I can't be the only one who loves holiday shopping. The smell of pine boughs. The joy of finding something my loved ones are destined to love. The entertainment of watching normally sane and level-headed parents fight over the hot holiday toys on Black Friday like they're the last bar of chocolate on earth.
Parents take the warnings that such and such toy is going to be hot and hard to find very SERIOUSLY, and for good reason. I was once that mom trying to find the very last doll in the store way too close to Christmas. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
But how do you know that it's really worth throwing on your battle gear and actually going to war for an XBox One or an InnoTab? What will the kids actually play with for years to come?
We decided to ask -- who else -- real kids to test the "hot" toys of the 2013 holiday season.
We wanted to know: what's boring, what falls apart in seconds, what gets cast aside in seconds? And for that matter, what do the kids say they absolutely must have for Hanukkah or Christmas? So we gathered one 4-year-old boy, one 6-year-old boy, two 8-year-old girls, one 8-year-old boy, and a teenager to help us.
More from The Stir: 25 Classic Toys Our Kids Will Love as Much as We Did This Holiday
The products were all procured as samples from the manufacturers (with the exception of the XBox One, which was purchased by the writer), and presented to the kids as is. The parents and teen helped only in getting them out of boxes and/or with any set-up that required an adult's touch.
We asked the kids to be honest, and to make sure they were, we didn't tell them they'd get to keep their favorites until after the test was over.
Are you surprised by what they had to say about #12? What's on your kids' holiday list this year?
Image by Jeanne Sager
I haven't met a kid yet who didn't find bathroom humor absolutely hilarious. So it's no surprise that everyone loved a dog that burps and farts.
Six-year-old Evan declared it "awesome," and was begging to take it home, but I had to check with his mom first. She found it almost as funny -- hey, she has three boys at home.
The toy is made of a rubbery plastic, and its rear end is open so you can put your hand in it -- akin to a puppet. The dog even comes with its own adoption certificate, so there's more to it than just the 30-some gross noises. A definite hit.
I had high hopes for this one -- after all, there are a TON of broken crayons in my house that I'd love to melt down.
The sight of the machine excited all the kids, even the boys wanted to make their own crayon rings. Unfortunately, it takes much longer to melt the crayon wax than the timer would indicate. The 8-year-olds working the machine (with help from a Mom -- this is definitely an "adult supervision required" toy) were frustrated that the directions didn't state how long it would take for the crayons to melt, and that they had to turn the timer on several times to make it happen.
They loved the end product, however, and 8-year-old Jillian said she'd want to try to make more.
The kids didn't say they wouldn't want one, and the moms love the creativity angle, but it's definitely a project to try when the kids have other things to do to keep them occupied.
Not into crayons? Crayola also has a marker maker out this year!
Our girl testers practically tore the box in half trying to get this out -- it plays off their every fantasy about having their own fairy -- but they were disappoined they couldn't play with it immediately.
Turns out loading the batteries aren't enough; the fairy itself still needs to be charged. A definite hit with the girl testers, but something to be aware of for holiday morning play.
When 8-year-old Bella saw this toy, her immediate reaction was "it's a baby toy." That might be because when her 3-year-old sister saw it, she was head over heels in love!
Like most Fur Real figures, the monkey makes realistic noises and is bound to be a hit with kids who love the animal. It's real seller for parents might be that it's a bit softer than some of the others (specifically the cats).
This is one of the more expensive LEGO sets out for kids this season, and it's in HIGH demand.
But Max, 8, said it's well worth it. He devoted days to bulding the set -- even telling his mom he'd rather build than come to dinner -- and he hasn't been able to stop playing with it since.
This one did seem to fall down gender lines -- at least among the kids in the test group. The girls were pretty uninterested. They said they'd prefer LEGO's Dolphin Cruiser this holiday.
This fortune telling toy leads kids through a serious of questions until it "guesses" the animal the child has in mind. It's small and cute, and the kids all wanted to give it a try.
But as 8-year-old Max said, "It's really awesome for about half an hour, but then it gets annoying."
The thing is, all Magic Jinn can guess is the ANIMAL you're thinking of. Nothing else. The kids didn't seem to want to play with it after testing it on one or two animals each.
If you're on the fence about it, consider this: does your child have sleepovers and playdates? This toy would be perfect for that.
