Affordable Choices for Preschoolers and Early School Years
Great Gifts for Under $20
Tags: Gifts Under $20,
Posted: 2010-01-10 19:39:04 By: Joanne Oppenheim

 

This year $19.95 is the magic number! That's even before the sales begin. Many of our favorite toys this season will not break the bank or leave you with a credit card headache when the tinsel is gone. Check out the $20 & under Game list. Here is our $20 & under list for Preschoolers and Early School Years.

 

 

 
2009 Awards
LeapFrog Counting Candles
(LeapFrog $15.99 Score: )

Who doesn't love a birthday cake and candles? Imagine, now you can have a pretend birthday any day you like. Designed so that it counts as you push the button to light 1-2-3-4-5 candles, this clever little cake teaches one to one relationships in counting. It also sings the birthday song AND best of all tricks--when it says...now blow out the candles...hold on to your hat! The candles go out! Magic! These are several other songs built into the pay, but it's the candles that will win the day! Tell the teddy bears and dolls to get ready. They can count on many pretend parties with this one! They say 1 & up. We'd say 2's and up will like this best! The company tells us that this toy is exclusive to Toys R Us until the beginning of 2010.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

SNAP IDEAS: Counting to five is not just a rote game here. You actually must touch each candle to make it light, so there is one to one relationship here that is reinforced. We found children and adults were totally amazed with the magic of being able to blow out the candles. Kids also love the idea of being able to celebrate birthdays any day of the week. How about a teddy bear's birthday?

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2009.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Smushy Monkey
(North American Bear Co. $17 Score: )

Irresistibly huggable 22” sand colored monkey with velvety snout, ears and paws. Slightly under stuffed this is covered in a plush that is both short and long so that it feels super soft and looks unusual in a positive way. Smushy’s features are stitched and he sports a peach ribbon. The long arms, legs and tail make this a perfect choice for toddlers who prefer their huggables big enough to fill their arms…yet need them to be light enough for easy lugging about. Although the neck ribbon is stitched on the manufacturer’s tag says to remove the ribbon before giving the monkey to a small child. Also available in 14” size for $17. 2 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

 

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2009.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Lego Pink Brick Box
(Lego Systems, Inc. $16.99 Score: )

While we're usually not big fans of such gender-specific toys, if this product will get your daughter interested in building --go for it!  Playing with construction toys improves spatial relations and related math skills--so if we want more female engineers--we need to start when they're small with opportunities that introduce them to these concepts. While this set suggests you can build a house and does come with a pony, it also is open-ended (just stop looking at the box color)...with 216 pieces. Earlier color-coded building sets for girls,that were  introduced a while back tended to provide gender specific themes such as beauty shops, mall, kitchens (really!) At least this Pink Brick Box is more open ended. The models shown are a vehicle, people, pets, and a house. We can live with that. As always we're big fans of these sets that come in sturdy buckets for easy storage. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Lego Road Construction Set
(Lego Systems, Inc. $19.99 Score: )

Kids who are fascinated with vehicles will be able to build more than three chunky wheeled trucks—a steam roller, earth mover with lift, and dump truck. Therr sets of instructions includes 15 different building ideas...not to mention the ones young builders will come up with on their own. A great gift for under $20. Says 4 & up. We think 4’s will need assistance. Good for dramatic play and as props for block buildings.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2010 Award
Lego Star Wars Collection
(Lego Systems, Inc. $19.99 Score: )

The number one requested LEGO sets from our testers continues to be STAR WARS. There is a set for every budget. Top-ratings went to the Freeco Speeder (177pieces) ages 7-12., the Droid Tri-fighter (268pieces) ages 7-12  and the larger ARC-170 Starfighter (396 pieces) ages 8-14.  Yes, this is an exception to our non-violence rule. It's fantasy--good prevails--we're ok with it.

more details from our reviewers:

For the Droid-Tri-Fighter our 9 year old tester thought the design was great, really accurate (but he feels that this is true of the LEGO Star Wars line in general).  He felt it was more structurally sound than many of his other Star Wars models. There weren't too many cool features but he did like that you could put hte action figure into the center ball like space. "The clear ball in which you can put a figure connects with the normal Lego connection, so opening and shutting it is a pain. I would have expected a hinge-like apparatus as most enclosures on Lego Star Wars vehicles have." Our parent tester thought that kids beyond 9 would not be too interested in this particular model--because there weren't may gadgets. 

