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MPMK 2015 Gift Guide: Best Dolls & Accessories for Dramatic Play

Top dolls for girls and boys - because playing with dolls builds empathy and emotional intelligence in kids.

Dolls are wonderful for dramatic play, teaching emotions, and fostering nurturing and empathetic qualities in children and with the awesome variety of dolls out there made with boys in mind too, there’s no reason not to take advantage of all those benefits for all of our kids.

Plus, I have so many friends with little girls that are absolutely obsessed with dolls right now that I had to include this guide (they’re just too good of a resource not to take advantage of).

Best princess and castle toys (including Frozen stuff) arranged by age - part of 10 gift guides with amazingly detailed reviews!

Of course, no doll gift guide worth it’s salt would be complete without a princess section (yes, Anna and Elsa do make an appearance or two) – so be sure to keep scrolling until you get to that section too!

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2015 Gift Guides here!

Also, I’m doing my best this year to keep our readers up-to-date on any sales I see on our gift guide items.  To be in the loop, be sure to

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Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks – here are my

Top 11 Dolls & Accessories for Dramatic Play

  1. Ugly Dolls starting at $7.30 (all ages) – If you’re looking for a great gender neutral doll, how rad are ugly dolls? I just love their colorful look and silly, irreverent nature. Judging by their popularity, kids do too! Despite not being the typical cute doll, these guys have proven they’re still perfect for cuddles.
  2. Blabla Dolls starting at $16.00 (all ages) – These hand-knit 100% cotton dolls are on the expensive side so we don’t collect them but we did splurge on one for our daughter for Christmas when she was 18 months old.  Being the second child, she wasn’t really in need of anything because she already had all her brother’s old toys.  We still wanted to get her something special though.  We considered getting an American Girl Doll but thought she was too young so we got her Prudence the Owl instead.  She’s now one of S’s best friends and I have no doubt she’ll end up being a family heirloom.  (Side note: there’s a great selection of characters well-suited to boys as well).
  3. Disney Princess Toddler Dolls Starting at $17.99 (18 months – 6 years) – These cozy dolls are the perfect size for a child to drag around all day long. If you’ve got a little one that just wants an Elsa, Anna, Mulan, Belle, ect. to call her own and cuddle with at night – this is a great choice!
  4. Disney Frozen Color Change Elsa Doll $24.99 (3 – 10 years) and Disney Frozen Anna & Kristoff Dolls 2 Pack $24.24 (3 – 10 years) – Given the insane popularity of the Frozen movie, it’s surprisingly hard to find good quality Frozen character dolls. These all get high marks for their quality and large Barbie-like size. The two pack is an especially good deal and kids will love Elsa’s “magic” dress which has a pattern that appears when it gets wet. And don’t forget the Disney Frozen Olaf Doll $14.99 (3 – 10 years). This guy is the perfect companion for the Frozen dolls mentioned above. He too is a good size, plus he comes apart and can be put back together again (just like the real Olaf) and his facial expressions change when you push down on his head. A great little toy for both boys and girls and a reasonable price – this guy will likely end up in one of my kids’ stockings this year.
  5. Melissa & Dough Brianna Doll $18.95 (18 months – 6 years) – There’s a lot to like about this basic yet very highly rated doll.  At 12″, she’s a good size for hauling around. Her soft body allows for laying or sitting and her hard arms and legs easily wipe clean.  She has lots of shiny hair to play with and her eyes open and close. Plus, her open mouth allows her to suck on either her thumb or pacifier.  Last but not least, her price can’t be beat!
  6. Chico Doll Stroller (2 – 5 years) $39.99 – In my humble opinion, if you’re going to buy one accessory for your child’s doll, it should be a stroller.  S likes her dolls, but isn’t obsessed, yet she LOVES to pile them into her stroller and take them for a stroll around the house over, and over, and over again.
  7. Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Love to Play Puppy $20.02 (9 months – 4 years) – We got this guy as a hand-me down from friends whose kids had outgrown him. The puppy’s a cuddly and engaging first friend. He has two modes – learning and musical and identifies body parts, colors and sings lots of fun songs when various body parts are pushed. All three of our kids have loved him (even 7 month M already) and we whole-heartedly agree with one reviewer who wrote, “For $20, he is very interactive and elaborate…. he counts, names body parts and colors, has funny sayings, and sings many songs (ENTIRE songs). He’s funnier, more educational (and cuter) than “Tickle-Me-Elmo”–minus the annoying voice.”
  8. Barbie Mariposa and The Fairy Princess Castle Playset with Mini-Dolls $21.51 (3 – 10 years) – No one was more surprised than me when I found myself putting this plastic Barbie castle in my Amazon cart but I just couldn’t stomach spending $60 – $100 on a wooden castle that I would prefer when I knew what she really wanted was something that was purple and pink and sparkly. (Plus, I wasn’t totally convinced how much she’d play with a castle and those wood versions have a BIG footprint – I really liked the compact size of this one.) So, after a lot of research, I ordered this one and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be a piece of junk that fell apart in a few weeks. Thankfully, my daughter loves it, it’s the perfect size for the 4″ magiclip princess dolls we got her and it’s held up remarkably well. Plus it came with two additional fairy dolls that actually “fly” around the top.
  9. Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle $63.16 (3 – 10 years) – Had my daughter been a die-hard princess fan instead of a brand new one (and I knew she’d spend a lot of time playing with a princess castle), then this is undoubtedly the one I would have picked. I’m a fan of Melissa & Doug toys in general and I love that this play castle has lots of accessible reach-in play space thanks to multiple play levels and an open courtyard. The impressive palace playscape also includes removable turrets, bedrooms, a working drawbridge, a stable, and more. Plus the wooden construction and hand-painted accents are wonderful and I like the fact that it expands large enough for several kids to play on at once but does fold into a smaller size when not in use.
  10. Corolle Emma Drink-and-Wet Bath Baby Doll $46.98 (2 – 6 years) – Two Christmases ago our daughter was 2 and getting more and more into baby dolls.  She was also getting more and more into the idea of potty training (do you hear the angels singing?).  So I figured, why not combine the two? A little research revealed several dolls that actually “pee” after drinking water but reviews, and reports from my friends, suggested that this one was the best. Santa left her under the tree and S was thrilled. I really liked that the doll doubled as a bath toy.  S had been dying to take one of her babies in the tub with her but didn’t have one that would work for that purpose.
  11. Hasbro Furby $52.99 (5+ years) – Dolls don’t have to be just for toddlers.  Older kids flip over this tech-based friend. Feed it, speak to it, tickle it, play music for it, and shake, tilt or turn your FURBY upside down. But be warned – how you treat your FURBY will shape its personality.

