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I spent most of my working time as a preschool teacher. I began as an assistant at 17, when I was in college. Now I work in a specialty toy store so my ideas are not usually generated by TV ads.
Here is a short list
For 7 -13 boys, science kits stuff. Discovery Kids has kits that explore weather, make candy and other stuff. They also offer microscopes and a ton of other exploratory and adventure based items.
Remote control cars
hacky sac balls
There is a kit that comes in a bottle like a 2 liters coke, called pop bottle science. It is our best seller for the 7 – 13 year old boy it has 79 experiments you can do with a 2 liter soda bottle, a book on how to comes with it as well as some accessories
There is also a new building toy out this year called laser pegs. These are pegs that connect to a battery pack and light up, unlike legos or knex. Get these first, the manufacturer is already back ordered until February so there are no available restocks. They also are not in walmart but online or in specialty toy stores.
For a young girl this year I think the Tangled Rapunzel dolls will be a rage. (Plus she really is pretty I almost want one for my collection)
I always prefer the Melissa and Doug food sets. I am actually a Melissa and Doug affiliate, the link is on the right side.
Groovy Girls are also a fave of mine. These are stuffed dolls that, with imagination you can usually find one that resembles the girl you are buying for.
For the younger set, toddlers and infants. I would stick with Gund soft toys, Melissa and Doug wooden toys and Manhattan Toy items.
Preschool, there are an abundance of puzzles and other learning gadgets.
Corolle baby dolls and items. These may seem pricey but the quality will last for years, the Calin and Tidoo lines are great for beginning baby training. (A great idea, the little golden book, Little Mommy and a Calin or Tidoo doll)
For boys, try the Melissa and Doug Train sets. The are wooden sets, similar to the Thomas sets but 1/2 the cost. All the M&D sets work with the Thomas wooden railway sets. AVOID the Thomas plastic sets.
I will post more as I think of them.