Our 7-year old builder took on the Freeco Speeder and was able to do this set independently--a feat that pleased both our tester and his mom. "This does have a hinge-like apparatus to open and shut the round cover over the driver. The hinge (bar) makes it easy to put figures in and take them out. The 2 figures that came with this, Anakin Skywalker and Thi-Sen, were very popular, especially Anakin. This really seems to make a difference, especially for a 7-yr-old.

This too feels much stronger than most Star Wars vehicles, it doesn't feel like it will fall apart if you drop it. It has interesting and accurate details like the ski-like parts on the bottom, but it should be noted that the picture on the box leads you to believe that this vehicle has shooting things, or shooting capabilities, when it does not. And other than the ski-like things on the bottom, and the clear cover on the top, this vehicle has no moving parts."


The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2010. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Wedgits Building Blocks Imagination Set
(ImagAbility $20 Score: )

There's something extremely elegant about Wedgits. The plastic shapes stack and combine together without effort, which makes playing with them so appealing. They have an open-ended quality to them that invites exploration. This isn't the type of building set that you make once - it's easy to take the pieces apart and try something new. A new 15 piece set is $20 and a good starting place. You can add to this set with more pieces, a base for building on, and patterns for older kids to follow. They have gender specific pink set, but we prefer the primary colors. Unlike many building sets, this does not have any themed pieces. The geometric shapes invite experiments with symmetry, balance and exploration with nesting, stacking, linking and wedging together the shapes to create designs. We gave the 60 piece Wedgits on Wheels an award back in 2006. But it was very pricey and really more appropriate for older builders. New this year are the Mini Wedgits, smaller sets for building a Mini Wedgit Frog, Dog or, Owl. The mini-sets can also be mixed in with the larger expandman sets. In such a high tech world, this may seem too old fashioned for some--there are no motors or lights, but it is still a very interesting toy.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 



 

 


2009 Award
Benson Bear
(Mary Meyer $20 Score: )

A 10” cream colored teddy bear with slightly contrasting snout and ears. Benson has a brown velvety nose and elongated muzzle and black shiny eyes. Also available in smaller 7” size and in brown with paws and muzzle in off white. We prefer stitched features for babies and toddlers. This is a better choice for 3’s & up.

  The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.
 

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2009.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Simms Taback Jumbo Animals Floor Puzzle
(Briarpatch $18.99 Score: )

34 big pieces fit together to form a jolly 20 X 30 inch floor puzzle featuring two stacks of animals saying what each of them say…as in 'Woof!' 'Oink!' 'Moo!' and so on. All the pieces fit into a sturdy box with magnetic closure buried inside. Taback's amusing critters add special delight to this colorful choice for young puzzle players. They say 3-6. We're sure 3's will need help. So will most 4's. Also fun, Simms Taback Animal Parade. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Simms Taback Animal Parade Floor Puzzle
(Briarpatch $18.99 Score: )

You are going to love the look of this handsome 48 piece floor puzzle. Each animal pictured comes in four pieces with the background color serving as a clue. You do need plenty of room for this loooong puzzle and younger kids may need help to get started. But not to worry, the big pieces make this ideal for younger kids. After it is complete, be sure to play a riddle game by taking turns telling a few sentences about the animal you are thinking of and see if your child can find it. For example: Say 'I am thinking of an animal that goes hippity-hop and has a bushy tail.'  Add a color clue, if needed, or a rhyming clue. Encourage kids to take turns in making up the riddles. Also special, the Simms Taback Jumbo Floor Puzzle ($18.99) with farm animals.  They say 3-6. We're sure 3's will need help. So will most 4's. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.
 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Glodoodle
(Spinmaster $19.99 Score: )

