The best toys for 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds and 8-year-olds (and every age in between!)

Looking for the perfect present for a child? Here’s our pick of the best toys for Christmas 2017 and beyond, with detailed reviews and a buying guide to help get you started. And we’re not just talking about the big-selling, high-profile toys and games here: we’ve also found you some less obvious choices that kids will love, spanning all price ranges.

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 – 3-year-olds plus, 5-year-olds plus, and 8-year-olds plus – to make it easier to find the toys that fit the bill.

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.

Looking for baby toys? Then click here to read our guide to the best baby toys

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 play 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.

The best toys for 3-year-olds and up

1. Early Learning Centre Adventure Train Set: A beautiful wooden train set

£30, Buy now from ELC

With 100 pieces, including a magnetic train and other vehicles, this wooden train set is incredible value. As well as train tracks, you get a bridge, a police station, people, trees, signs, animals and – our testers’ favourite – a working magnetic crane. Traditional, chunky, colourful and durable, these pieces will withstand almost anything and there’s no reason the set shouldn’t last until the grandchildren come along. Our testers enjoyed setting it up as much as playing with it, although woe betide anyone who tries to tidy it away when they take a break.

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

2. Wicked Megabounce XTR: The ultimate bouncy ball

£6, Buy now

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 birds – this thing goes seriously high into the sky. Available in red, blue and yellow, be prepared for it hitting the ceiling if you don’t get them playing it outside.

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

3. PAW Patrol Sea Patroller: Best TV series tie-in toy

£56, Buy now from Argos

PAW Patrol is one of the most popular animated TV series around for under-5s, with protagonist Ryder leading a pack of rescue dogs on missions to protect the local community. And this clever toy will delight any fan: the boat doubles up as a land vehicle when you slide the bridge forward, so you essentially get two toys in one. And with real sounds and lights, plus a detachable anchor, life-ring launcher, crane and cage, it’s got no shortage of imagination-friendly features – plus it can hold up to two vehicles, as well as the included Ryder’s Rescue ATV. There are dozens of PAW Patrol toys out there, but this is the newest and, in our opinion, the best yet.

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

4. Sylvanian Families Starry Point Lighthouse: Best for imagination

£32, Buy now from Amazon

Sylvanians, if you don’t know, are those tiny animal figurines that have been around for decades, yet still hold their appeal. There’s so many to collect that once you start you’re pretty much set for Christmas and birthday presents for years to come. The all-new Starry Point Lighthouse doesn’t come cheap, but it boasts a great range of features, with imaginative play encouraged by getting the little creatures to watch the moon or stars (which kids can also do by projecting the included slides onto their bedroom ceiling). The lighthouse lights up too: it’s all reassuringly twee, and come with lots of tiny accessories, including a whale-shaped table and a pirate-ship shaped bed. Just be warned that some of the pieces really are minute.

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

5. Robo Alive: Best animal-themed toy

£15, Buy now from Argos

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 – 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 to the rellies 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

6. Early Learning Centre Four-in-One Games Table: Best for multiple games

£100, Buy now from ELC

If you’re thinking of treating your child to a football or snooker table, check out this more comprehensive alternative that includes both, plus table tennis and hockey – and all the accessories you need to get playing. At 198cm x 48cm (and standing 65cm high) it’s the perfect size for little ones, and suitably sturdy and colourful too. It might start to feel a bit cramped by the time they reach six or so, but that’s a good few years of play value and it’s great for building hand-to-eye coordination.

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

The best toys for 5-year-olds and up

1. Laser X Two-Player Pack: Best competitive toy

£50, Buy now from Amazon

Laser Tag is a game that never goes out of style and here’s a great, affordable set for kids. The concept is simple: if you’re blasted by your opponent’s gun – which works up to 60 metres away with impressive accuracy – then your vest changes colour. Get hit ten times and you’re out. It’s got plenty of effects – including lights, sounds and music, plus speech – making for a hi-tech gaming experience. The guns feel nice and solid, without being heavy, and the trigger has a satisfying responsive click. The vest, meanwhile, is held securely in place with stretchy elastic straps, with a power switch that doubles up as team selector. It’s not great in bright sunlight, but otherwise this is seriously good fun.

Key details – Age range: 6+; Other colours/versions available?: No

2. B Toys Pop Arty Jewellery: Best craft toy

£20, Buy now from Brightminds

There’s no shortage of jewellery-making kits available, but this award-winning one stands out because the pieces pops together so easily, making it much less fiddly than other kits. The parts are equally easy to unpop, so you can use it again and again. The booklet has some great ideas and you get a generous five bracelets and seven rings to which the pop-able parts can be attached. It’s a great, creative way to develop fine motor skills, and lots of fun too: our little testers cried (yes, really) when we told them it was time to put the kit away.

