be the case! VTech’s come up with Zoo Jamz Stompin’ Fun Drums, a way for your mini musician to find their inner rock star without waking up the neighbours!
The Zoo Jamz Stompin’ Fun Drums has many features, including:
- drumsticks to enhance creative thinking and motor skills
- four made modes—counting, catch the lights, follow the leader and creating compositions
- a stool for them to sit on and an elephant bass pedal they can step on to hit the drum and create a fun bass sound effect
If you want to bring out your wee one’s inner superstar, VTech’s Zoo Jamz Stompin’ Fun Drums is a great first step. (#DadJoke.)
- 1½ – 4 years old
- MSRP $ 49.99 CAD
- Available at Toys “R” Us, Walmart, Amazon, Loblaws, Mastermind, Indigo
Do you remember your first bike?
I remember my chrome blue Sears-brand bike from when I learned to ride, making my way from training wheels to family rides along the nearby ravine some years later. In ’90s Mississauga—when there were almost half as many people as there are today—biking took up good chunks of our summers as we learned the law of the land and risked our lives a bit more often than I should admit.
But what if that first bike grew with you? Help you with your directions and remind you about road safety rules? What if your bike could take those frustrating years of learning to ride and make it enjoyable?
That’s precisely what VTech’s doing with their 4-in-1 Stroll & Grow Tek Trike, an interactive tricycle for children aged nine months through six years that grows with them as they develop.
It has four modes:
- a parent-controlled stroller mode
- a training mode for early riders
- a trike mode once their motor skills and confidence grow
- and finally a drifting style for the kids who want to show the sidewalk who’s boss.
So if you’re looking to expand your child’s world like I am for my toddler, check out the VTech 4-in-1 Stroll & Grow Tek Trike!
- Nine months – 6 years old
- MSRP $149.99 CAD
- Available at Toys “R” Us
People laugh when I say it, but one goal for my boys in the next few years is to teach them how to be influencers themselves. Parents often talk about teaching their children the value of hard work and make them understand the true worth of a dollar… but why do they have to flip burgers to do it?
In 2017, there’s a myriad of options available for any youth with an idea and a phone, and StikBot’s looking to develop that with an app and toys designed to bring your budding filmmaker’s visions to life!
The StikBot Farm Movie Set comes with everything you’d need to start building scenes—characters, animals, a playset and a green screen that can take creations from amateur to auteur in mere moments!
We parents fuss and fret over the screen time our children get, but why not turn what time they do get into useful time by helping them develop a skill? As someone who had art school ambitions when he was younger, I know if I had half the resources kids have today to express themselves, maybe I could’ve made something of it.
Definitely a gift idea to check out!
- MSRP $25 CAD
Alright, so there’s no way I expect my four-year-old to get the hang of this, but Tumblstix are small, weighted sticks that challenge your sense of balance! Built with LED lights providing awesome visual effects, Tumblstix are designed to sharpen focus and hand-eye coordination by gently rolling them around!
Think of them like modern Devil Sticks in your hand—you can balance them and catch the Tumblstix smoothly, using 360° rolls and 180° flicks to keep the momentum going!
So simple yet so complex—Tumblstix are a great way to pass some time!
- MSRP $10 CAD
Select your pattern, press a button, spin! Boredom begone!
- MSRP $14.99 CAD
We—the parents of young children—can usually tell whether you’re one of us depending on if you think PAW Patrol is a show about a father who just happens to live under a bridge.
Spin Master, the Toronto-based juggernaut who no one seems to know is from Toronto has kept a solid track record when it comes to dominating kids’ hearts and minds at Christmastime. PAW Patrol’s on deck for a fifth season; last year this time had Hatchimals in every conversation about toys; and with brands like Meccano and Etch A Sketch added to their roster, Spin Master’s no slouch when it comes to creating toys that your kids will want under the tree!
For this Christmas, I’m featuring a few items that speak to my sons’ sense of creativity and their love for the PAW Patrol pups!
If you rely on Netflix as much as we do in the post-cable world, you likely noticed PAW Patrol’s fourth season show up on Canadian Netflix this past week! It takes the pups to new places with new adventures and abilities, and of course you know that means new gear.
The PAW Patrol Sea Patroller—introduced in “Sea Patrol: Pups Save a Baby Octopus”, the last of season four’s episodes available on Canadian Netflix so far, so you’d better hop to it, so your kids know what it is—has a unique sea-to-land transformation that takes the pups’ rescues to an entirely different level, going wherever the action is!
Except for the bathtub—please keep it out of the tub! Ironically, it is not waterproof!
The Sea Patroller has a boatload of features built in:
- lights and sounds just like the PAW Patroller, and Air Patroller before it
- a working crane and a life-saver launcher to help out with the heavy-duty rescues
- and storage for basic vehicles so your pups can always be at the ready!
