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As part of our pre-holiday blog series, we’re taking a look at some of the most commonly recommended items from among the “top pick” lists of some of our favorite toy and gift sites. Last week, we looked at some of the most telling take-aways about preschooler products; this week, we look at some gifts that are sure to catch the attention and capture the imagination of kids.

Parents of 6-10 year olds (how YouthBeat defines “kids”), may be experiencing holiday hecticness for the first time. Christmas morning might be measured more by what’s not there than what is…This isn’t to say that kids can’t delight in a surprise or two, but it gets harder and harder to impress these elementary schoolers, and more difficult to satisfy the many demands on their wishlists. In the past few years, we’ve heard more and more parents of this age group bemoan the high ticket price of the items that children expect. Even if a few high-priced gifts fit into Santa’s budget, most parents and kids fantasize about frolicking in wrapping paper, or at least, spending a long morning mulling through mounds of gifts! And kids this age ask for specific brands and models more than in the past, so relatives and reindeer alike are forced to embark on more strategic searches than ever before… 

The following products seem to embody the holiday hopes of kids in 2011:

  1. LEGO Star Wars makes the evergreen kid brand a must-have (once again) for kids. LEGO has infiltrated almost every category that touches kids’ lives – video games, board games, and even LEGO TV. And according to YouthBeat data, even reading about LEGO is fun! LEGO Magazine ranks at the top of kids’ list of favorite magazines for the first half of 2011. But it’s the simple sophistication of these “loose parts” that continue to catalyze the imagination of youth. With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) serving as the new buzz in education, parents are more willing than ever before to buy toys that inspire their future architect or astronaut. And they can feel good about the plug-free, signal-free and battery-free form that these classic toy sets take! But this is only half of the story…Star Wars is the set seducing kids this year. This movie still ranks as kids’ top of all time, according to our most recent wave of YouthBeat data. The story of good over evil, brought to the latest generation via Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars, not only makes for a great narrative, but also lends itself to techy gadgets – even in a low tech form.
  2. Classic toys have been all the rage the last few years, with parents being inundated with catalogs from companies that specialize in re-makes of toys that they recognize from their youth, brands re-issuing modernized versions of the old standards, and old games and toys getting a makeover. One of the toy that will surely hit parents’ radar, even if it might be a bit young for kids, is Connect 4 Launch from Hasbro. This latest edition of the game (that was once seen as an innovative answer to the boring way we used to play checkers and tic tac toe), gets kids up and moving while they play, and adds a few gadgets in for good measure. Hasbro has sought to bring back family game night for many years now, and this old-school game with a new-school twist might represent the right way to do it for today’s family. Or it might just be more fun for kids to play together – afterall, chucking your checkers at the game board gives them permission to play a little subversively under the guise of good old-fashioned fun.
  3. Kids might not connect with music the same way tweens are beginning to and teens always have. But this year, one of the most unexpected categories to make a comeback is headphones! And bucking other technology trends, these headphones haven’t gotten smaller, more portable – they’ve gotten bigger! The ones shown here, from Skull Candy, conceal the whole ear. They let kids (and tweens, and teens) cocoon while they tune in (and for kids, that’s as likely to be tuning in to a TV show on their portable DVD player or their parents’ laptop as it is to music). These statement sound-surrounders show that just when you thought kid products were moving in one direction, youth take a turn for the bigger.
  4. And finally, Ugly Dolls demonstrate one of our tenets of great youth brands: they live in the middle. Or more appropriately, they negotiate two seemingly contrary ideas to create a product or experience that intrigues and inspires as much as it invites. And what two concepts could make for a less likely mash-up than “ugly” and “doll”? These characters that only a kid-playing-a-mother could love give girls permission to cuddle and care in a way that doesn’t make them feel babyish themselves.  Many models of these dolls make them ready-made for the always ready-to-collect kid.  Aesthetically, these dolls not only trade in cute for quirk, but they also demonstrate the almost-homemade look that seems to characterize many of kids’ latest loves (even thought the brand has been recognized by industry insiders since 2006, when it was named the 2006 Specialty Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry of America).
  5. Next up: top items for tweens!