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

3. Hatchimals Surprise: Best interactive furry toy

£75, Buy Now from Amazon

Hatchimals were last year’s must-have Christmas toy; no surprise that the manufacturer has come up with all-new versions for Christmas 2017, including this one that contains twins. Once you’ve taken the egg out of the box, it takes around 20 minutes to hatch; after that, you “raise” these interactive furry friends, 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. Not everyone is a fan – you may have seen a viral review from mum-of-two Kirsty Myerscough who deemed Hatchimals a complete rip-off. But while the toys certainly aren’t cheap, this double-bubble version undeniably gives you more bang for your buck. Parents will be very grateful for the shut-off button, however, as they can be noisy.

Key details – Age range: 5+; Other colours/versions available?: Yes

4. L.O.L. Surprise Series 2: Best collectable toy

£6, Buy now from Argos

There are no fewer than 45 dolls in the L.O.L. Surprise range – some rarer than others – and you won’t know which you’ve got until you peel off the first layer of wrapping, to reveal a message that gives a clue to the identity of the doll inside. Next you come to four collectable, emoji-like stickers which link to the things the doll might do – such as wee, spit, cry or change colour – and which can be stuck onto a collector poster. The next four layers reveal accessories and outfits, then finally you get the doll itself. Dressing the doll up and seeing what features they have got our testers pretty excited, and the ball doubles up as a carry-case, stand and lounge/diner. Great play value for the money, but be warned – they’re addictive, so expect to be hassled to buy more of them.

Key details – Age range: 6+; Other colours/versions available?: Yes

5. Vtech Kidizoom Action Cam 180: Best tech toy

£50, Buy now from Argos

This robust camera with its rotatable lens lets kids take photos, record videos and play games. It even has a waterproof case for underwater pics – great fun for bathtime and on holidays in the pool – and it can be mounted to a scooter or bicycle so they can take photos on the move. It’s nice and lightweight, yet easy to use and impressively sturdy (we dropped it on purpose just to make sure). Our young testers loved playing with its special effects, particularly the slow and fast motion: “awesome” was the overall judgment.

Key details – Age range: 5+; Other colours/versions available?: No

6. The Original Stretch Armstrong: Best action figure

£22, Buy Now from Amazon

Here’s a retro toy that will give parents of a certain age a bit of nostalgia – while kids will have great fun discovering the world’s stretchiest action figure for the first time. Extend and pull him to up to four times his normal strength, then tie him in knots and watch in wonder as he uses his superhuman strength to return to his original shape. As his original size is about 15 inches, that means you can stretch him out to a whopping four or five feet. No wonder this toy was such a hit in the 1970s – and it’s just as fab today.

Key details – Age range: 5+; Other colours/versions available?: No

The best toys for 8-year-olds and up

1. Nerf Nitro Longshot Smash: Best blasting toy

£20, Buy now from Argos

“Not another Nerf gun, please!” is what you might well be thinking – but wait. This one is a damn sight cheaper than most Nerf guns, and instead of encouraging little boys to mow down their siblings, it’s designed for setting up long-distance jumping stunts, using the foam cars, ramp and obstacles provided. Just blast a car at the ramp and it’ll soar through the air towards a grand crash-landing into the barrels. An excellent variation on a popular theme.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available?: Yes

2. Geosafari Vega 360 Telescope: Best astronomy-themed toy

£40, Buy Now from Amazon

This first telescope is a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to astronomy. It’s specially designed for small hands, and is very lightweight and portable – yet the quality of vision was much better than we expected, giving a clear view of the moon through the small viewing area, as well as the planets and stars. It’s easy to set up, and comes with a tripod, two eyepieces with different magnification factors and a longer extender eyepiece for viewing earthbound objects. You can get cheaper telescopes, but this one hits the sweet spot for quality and price. Just note that it could be a bit sturdier – you’ll definitely need the tripod to hold it still.

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

3. Rubik’s Original Cube: Best classic toy

£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

4. Anki Cozmo Robot: Best STEM toy

£199, Buy now from John Lewis

At two hundred big ones, your child may need to be really angelic to get this for Christmas, but it’s a clear winner among STEM toys. Created by a team of roboticists, animators and developers, Cozmo is great fun not just for kids but adults too. Designed to want to play, he’s like one of those pet robots you see in the movies, with a personality that draws you in from the off and seemingly endless capabilities. Facial recognition enables Cozmo to learn who he’s talking to (although he occasionally muddled our children up) and there’s no shortage of games to play with him. Robust, portable, funny and adorable, Cozmo is a great addition to the family – though note that you will need a Wi-Fi connection to make him work.

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

5. Nikko RC Pyscho Gyro: Best remote-control toy

£50, Buy now from Argos

Available in blue and green, this remote-control car puts on quite a show, with serious speed and stunt capabilities, such as spinning around on one wheel. The high-grip tyres mean it works on most hard surfaces both inside and out, and we found the controller easy to use and very responsive, so you feel in complete control of the drive. The range is decent too, at 40m, and if your child’s friends get one too, then up to ten cars can race at once. It’s perhaps rather noisier than we’d like, but it’s not as if the kids mind.

Key details – Age range: 8+; Other colours/versions available?: Yes

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