The following toys have been a hit in my house:
The Marble Race
Marble Race. Santa delivered and Neal was thrilled. Over the years, the kids have loved to pull it out and design various pathways for the marbles to travel. Improving spatial skills and encouraging creativity, the Marble Race has consistently been a lot of fun.
The Electronic Gadget Lab
One year I surprised Neal with an Electronic Gadget Lab. The one pictured is slightly different from the one we got a few years ago but it is essentially the same idea. Neal loved arranging the circuits and and tools to make many different projects. He spent hours playing and learning with the lab. Thomas just pulled it out of the closet on Monday to play with it again. It's educational and fun. Kids love being able to make something "work". It was definitely my most successful "surprise" gift. I reviewed this a few years ago *here*.
Perplexus Mazes. They are actually all really good at successfully navigating the twists and turns. Personally, Utah Dad and I find them frustrating. Twist them and turn them and attempt to keep the marble on the tracks in this fun 3D puzzle. So far, we have two of these in our home.
US Talking Puzzle
The US Talking Puzzle has been part of our family since Neal was two years old. With it, he quickly learned all 50 states and their capitals. All of my children have enjoyed putting the various states in their places and learning the interesting facts when they push the buttons. I reviewed it a few years ago *here*.
K'NEX 50 Model Building Set
A few years ago, Thomas fell in love with the K'NEX Double Roller Coaster Set. He requested it from Santa and he got it. Apparently, Santa didn't notice that the suggested age was WAY older than a six-year-old Thomas. Fortunately, Neal was willing to spend his Christmas vacation putting it together while Thomas watched.
The Roller Coaster turned out to be a frustrating toy for small children. However, the K'NEX 50 Model Building Set has been so much fun. The kids have fun using the pieces to build all the various things in the included guide. They've also looked online for additional things to build. There are a lot of very little pieces, so this isn't recommended for very small children.
The Microscope is included in the unusual requests from Neal that includes a World Globe and a Telescope. While the telescope has been incredibly frustrating for us, the Microscope has been a hit with the entire family. While adult supervision is definitely recommended, even my very small children have enjoyed looking at random tiny things through the microscope. My kids have loved looking at the grossest things they can think of--boogers and ear wax. The one pictured here is not the exact model we have but is similar. I would recommend spending a little extra and buying a "student" model regularly used in schools. The "toy" microscopes are usually not as impressive and will generally be disappointing. Definitely buy an extra package of clear slides so you can make your own.
If anyone has any great ideas for my gift-buying this year, I would LOVE to hear them. I'm getting desperate. I'm actually considering buying them their favorite foods. This is how low I've descended. Thank you in advance for your help.