I love ASTRA and what they stand for (ASTRA = The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association).  I love how they encourage and promote shopping at local toy stores, because shopping at those stores is so much fun. 

Plus, you find the coolest  toys, and the people who work in those stores are so very helpful figuring out the perfect gift for someone special.  Or, you know, if you want to channel your inner kid and buy a toy for yourself.  Totally cool to do that, too.

The non-profit ASTRA has just released their “Best Toys for Kids 2013” list and it is the perfect handy reference for parents.  Each of the 21 toys selected is a winner and was judged on the following criteria:

  • Ability to promote open-ended/creative play
  • Innovative design features
  • Exceptional safety standards

I’m pretty sure you’ll all agree that those three things are something we consider when shopping for toys to bring home for the kids.  When shopping for toys to give to nieces and nephews, not only are those considered, but generally I try to find the noisiest toys I can just for fun.  Of course payback is something-or-other, too.  Ahem.

We were thrilled when we received the following toys from ASTRA’s “Best Toys for Kids 2013” list, especially since they are the perfect combination of fun and learning – and learning fun:


First up is RingStix Lite:


RingStix Lite
By RingStix – System Enterprises LLC

RingStix is a simple and innovative variation of the most common game in everyone’s childhood, catch. It uses two Stix shaped like inverted swords to propel a ring at ones partner, who catches the ring and throws it back using his Stix. The game is easy to learn and can be played from 30 yards away. Hours of fun awaits you with this awesome game. Each game contains a full set for two players: 4 Stix, each different color 1 Red Ring.

Since the weather hasn’t cooperated, we haven’t had a chance to take these out in the backyard and really put them through their paces – we can’t wait!  Princess Nagger loves that the ‘Stix’ look like swords.  I better watch out when I go out and play with her.  They have a cool video on their website that shows how they work (making PN even more anxious for the weather to clear up for play):

Next up is Little Dude’s favorite.  He kept asking “We play now?” every 5 minutes after I took this out of the shipping box:


Zingo! Sight Words
By ThinkFun, Inc.

Zingo!® Sight Words is a fun and interactive word game that brings fast-paced excitement and learning to the classic game of Bingo! Players learn to quickly recognize and read sight words, which are words with spelling that is not always straightforward. Sight words are the most frequently used words in the English language and make up about 50 – 75 % of all written material. Learning and mastering sight words is a key step in becoming a successful, fluent reader. The sight words used in this game have been specially selected by leading educators as the most fundamental for reading development.

Since Little Dude has ADHD and ODD, he’s a tough playmate with this game – but he does try when it suits him.  We’ve made this a regular thing on the two days a week he’s not in school, so he keeps his brain churning in that learning mode.  I love that it’s not only a fun game, but definitely educational.

Last but not least, Princess Nagger could not wait to get this next toy out of its box:


Air-Stream Machines
By Thames & Kosmos

Build a working hovercraft that glides across smooth floors or flat water on a cushion of air. Learn how even though air is invisible, it still has mass and can support very heavy objects under the right circumstances. Experiment with propellers and impellers to learn about air pressure and air flow. The models in this kit use a unique blower motor and a safe, soft-bladed fan to drive a series of models.

The blower motor uses an impeller to increase the air pressure under the hovercraft. The fan creates a stream of air to push the vehicle forward. Using these components, you can build and investigate the hovercraft and other machines that rely on air and air pressure to function.

Construct a batting machine that tosses a ball upward on a stream of air. Assemble a basketball launcher and practice shooting hoops with air power. Make a fan-driven car that drives forward, propelled by a stream of air. Experiment to see how much weight your hovercraft can support. Full-color, 32-page experiment manual. 59 building pieces.

Princess Nagger loves any kind of set that she has to put together – she likes to see how fast she can assemble things, and this one had the extra bonus with being a Hovercraft!  She had a lot of fun experimenting with it as a hovercraft, and discovered it moves best on bare floors vs. carpets:


She also made a little batting machine and had a great time batting a little Styrofoam ball all over the basement (with Little Dude cheering her on and giggling hysterically).  She’s brainstorming other things she can use the components with creatively.  I’ll keep you posted.

In celebration of the fun to be had shopping at your neighborhood store, ASTRA has an amazing “I Heart My Neighborhood Toy Store” sweepstakes going on.  This is one you don’t want to miss so hurry on over and enter before the November 8, 2013 deadline.

Grand Prize: Thomas & Friends™ invites you on the family vacation of a lifetime at select all inclusive Hard Rock Hotels in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.  This is one Little Dude is really hoping to get.  Note: This Sweepstakes is open to legal U.S. residents except for residents of Florida,  Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and other foreign United States  territories. Click here to view the official rules and regulations.

But wait, there’s more!  There are also 6 Featured Prizes with some of ASTRA’s favorite toys!

  • One gift basket of Kidoozie products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • One gift basket of Calico Critter products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • One gift basket of early ears products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • Gift certificates for Playmobil products. Two winners will receive a $250 Playmobil gift certificate each to be redeemed at an ASTRA-affiliated retailer
  • One gift basket of assorted Best Toys for Kids winning product from ASTRA valued at $250

Those are great prizes to win, aren’t they?  So what are you waiting for?  Go enter for your chance to win at ASTRA’s website:


Find out more and feel free to connect with ASTRA on their website, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Do you have a favorite local toy store you like to support?






Note: I received the toys shown above to facilitate this review.  No monetary compensation was received implied or otherwise.  As always, the opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.  See my disclosure policy here.

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  1. I’ve never heard of ring stix before but they look really fun! Definitely something to revisit for summer toys and activities. I think it’s important for kids to play with toys like this as well as the traditional dolls and video games because it promotes an active child.

  2. As someone who regularly buys games and toys for nieces, nephews and friend’s kids and also reviews same, I found your article of interest.

    I always look for toys that are entertaining and engaging and if they are also educational and encourage creativity, even better. Safety is, however, not just the deciding factor but the first thing I consider before making a purchase.
    Susan would like you to read ..Playskool Sesame Street Ernie Farm Train ReviewMy Profile

  3. You have a really unique website here and, so far, I have enjoyed what I have read. You obviously have a passion for what you do, and it shows in the quality of the material you have posted here. Great job!

  4. I always emphasize on the part that kids toys should be educational as well besides entertaining. Your article makes me even more sure how important is learning while playing. What could be better to gift our kids than the toys that bring out their creativity?

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