The Toy Retailers Association looks at the must-have play items and predicts what will be flying off the shelves this Christmas.
By Lisa Salmon
The festive season may seem a long way off, but pester power will have already started in many families after the release of the official Dream Toys list of predicted top-selling toys for Christmas.
The Dream Toys list, which is compiled by the Toy Retailers Association (TRA), representing 75% of toy retailers, correctly predicts the most popular Christmas toys year after year.
However, another organisation, the Slow Toy Movement, has produced its own list of toys in a bid to encourage parents to think about buying more traditional toys that inspire children's minds and encourage real play.
This year's Dream Toys list is a mix of old favourites brought up to date, ground-breaking technology and a new crop of character toys.
Well-known names on the list of the top 13 toys of 2012 include: the cuddly interactive Furby (Hasbro, £59.99), which was first launched 14 years ago; Cabbage Patch Kids (JAKKS Pacific, £29.99); Web Shooting Spider-Man (Hasbro, £34.99); Twister Dance (Hasbro, £26.99); and Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Mines of Moria (£68.99).
Elsewhere, high-tech favourites LeapPad 2 (Leapfrog Toys, £89.99) and the InnoTab 2 children's tablet (VTech, £84.99) make an appearance, alongside the popular boy's gun Nerf N-Strike Elite Hail-Fire (Hasbro, £44.99).
The TRA isn't predicting there'll be pre-Christmas shortages of any particular toys on this year's list, as retailers are well stocked with them all.
Gary Grant, chairman of the TRA's Dream Toys selection panel, says: "There are some toys that hold an enduring place in the hearts of children for generations and this year we've seen the toy industry come up trumps by reinvigorating these classic favourites for 2012.
"We also continue to see technology being woven into toys to add extra dimensions to the play experience."
But the Slow Toy Movement, which was launched last year to promote traditional toys, suggests that rather than buying modern, often plastic, toys that may be battery-powered and feature flashing lights, parents should think about giving their children more traditional toys.
To highlight this, the Movement has announced the seven winners of the Slow Toy 2012 Awards, which include the Wonderworld Eco House (www.dkltoys.co.uk, £120), which is a wooden dolls house with solar panels and a wind turbine; the Rory's Story Cubes game (www.rorysstorycubes.org, £10), with which children tell stories related to images on the faces of dice; and the Big Jig Triangular Activity Centre (www.bigjigstoys.com, £24.99), which features a blackboard, abacus, ABC spinning blocks and an educational maze.
Thierry Bourret, founder of the Slow Toy Movement, says: "I strongly believe our children should play with toys that encourage creative and traditional play. Each and every toy should offer children something special."
Bourret says a Slow Toy is one that people would find in their loft after 20 years and have fond memories of playing with, and adds: "These toys stand the test of time and offer unrivalled play value, providing children with the tools for real play - play that inspires the imagination and engages their mind.
"It's a stark contrast to toys with thousands of functions and flashing lights that simply distract."
Child psychologist and play expert Dr Amanda Gummer, who runs the new website www.goodtoyguide.com, warns that many parents fall into the trap of spending lots of money on expensive toys and trying to over-stimulate their children at Christmas.
She stresses this isn't helped by the lists of top Christmas toys, TV advertising campaigns and, of course, peer pressure, and advises: "Don't give in to the pressure from the media and the school playground to buy the most expensive, latest toys on the market. Often toys that children will play with over and over again don't make it into the top 10 lists."
Gummer points out that parents spent an average of £136 on their children's Christmas presents last year, but says they shouldn't feel pressured into over-spending and should concentrate on sharing quality time with their children.
She gives the following tips on buying presents for the kids:
:: Do your research and make sure the toys you buy will keep the kids entertained past Boxing Day.
:: Don't base your judgment of what to buy your children on the latest list of top sellers - these lists don't tell you whether a toy is any good, they just tell you what's selling.
:: If you buy the latest screen-based or digital toy, be prepared for your children to spend the rest of Christmas Day glued to it, but that doesn't mean it's always a bad idea - many high-tech toys are developmentally beneficial.
:: A careful selection of other toys and games can help balance out any single toy and provide the child with a range of play choices that will suit different situations and promote different skills.
Ask the expert
Q: "If I let my new baby go to sleep in my arms, does it mean he'll be a poor sleeper as he gets older?"
A: Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of BabyCalm: A Guide For Calmer Babies & Happier Parents (Piatkus, £13.99, available now), says: "Absolutely not, this is one of the biggest - and saddest - myths that abounds about baby sleep, and frustratingly it's usually perpetuated by those who have very little knowledge of infant neuropsychology.
"Babies under six months of age are incapable of forming habits, their brains simply aren't developed enough to do so. If your baby needs you to fall asleep, trust them and trust your instincts as it will make for a much easier experience of new parenthood for all of you.
"We spend so much of the early days of parenting worrying about whether we're doing things right or wrong that we forget to listen to our heart, and most of all we forget to listen to our babies. If your baby settles to sleep in your arms, you have one of the most powerful triggers possible for helping your baby to get off to sleep quickly and easily - use it!
"When they're older and more sure of the world, you can substitute your arms for a comforter such as a well-loved toy. Whoever saw an 18-year-old who couldn't get to sleep unless he was cradled in his mother's arms?"
Kobo Vox Colour eReader
With a 7in, multimedia colour touchscreen, kids can use this tablet to read books from a library of millions of titles using the Read Along feature that connects highlighted words to instructive audio, plus send emails, and browse their favourite websites, videos and music. Available from WHSmith, £129.99.
VTech InnoTab 2
One of the top 13 Dream Toys for this Christmas, the InnoTab 2 multimedia touchscreen tablet has access to a huge library of videos of TV programmes, mini ebooks and music content. It also has a built-in camera with a rotating self-portrait lens. InnoTab gaming cartridges featuring popular children's characters can also be used. Suitable for four- to nine-year-olds, available from all good toy retailers, priced £84.99.
One of a range of electronic toys which can be linked to an iPhone, iPad or iPod, the iTikes Canvas works like a classic doodler with a stylus, and shape buttons for stamping, but when used with the free iPad app, the stylus produces music, lights and sound effects and allows colourful designs to be drawn in six different artist materials. Suitable for three years plus, £39.99, available from www.littletikes.co.uk and www.argos.co.uk or argos stores.