Special Note: This time of year prices can fluctuate quite dramatically.  So if you see something a little outside of your price range, it might not be a bad idea to click over and check  it out anyway – you may get lucky and catch a sale.

Ready for the big list? Here we go…

Dolls & Castles for Princess Lovers

Thanks in no small part to the movie Frozen, my 4 year old daughter officially got into princesses this year – which led to quite a bit of research on princess dolls and castles for her birthday. So, new this year is an entire section on princess (and yes – Anna, Elsa, and Olaf make a few appearances), enjoy!

Best princess and castle toys (including Frozen stuff) arranged by age - part of 10 gift guides with amazingly detailed reviews!

  • Disney Princess Toddler Dolls Starting at $17.99 (18 months – 6 years) – These cozy dolls are the perfect size for a child to drag around all day long. If you’ve got a little one that just wants an Elsa, Anna, Mulan, Belle, ect. to call her own and cuddle with at night – this is a great choice! 

  • Disney Frozen Color Change Elsa Doll $24.99 (2 – 10 years) and Disney Frozen Anna & Kristoff Dolls 2 Pack $24.24 (3 – 10 years) – Given the insane popularity of the Frozen movie, it’s surprisingly hard to find good quality Frozen character dolls. These all get high marks for their quality and large Barbie-like size. The two pack is an especially good deal and kids will love Elsa’s “magic” dress which has a pattern that appears when it gets wet. And don’t forget the Disney Frozen Olaf Doll $14.99 (3 – 10 years). This guy is the perfect companion for the Frozen dolls mentioned above. He too is a good size, plus he comes apart and can be put back together again (just like the real Olaf) and his facial expressions change when you push down on his head. A great little toy for both boys and girls and a reasonable price – this guy will likely end up in one of my kids’ stockings this year.