Another year, another version of the Pillow Pet. Every tester already has one Pillow Pet or another, but that didn't stop them from insisting they need one that glows because "it would make an awesome nightlight."
The pets are indeed cute, and would probably be good for kiddos who are afraid of the dark. But don't expect to be able to throw these in the wash like the original.
Got a kid who wants a dog but don't have the room? This robot is adorable, and he doesn't shed!
The kid testers wanted to put him through his paces, but we quickly found that a lot of kids talking was just too much noise for this guy. This is definitely a toy for children who have patience and will work on "tricks" with Zoomer ... and are willing to repeat themselves.
The trolls are back! Er, excuse me, the Zelfs. Little troll-like creatures, the Zelfs have the same hair that kids back in the 90s loved to brush, but they've also got more pliable plastic bodies that 8-year-old Bella said is much easier for playing (as she stuffed her Zelf in a "chair").
The toy sets also seem to be designed with parents in mind. The Venus Fly Trap Hair Salon seen above is actually a flower pot that closes up -- with all the little pieces trapped inside for travel.
Doc McStuffins is on the hot holiday list for the second year in a row, and this time it's with a full check-up "center" for kids to get their doctor play on.
The boys ignored the set, but the girls were adamant that it be opened immediately, and announced they love Doc.
The center is much bigger than I expected -- think the size of a toy kitchen -- and it's fully stocked with plenty of items to keep the kids entertained.
From the folks who make the scooters comes a go-cart for kids to go crazy, and they did! We took this outside, and the kids had a blast. Even in the cold, it was hard to get them to come inside. Not one child had a bad thing to say about the Crazy Cart.
From the mom side, the price certainly makes this a "group gift," and yet only one kid can ride at a time. Parents need to be aware that this does not come with helmets, so add that to your expense.
Also, this is a toy that needs to be heavily supervised and used only by children who listen to directions and listen well. There is no guard to keep kids feet on the pedal/on the cart, and I had to remind several children to keep their feet down lest they get trapped beneath the spinning cart.
Not just your every day remote control vehicle, the plane from the Disney movie is controlled by your arms rather than your fingers!
Eight-year-old Max said he's not a big Planes fan, but the method of controlling the toy was the real allure. His 4-year-old brother, however, was the most hooked on this toy. Fortunately, it was easy enough for him to control too.
Remember when Air Hogs actually required air? This doesn't, but that doesn't mean it wasn't cool.
The kids -- especially 8-year-old Max -- probably would have spent hours playing with this remote controlled "copter" that hovers in the air and actually bounces off the ground if you lose altitude.
The one drawback -- from the mom perspective -- is that in order to keep it light and make it work so well, the copter is rather flimsy. That's by design rather than a true flaw, but because of it, this toy should be reserved for kids who are a little older and/or responsible with their toys.
As 6-year-old Evan ran around the house with this Nerf gun perched on his shoulder, I had to ask: what makes this any different from any of the OTHER Nerf guns you have at home?
His answer? "You can shoot more and shoot faster! And it's fun!"
Well, there you have it. This Nerf is loaded down with enough Nerf "bullets" that even a kid with horrible aim is probably going to get lucky at some point.
Of course the problem with that? The gun shoots out all the "bullets" rapid fire and at pretty long distances ... which means a lot of time spent running around collecting the "bullets" and reloading.
Finally! A little kids tablet that lets you download games instead of making you run to the store to buy cartridges all the time! WiFi access offers a vast improvement on the old InnoTab that takes the standard cartridges.
Our older kids were eager to play with it, but got a bit bored when they realized they couldn't go online and do anything themselves. Eight-year-old Jillian was disappointed it did not work like a Kindle Fire. But for kids who don't need open access to the Internet, this should be a hit.
Remember Break the Ice? The board game that takes forever to set up and is beaten in 2 seconds?
Boom Boom Balloon has a LOT in common with it. The game takes some adult help to set up, and it's fairly easy to beat.
That said, there wasn't a single child who wasn't in stitches when they got the balloon to blow.
It's so hot that it may be impossible to get, but how could we not have some kids try out the new XBox One?
The unit comes with a new -- improved -- Kinect, and that's where we saw the real benefit for kids. The Kinect is much more adept at handling the fast and jerky movements of kids and better able to recognize the voice of kids.
Eight-year-old was saying "XBox on" and getting a response in no time.
The major drawback (aside from the price?) is that there aren't a lot of games out for kids to play because the console is so new.