Tired of buying the kids the same old things for the holidays? Looking for something new? Here are some suggestions of 11 products that were tested by Milwaukee-area families.

Bears for Humanity Sherpa Bear

These teddy bears have a mission. For every bear that is bought, Bears for Humanity, through its work with various charitable organizations, gives a teddy bear to a child in need.

$45, bearsforhumanity.com

This is a nice, soft, cuddly bear for young kids to sleep with, play with and snuggle with, although I wouldn't give it to a kid under 3 because of the possibility of pulling the eyes off of it.

Pam, mom of Parker (11 months)


Green Toys Fire Station Playset

This set includes a fire station, fire truck, fire cat, bunk beds and a fire hose. The doors open and close, and all the pieces fit inside the fire station, making it easy to pick up by the handle and take along to your next play destination.

$49.99, greentoys.com

A product heavily touting its U.S. origins and freedom from unsafe chemicals, my personal interest in the firehouse set is the limited number of pieces, and the components are large enough for both my 2-year-old and 4-year-old to find enjoyment. The setup is simple and familiar, comparable to any portable environment you’d find from Little People or similar brands. Of particular intrigue to my 4-year-old was the small platform that moves up and down between the two levels of the construct, a “fireman’s pole” that can quickly lower the characters through the floor.

JR, dad of Owen (4) and Lydia (2)

Snurk Dress-up Bedding (Princess and Firefighter)

When children pull up the duvet and lay their heads on the pillow, they're suddenly "dressed up" as a princess or firefighter.

$89.95, signals.com

What little girl doesn't love princesses? My daughter transformed into a princess herself with this cute duvet cover. Snuggled up under the covers, she can see herself dressed in a beautiful pink ball gown! The fabric is 100-percent cotton, so it’s comfortable and easy to wash. And our bedtime routine has never been simpler!

Amy, mom of Avery (6) and Parker (1)

Irish Fairy Door

Each fairy door comes with a magical key in a bottle, three stepping stones, the family/fairy lease agreement and a notepad -- everything you need to help your fairy settle into her new home!

$24.99, theirishfairydoorcompany.com

When I told my two daughters, ages 8 and 5, that we would be trying out a fairy door from the Irish Fairy Door Company, they were beyond excited. We read the little storybook that came with the door, read and signed the lease agreement and hopped online so my girls could pick out a name for their fairy.

After picking the perfect spot, against the wall in our living room on top of one of our Blu-Ray cabinets, my kids couldn't stop talking about how cool it would be to have a fairy in the house and even pretended they heard fairies fluttering through our house.

They went to bed that night and woke to find that their fairy indeed had taken up residence in our living room. They were excited to see the signed lease agreement, and a couple of their Lego flowers had "mysteriously" wound up next to the door.

Matt, dad of Mia (8) and Layla (5)

Interactive Glow-in-the-dark Tee

The glow in the dark shirt is more like a wearable art project. However, kids don’t need to be gifted artists to enjoy the shirt. By using a special marker, a child can draw on the designated area (a square on the front of the shirt). The image lasts a few minutes and then disappears into a new canvas.

$34.95, whatonearthcatalog.com

My son told me he actually liked the fact that the design faded away. Making it more challenging was the fact that he was drawing images when he had the shirt on, and had to do it upside down. He enjoyed the glow-in-the-dark aspect and was going through our home turning off lights to share his creations.

Julie, mom of Miles (14) and Max (12)

K'Nex Kinetic Amusement Park Building Kit: Infinite Journey Roller Coaster

Build your own roller coaster from over 300 parts, including a launching mechanism!

$39.95, whatonearthcatalog.com

Within minutes of getting the set open, my son was hooked. He was able to put the roller coaster together himself, referring to the instruction manual when he had questions. Miles has enjoyed building since he was a young boy and recently remarked that he wanted to be an engineer. I appreciated the fact that because it was a K’Nex product, it worked with pieces from his other sets. He like the fact that it was slingshot-powered because usually the roller coasters are powered by motors. This was convenient because there was no need for batteries. This set is a great way to capture that creative building energy and a nice diversion from electronic devices.

Julie, mom of MIles (14) and Max (12)

Paper Trax Speedway

This is a paper-based race track created to race cars on tracks attached to your walls. The kit includes 10 tracks, plus a bonus track you can construct from the box it comes in, along with adhesive strips to stick them to your walls.

$24.99, toyandgamewarehouse.com

This is a cool toy for kids (and adults!) who have a tendency to trip over the elaborate toys that inevitably get set up all over the floor. Since it was set up on the wall instead of the floor, the kids were able to keep the tracks up longer than would normally be allowed. The matchbox-sized cars fit well on the track, and the cardboard was surprisingly sturdy. Alex and Wendy also thought it was cool to be able to build and experiment with putting the tracks in different configurations to try to get the cars to jump from one to the other; they said it reminded them of a marble run.

Amy, mom of Alex (12) and Wendy (8)

Thames & Kosmos GeckoBot

Build 7 different robotic models out of this set, including a gecko that you can then set up to walk up smooth surfaces like windows, glass and mirrors.

$49.05, amazon.com

This toy is good for kids who are 10 and older, or for younger kids who have an adult to help them put the robot together. It's an especially good toy for kids who enjoy building things and using kits to put things together since you get to build the gecko before you play with it. It's kind of like a more difficult LEGO set, or an erector set where you have to make sure to line up the holes in the pieces as you assemble it. When you're done, you can play with the gecko, then take it apart and build it into one of the other options!

Karen, mom of Luke (9)

Support the hometown art scene by buying these gifts from the Milwaukee Art Museum!

Glow-in-the-Dark Magnatab

Let the magnetic stylus be your pen and the bead board be your paper. Pop individual beads to the surface, and use your imagination to draw shapes, letters and pictures.

$42, store.mam.org

The nice thing about this toy, and all the toys from the Art Museum, is that it delights and holds the interest of kids of multiple ages. My 12-year-old and 8-year-old were equally into creating their own pictures with the magnets, and excited about the fact that they glowed in the dark. It's also nice that, rather than telling me that they're bored, I've found them picking up this toy to play with. It's also something that they've picked up to do while watching TV.

Amy, mom of Alex (12) and Wendy (8)


Inspired by Japanese Shinto Kumi-ki puzzles, this build-your-own robot has wooden limbs and elastic-band muscles, and will hold whatever pose your child (or you!) decides to put it in. Then the robot folds back into a cube.

$24, store.mam.org

This feels like a desk toy -- a nice little distraction for you when you're stressed at work, and a fun thing to keep your kids occupied when they're bored. Alex and Wendy both appreciated the fact that the blocks are held together by rubber bands -- they couldn't lose the pieces!

Amy, mom of Alex (12) and Wendy (8)

Djeco Creat'ik

This free play game set, designed by children's book author and illustrator Herve Tullet, allows kids to create their own pictures out of sturdy cardboard shapes, or to use the included reference book to try their hands at the included pictures.

$38, store.mam.org

The creativity that this toy allows your kids to display is awesome. I love toys that are intuitive; there's no need to read the instructions or rack your brain to try to figure out how to play with the toy. You can tell it's a great toy when the kids just get right in there and start playing! This is a fun toy too because you can look through the book that's included and use the shapes to re-create the images, or you can make your own creations -- like Wendy's rocket!

Amy, mom of Alex (12) and Wendy (8)

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