It comes with an exclusive Ryder figure with his ATV, an exploration cage for him to help the pups out, and a baby octopus figure… I guess to put in trouble?
Anyway—if PAW Patrol’s your jam, help take your pups from Adventure Bay to Barkingburg and back with the PAW Patrol Sea Patroller! Your little ones will thank you!
- MSRP $59.99 USD
So we all know the Etch A Sketch, a classic toy that lets kids explore their imaginations, shaking them to erase when they’re ready to do it all over again!
But why stop there?
The team at Spin Master’s come up with two new takes on it—the Etch A Sketch Freestyle and the Etch A Sketch Joystick, each offering new ways for your kids to showcase their creativity!
The Etch a Sketch Freestyle lets kids draw and stamp in colour, with a handy stylus and double-sided stampers that offer shapes like hearts, circles, stars and clouds! It’s even been remodelled into a vertical design so kids can hold and doodle on the go!
The Etch a Sketch Joystick, however, is an offering for the littlest doodlers lacking the skill to work with the classic model’s two knobs! Instead, it rocks one big 360° joystick that’ll let your toddler draw loops, lines and circles while developing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
And what parent doesn’t want to see their kids learning while having fun?
So if you’re looking to fire up the creative spark in the next generation, look no farther than Etch A Sketch!
- Etch a Sketch Freestyle MSRP $19.99 USD
- Etch a Sketch Joystick MSRP $12.99 USD
If you thought Hatchimals were so 2016, you apparently haven’t been paying attention to what they’d come up with next.
If you know a child who’s into soft, sparkling fun with some twinkling wings to boot, Hatchimals Glittering Garden’s sure to bring you some winners!
- MSRP $59.99 USD
Now all this big stuff is great—but you likely know that stockings only get so big (unless, of course, we’re talking about mine which gains notoriety each Christmas when I post our living room photo online), so here’re a few items small enough to fit in an oversized sock without diminishing the fun!
You won’t fully appreciate the joy of being able to say “well, back in my day” until you have kids of your own.
And man do you start realising the differences!
Back in my day, our video games only went right, and you’d die if you fell in a hole. Or back in my day, you’d only know who was calling if you picked the phone up when it was ringing and asked them.
Well, with Mayka Toy Block Tape, I think I can add one more to the list—back in my day, all our LEGO tables were flat.
Mayka Toy Block Tape is adhesive tape transforming virtually any surface into a base for construction toy bricks and figures.
The tape can be cut and shaped to any size, and the adhesive side is reusable, so Mayka Toy Block Tape‘s only limitation is your imagination!
It comes in nine different colours across three different sizes—try the one best suited to your need to play!
- Small: 2-stud wide, 3.3′, MSRP $12.99 CAD
- Medium: 2-stud wide, 6.6′, MSRP $18.99 CAD
- Large: 4-stud wide, 6.6′, MSRP $24.99 CAD
14) Tangles & Fidget Cubes
So I hear fidgeting’s a problem with today’s kids. I mean, far as I know it always has, but I guess it’s better to find a positive way to release energy than to just send a kid to the corner every time they grow restless.
With Tangles and the Original Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs, they give kids a way to turn that directionless energy into constructive energy with ways to snap, twist, click and spin their stress away!
Colourful 90° curved sections that link together, twisting and turning at each joint, Tangles inspire creativity and artistic imagination without disturbing others. With various patterns, colours and types, there’s a Tangle to match whatever your kid’s disposition! There are no beginnings. No ends. The possibilities are endless!
Connect and collect them all!
- MSRP $4.99
Launched on Kickstarter in 2016 and only growing since, the Original Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs are versatile fidget toys with various buttons, dials and switches to let your kids click, spin, roll and glide away so they can focus.
And they can be quiet, too! With the five clicker buttons, two of them are silenced so as not to become annoying, and there’s even a side designed like a gaming joystick that should keep any kid entertained!
Recent releases saw Marvel and DC superhero-themed cubes added to the mix, so what’s stopping you? Get with it and fidget!
Don’t Worry Last-Minute Shoppers; I Got You — Let’s Make Christmas Perfect for Your Kids!
So if you’re at a loss for what to get the little ones in your life, I hope this guide at least gave you an idea. Every Christmas challenges our expectations for what toys can do, sing, say and think—hopefully they inspire the same from our children!
Good luck out there my fellow shopping cart warriors, and may your Christmas season be a merry one!
Disclaimer: This gift guide was brought together with contributions from Microsoft, VTech, Zing Toys, Spin Master and ZURU. However, all the thoughts and opinions remain my own—and my boys’, of course. They’re the ones who’ll be playing with all this stuff!