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Video: Check out the top toys for school-age kids

By Consumer specialist
TODAY
updated 12/19/2005 1:13:11 PM ET 2005-12-19T18:13:11

The holidays are just around the corner, but before you hit the stores or do any online shopping, you’ll want to read this. “Today” contributor and consumer specialist Herb Weisbaum had thousands of children across the country test hundreds of toys, and for part three of his special series, “Toy Test 2005,” he shares a look at the toys that ranked the highest among those choosy school-age kids. Check out the winners here:

We tested 207 toys in the school-age category this year. The kids who tested these toys were aged 6 and up. For more top-rated school-age toys, plus a complete list of all the winners in every age group, check out the “Toy Test 2005” guide.

Hasbro Games

Wild Adventure Mini Golf (Hasbro Games, $40)
You’ve heard of plug-and-play video games. This is what you might call plug-and-putt! Just plug the green tee base into your TV, give your child the kid-size putter and let them start swinging! Teachers told us “the kids had a blast” with this. It’s called Wild Adventure Mini Golf because the six courses on this game are clearly not PGA approved. You can golf underwater, in the jungle or in outer space. Choose from one to four players and you can set the level of difficulty. By the way, some of the teachers liked puttering around with this toy as much as the kids. One test center even had tournaments between the teachers and the kids. (Requires 4 AA batteries; requires TV; manufacturer’s age: 6 and up)

Lite-Brite FX-Flash Art (Hasbro, $20)

Hasbro

What’s old is new again. Hasbro took spin art and gave it a modern twist. They put the spinner inside a bright purple box, added music and strobe lights. But, I’ll be honest with you — the appeal here is the same as it’s always been — dropping paint on a spinning piece of paper. And of course, the art you make is different every single time. Teachers told us the Lite-Brite FX-Flash Art was something the children always wanted to play with. It’s easy to see why.  As soon as the first drops of paint hit the twirling paper, you hear “cool,” “awesome” and “wow” as the kids experiment with different techniques. They also had fun working together to create a design; taking turns adding a color. Good news for parents — despite all the twirling paint, teachers said this toy wasn’t very messy. The Lite-Brite FX-Flash Art comes with seven design cards and four bottles of paint. (Requires 4 C batteries; manufacturer’s age: 3 and up)

Today Toy Test 2005 - Click here for the full list of this year’s winners

Lego Systems

Police Station (LEGO Systems, $50)
There’s always something to build in Lego City. This year, it’s a police station with everything little crime fighters need to keep the city safe. The set includes four officers, a police dog, helicopter, van, motorcycle and, of course, a crook. Here’s a fun feature, press the officer’s head and his flashlight lights up. Kids love to build with LEGOs, and they found the police theme especially appealing. As one teacher told me, “It’s real positive and not violent, but it really connects with the kids.” This set has 586 pieces, so the teachers did have to give the kids a little help putting it together. Teachers said after the construction was completed, the kids would play with the Police Station for a few days, then they’d take it apart and build it all over again. That’s the wonder of LEGOs. (Manufacturer’s age: 5 and up)                                      

Hide & Seek Safari (R&R Games, $35)

R&r Games
Toymakers are finally figuring out ways to use technology to make toys that are actually fun. Hide & Seek Safari is a perfect example of that. R&R games took the classic game of hide ’n’ seek and gave it a hi-tech twist. Here’s how you play. Switch on the battery-powered tiger and hide it. Then turn on the “seeker” wand (which looks like a tree branch with vines growing on it) and go looking for him. The wand has a series of lights that will help guide you. When the first red light comes on you’re within 20 to 30 feet of the tiger — more lights will light as you get closer. You know he's really near when all the lights are on and the wand starts beeping. “The wand makes it easy to locate the tiger,” one teacher told me, “even when he’s hiding in hard-to-find places.” Hide & Seek Safari can be played with multiple tigers and seekers. Of course, each set is sold separately. (Requires 2 AA and 1 9V batteries; manufacturer’s age: 7 and up)

Mattel

Vidster Video Camera with Editing Software (Mattel, $80)
This toy is a real working camcorder that lets kids record videos and snapshots. It has a color LCD viewfinder, a built-in microphone, a tripod mount, and a removable hand grip. The Vidster has 32MB of onboard memory and there’s an expansion slot for a SD/MMC card. Teachers told us the camera is “real easy to use” and takes “really good pictures” even indoors. The kids got a big kick out of taking pictures and seeing them right away. You do that by plugging the Vidster into a TV or a computer. It comes with the cords you’ll need. You also get software to edit the recording and add music and special effects. The Vidster is amazingly durable. Teachers told me the kids dropped it lots of times and it still works. As one put it, “parents can be comfortable buying this because of the reasonable price.” Now if someone could only make a grown-up camera like this! (Requires 4 AAbatteries; manufacturer’s age: 7 and up)

Educational winner

Skrooz (Progressive Trading, $56 for 168 piece set)

Progressive Trading

To a kid, it seems almost magical — building shapes with brightly colored bars and magnetic balls. In the words of one teacher, “the kids are so intrigued that these things are staying together when they don’t look like they should stay together.” There are a bunch of magnetic building toys on the market. Skrooz has a little different twist to it. It uses adjustable bars that change size with a simple twist. The 1-inch tubes can be adjusted to 1-1/2 inches and the 1-1/4-inch tubes can be stretched to 2 inches. This really makes it a lot easier to create intricate designs. Teachers commented on how much “play value” there is with a toy like this. “Kids are free to create whatever they want,” one told me. Another said parents will really like Skrooz because “kids won’t lose interest in it, they keep coming back to it over and over again.” (Manufacturer’s age: 5 and up)

Consumer expert and “Today” contributor Herb Weisbaum has been helping people across the country for more than 25 years. His award-winning reports have exposed everything from quack medications to bogus investments. Since 1990, his Toy Test has helped millions of parents and grandparents select the best toys for their kids. To learn more about Herb Weisbaum and his latest consumer reports, you can visit his Web site, www.consumerman.com

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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