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The best toys for children from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s

Playing is practically your child’s job, so stock the toy chest with puzzles, games and dolls proven to help broaden the imagination.

Ages 3 and under | Ages 4 to 6 | Ages 7 and up | More expert picks


(Manhattan Toy, 1994; ages birth to 18 months)
The many features hidden in this smiling creature—textured fabrics, rattles, squeakers, teethers and a mesmerizing black-and-white bull’s-eye pattern on the back—are tactilely and cognitively stimulating. Simply put, the little guy is a baby’s idea of a fun date.

(Tiny Love, 1994; ages 1 to 10 months)
What did moms do before these activity mats hit the scene? With dangling overhead toys, crinkly spots, mirrors and a soft place to roll around, this portable play set quickly became a requirement for keeping infants occupied. The concept has spawned tons of imitators, but we still prefer the original.

Tickle Me Elmo
(Fisher-Price, 1996; ages 18 months and up)
Thanks to Elmo-mania, this toy—yes, the Sesame Street critter that giggles when squeezed—has stayed popular with kids since its launch (less so with parents annoyed by its high-pitched patter). In fact, a new version of TME has been released nearly every year since, from Chicken Dance Elmo to Elmo Live!

Learn & Groove Musical Table
(LeapFrog, 2006; ages 6 months to 3 years)
When LeapFrog launched in 1995, the company quickly became synonymous with “learning toys.” This table’s buttons and levers teach numbers, letters and words, rewarding kids with lights and realistic instrument sounds. “I can’t think of a toy that makes a toddler feel more successful,” says Boehm.

NEXT: Ages 4 to 6 >>

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Incredulous because we overlooked your faves? Don’t get mad; set us straight! Email kids@timeoutny.com with your new classic picks.

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