Kids test toys so you don't have to guess

It's the most wonderful time of the year, which means it's also the most expensive time of the year.

Before you break the bank on toys for the little ones, let Help Me Hank show you which toys are the best bang for the buck!

We searched the internet and printed ads for the hottest toys of the year and then put those Dragons, Paw Patrollers and messy games to the test. We went to Help Me Hank's adopted school, Thurgood Marshall, and let the kids, or experts in this scenario, use very unscientific practices to find the best of the best.  Here's how it all played out:

Our first group of kids, ages 4 to 6, went first.

The toys were laid out and the kids had no instructions other than to play and have fun. That, they did.  The children were immediately drawn to the Pie Face Showdown game, which would be a big draw all afternoon.  We didn't have another game to compare it to, but Speak Out is another wildly popular game this holiday season. So popular in fact that it was sold out of the store locations that we checked.

But back to Pie Face showdown - here is the idea behind it: Two competitors place their faces on a chin rest and through a face frame --  then a hand that starts positioned between the to faces is moved by each competitor rapidly pressing the red button located on their side - the faster button pusher is rewarded by the hand heading towards his/her challenger and then smacking whipped cream into their face (whipped cream sold separately.) Pie Face is fun, loud and extremely messy.  It retails for $19.99 and was fun for all ages.

The only boy in our early session was kindergartner Alex Gardner, who was all-in on the Hot Wheels Electric 20.7 ft Slot Track. This is an oldie, but a goodie. Slot tracks have been around for decades, and though they have improved throughout the years they are still basically the same as the original. Alex spent the majority  of his time with this toy and was happy with it for the most part. The issue you find with this toy is that it can be tough to keep the cars on the track. The Hot Wheels Electric slot track sells for $59.99, but does take 4 AA batteries or can be plugged into an outlet, but be aware that the cord is very short.

For you parents of little ones out there, you've no doubt heard of Paw Patrol. Chase, Marshall, Rubble and the rest are hugely popular right now, so it only made sense that they made the hot toy lists.  We'll start with the Zoomer Marshall, Interactive Pup, which sells for $59.99.  This toy didn't draw a ton of interest, but to be fair our testing area was a little noisy, so he wasn't easy to hear. But if you press down on Marshall's head you could hear, laughter and "I'm fired up."  You can also hold his head down for three seconds and he will sing a couple different songs, including the Paw Patrol theme song. You can also tickle him and make him follow you.  He wasn't a hit here, but he could be in your home.  In order to make Marshall come alive you'll need 4 AA batteries. 

Another interactive toy we brought to the party was the FurReal Friends Torch, My Blazin' Dragon.  This little guy is cute and not too noisy.  It has a soft roar and little growls along with a fire breathing mouth.  Of course, the "fire breathing" is not dangerous in any way.  The real draw with Torch is that you add water to the reservoir on top of his head (with the toy turned off) then place the fake marshmallow that comes with him in front of his moouth and he blows out a mist, which toasts the marshmallow (turns it brown). The kids liked this toy because it is interactive, but also cute and cuddly.  It sells for $65.99 and needs 4 c batteries to stoke the fire.

We also tried out the Talk-To-Me Mikey interactive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.  This toy did not do well with our kids. More than likely this had to do with the loud atmosphere that made it virtually impossible to use the toy as intended. Mikey is designed to listen to questions and then answer with programmed answers, but again in loud environments this is not manageable. Toying around with this little guy in the office we noticed he wasn't always able to hear or understand the questions - even in a quiet room.  Mikey might be right for someone, but not for our Toy Test.  He's available at stores for $29.99.

Let's circle back 'round to our Paw Patrol friends.  We also threw the Paw Patrol Monkey Temple into the mix for the young kids.  They seemd to enjoy it, but it didn't hold the kids for long.  Along with some extra Paw Patrol dogs ($7.99 each) this toys performed well, but not great.  It seemed that the kids would have been just as happy playing with the individual characters as they were playing with the Monkey Temple.  The Monkey Temple sells for $39.99.

All four of our younger girls played with the Elsa dolls we had ready for them.  That's right, Elsa from Frozen is still making the hot toy lists.  We brought two different versions of the doll - one that sings 'Let it Go,' and the other was just the doll, no other bells or whistles.  The noisy variety known as, Disney Frozen Lights Elsa retails for $29.99 and the Classic Elsa Doll for $7.99.  The idea here was to see how much a difference the singing made.  Hank asked the girls which one they preferred and both (as you'd expect) went with the singing variety.  Elsa still seems to be a hit with the girls. 

The popular toy that should make parents happy is the Fisher Price Thinks & Learn Code-A-Pillar.  This toy is a great way to get your little ones thinking.  It's a toy designed to build coding skills, which we all know is the way of the 21st century.  Here's the idea: the head of the Code-A-Pillar is the on/off switch and also the start button, the remaining eight pieces have different commands on them, such as; turn right, turn left, move straight and make a sound.  Children arrange these pieces however they see fit and then hit the start button - which then sets off the Code-A-Pillar into the very sequence that they created.  A very simple toy, but what we learned is that kids need to be shown how the toy works a couple of times before they learn to use it properly.  Once the kids figured it out, they were excited about the idea of "programming."  This toys is selling for $38.99 and requires 4 AA batteries, which were included.

Our second group consisted of 8 and 9-year-old kids.

The older kids, just like the younger ones went immediately to the Pie Face Showdown game.  Some of them didn't want to leave it.  This game is just fun, no way around it. 

Although older, this group also enjoyed playing with the Codeapillar and the Hot Wheels Slot Track as well.  

The toys that are geared towards older audiences not mentioned earlier are the Nerf N-Strike Modulus Tri-Strike Blaster and the SelfieMic Music Set. 

Let's start with the SelfieMic Music Set.  Kids didn't know what to think of this at first.  This one take a bit to setup.  First, you'll need to download an app. called StarMaker which is free to download. There are in-app. purchases - so be aware.  Once you have the app. it works just like a karaoke machine.  You can pick from a library preloaded in the application (some cost money) or from your own library of music. Once you select your song, you press the sing button, press start and after a 4-second countdown your song begins with words to help you along.  You sing the song into the microphone and voila! A star is born.  You can post your song to the StarMaker community, if you're confident in your work.  The kids enjoyed this one.  The SelfieMic will cost you $19.99.

Onto the Nerf N-Strike Modulus Tri-Strike Blaster.  This one didn't get a lot of play.  Which I know for some of you is a relief.  This is a powerful Nerf gun that could potentially harm another child if shot in the face.  Our test kids were great with it and very respectful.  The other drawback to these toys is that the darts can go missing, quickly.  Chances are you've dealt with these things before and know the pitfalls, but the kids that did play with the Tri-Blaster did seem to enjoy it.  It will set you back $39.99.

If our Toy test taught us adults anything it's that kids just want to play.  They enjoyed pretty much all of the toys, but there were a few winners.  Here are the top 3:

1st place:

  • Pie Face Showdown

2nd Place:

  • Fisher Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar

3rd Place:

  • Hot Wheels Slot Track Set

All of these toys can be purchased at Toys 'R' Us or Amazon.com.