Here's the newest twist on your old Magna Doodle. This see-through drawing board writes in three colors and glows in the dark. Give the magic button a push and the board is clean and ready for the next doodle or spelling word or math fact. This toy works well in the back seat of a car at night or for tic tac toe games. For family fun let one of the kids keep score of your 20 Questions game on the drive to wherever. Earlier models of the toy had some problems with erasing. The newest model fared better with most of our testers with one notable exception.  So we feel somewhat torn about this award--on the one hand, it is a really cool concept, but of course if you get a dud, then it doesn't matter how great the product is supposed to be.   If you have gotten an earlier model or just having a problem with the eraser - return it for a newer model. This takes three AA batteries and has to be turned off manually...no automatic timer, so be forewarned! They say 3 & up. We'd say all ages. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
FlipFlaps Puppets: Turvy Dragonfly, Tipsy Butterfly and Tosy Hummingbird
(Manhattan Toy $16 Score: )

This image doesn't do the product justice. Among the cutest hand puppets of the season! There's a green Flipflaps Turvy Dragonfly with wide iridescent lavender wings. Or look for the Tipsy Butterfly, red with lavender head and wide bright yellow wings etched in purple. We also love the Tosy Hummingbird in teal blue with golden body, tail feathers, and beak. Any one of these is a winner! 3 & up.This company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

 

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Kids Preferred Peter Rabbit Hand Puppet
(Kids Preferred $15 Score: )

A silky plush Peter Rabbit with velour blue jacket with stitched gold buttons and safe stitched features. Soft enough to be a huggable, this has the added value of being a hand puppet that older sibs and parents can use for peek-a-boo games with baby or telling a story. From tracking to story telling, this is a great toy for interacting, language development and pretend play. All ages.

Age: Infants, Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Creativity for Kids Custom Street Machine
(Creativity for Kids $20 Score: )

A wide 7" long wooden racer comes with metallic acrylic paints, two brushes (for big strokes and fine work) as well as rub off and 3-D stickers that are added after the paint dries. The car is fun to play with sturdy rubber-like tires or put it on display on the foiled stand that assembles with ease. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab. 5 & up.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Felt Fashions Messenger Bag
(Creativity for Kids $20 Score: )

Use the colorful stick-on felt pieces to decorate the canvas messenger bag. Smaller than a back pack but big enough for homework or ballet slippers and tutu, this11 ¾ X 10 ¼ inch bag comes in natural color canvas with bright red piping and adjustable strap. It has a key chain attached and a pocket for pens. There are 5 sheets of self adhesive shapes—more than 200 pieces that might be added to other objects, as well. A fun craft project that can be used. 7 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Money Monster Banks
(Creativity for Kids $19.99 Score: )

Two ceramic monster banks come with acrylic and puff paint, paint and sponge brushes, adhesive dots, wiggly eyes, fun fur hair and ideas for decorating. The big bank has a big enough mouth to "eat" bills while the smaller one has an opening for coins. Both have removable plugs that allow kids to get to their savings without breaking the bank. You'll find the acrylic paint needs two coats for good coverage. 8 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 
2009 Awards
Freeze Pop Factory
(Little Kids $19.99 Score: )

Kids can use regular fruit juices to make these frozen treats. The kit comes with a stand and 36 self sealing freeze pop bags. It also includes a 4 pop stick holders for making ice pops. Unlike a lot of food machines for kids, this one comes apart easily for cleaning. A fun toy for cool summertime snacks that are healthy with a little in the way of science experiments built into the liquid to solid transformations. A nice big box for a birthday gift that’s under $20. 5 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 
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