Below is a list pulled from recommendations by a number of toy experts such as The Toy Shop in Concord, Mass., The Lion & Lamb Project in Bethesda, Md., Family Fun Magazine, Zillions Magazine, and Dr. Toy in San Francisco, Calif.
Infants: (under 10 months)
Lamaze Soft Sorter: (Lamaze Infant Development) Squishy shapes covered with bright patterned fabric, each with a different noise, and all fit into a big soft box with openings for the shapes. $20.
Baby Whoozit: (Manhattan) A soft sunny face with a furry nose, this round shape with seven "arms" has bright colors, noises, and textures for touching. $10.
Toddlers: (ages 1 to 3)
Sing N Snore Ernie: (Tyco Preschool) Sesame Street's Ernie finally gets sleepy, sings "Twinkle Little Star," and snores with a tummy that rises and falls. $30. (Three AA batteries included)
Koosh Creative Paint Center: (OddzOn Products) Instead of a paint brush, try a koosh brush. Comes with tray, koosh, roller, paint, and stencils. Washable and nontoxic. $20.
Preschool: (ages 4 to 6)
Penguin Shuffle: (Milton Bradley) Two players send little plastic penguins waddling down a ramp into a merry-go-round that plays music. $18. (Two C batteries not included)
Avalanche: (TC Timber) Drop marbles into a wooden maze. The more marbles that stay in the maze means a chance to do it again. $30. (For all ages)
Junior Stomp Rocket: (D & L Company) Stomp on the air bellows and send a burst of air down a tube to shoot foam rockets soaring as high as three stories. Another version has hard plastic rockets. $16.
Early school: (ages 6 to 10 )
Deluxe Zoob: (Primordial) Animals, figures, and dinosaurs can be snapped together from imagination by using 120 colorful plastic rods and joints. Complex or simple. $40.
Letres: (Letres Company) A card game for word lovers that asks a player to be the first one to make a word from all the lettered cards in your hand. Minimum is a three-lettered word or a maximum of eight letters. Dealer decides. $10.
Five Crowns: (Set Enterprises) A fast-paced card game with a wild card that changes with every hand. Just when it looks like a player will lose, the last hand can turn her into a winner. $10. (For adults too)
Turbo Tantrum R/C Car: (Tyco) This radio-controlled car endures just about any terrain, collisions, or bumps. It can back-flip or turn on a dime. But for 15 to 20 minutes of running time, the battery needs four hours of charging. Look out for long hair or clothing too close to spinning wheels. $60.