  • Barbie Mariposa and The Fairy Princess Castle Playset with Mini-Dolls $21.51 (3 – 10 years) – No one was more surprised than me when I found myself putting this plastic Barbie castle in my Amazon cart but I just couldn’t stomach spending $60 – $100 on a wooden castle that I would prefer when I knew what she really wanted was something that was purple and pink and sparkly. (Plus, I wasn’t totally convinced how much she’d play with a castle and those wood versions have a BIG footprint – I really liked the compact size of this one.) So, after a lot of research, I ordered this one and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be a piece of junk that fell apart in a few weeks. Thankfully, my daughter loves it, it’s the perfect size for the 4″ magiclip princess dolls we got her and it’s held up remarkably well. Plus it came with two additional fairy dolls that actually “fly” around the top.

  • Disney Princess Little Kingdom Magiclip 7-Doll Giftset $33.39 (3 – 10 years) – When my daughter decided she wanted some princesses to play with, I wanted to get her a group of them without spending a ton of money. What I really liked about this set was that she can put them all into a play bag or purse and easily tote them around, plus – bonus – the plastic dresses are interchangeable and easily removed with a pinching motion. My daughter REALLY likes this set and it works perfectly with the inexpensive castle we got her to go along with it. 

  • Disney Frozen Glitter Glider Anna, Elsa and Olaf Doll Set $23.80 (3 – 10 years) – Now that we have the Disney princess dolls and the Barbie Mariposa castle above, we’ll be adding this set of 4″ Anna and Elsa dolls to our daughter’s collection for Christmas. Not only do the dolls in this set have removable, glittery dresses, they also “glide” around on new rolling mechanism. Plus, I love that an Olaf figurine comes with the duo. There are also Glitter Glider dolls available in other Disney princess as well as a Disney Princess Glitter Glider Castle $35.00 (3 – 10 years). This wasn’t available when I first did my searching and were I to do it again I think I’d be just as likely to buy this one although the Barbie Fairy Princess Castle still has a slight edge with the room it allows for dramatic play (and accompanying props).

  • LEGO Disney Princess 41055 Cinderella’s Romantic Castle $59.97 (6 – 12 years) – As is attested to by the LEGO section of our “Best Building & Construction Toys” gift guide, we are a LEGO loving family (we even have an entire LEGO station in our house). So it’s no surprise that one of the few princess castles I recommend would be a LEGO castle. When fully assembled, this is a thing of beauty and it comes with a lot of nice accessories. Plus, it’s a castle that promotes both imaginative open-ended play and spatial reasoning skill through building – win, win!

  • Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle $63.16 (3 – 10 years) – Had my daughter been a die-hard princess fan instead of a brand new one (and I knew she’d spend a lot of time playing with a princess castle), then this is undoubtedly the one I would have picked. I’m a fan of Melissa & Doug toys in general and I love that this play castle has lots of accessible reach-in play space thanks to multiple play levels and an open courtyard. The impressive palace playscape also includes removable turrets, bedrooms, a working drawbridge, a stable, and more. Plus the wood construction and hand-painted accents are wonderful and I like the fact that it expands large enough for several kids to play on at once but does fold into a smaller size when not in use.

 

Top dolls for girls and boys - because playing with dolls builds empathy and emotional intelligence in kids.

Dolls for Boys & Girls

With all of the options on the market today, it’s easier than ever to find dolls of one variety or another perfect for your little girl and your little boy. (Check out the grandparent dolls – they’re sure to please any kid.) Here are our favorite picks for a whole range of kids.

  • Manhattan Toy Snuggle Pod $18.00 (all ages) – Looking for baby’s first doll?  This ultra soft baby complete with her own snuggle pod is a great choice. Huggable and washable, it’s great for babies and toddlers alike. 
  • Manhattan Toy Baby Stella Doll $24.13 (all ages) – The problem with a lot of soft dolls is that there isn’t a lot the child can do with them.  I love that this one comes with removable clothes and diaper and has a pacifier that attaches via magnet – so smart! There are also tons of cute accessories available for Stella (we’re talking clothes, baby carriers, and even a potty). 
  • Blabla Dolls starting at $16.00 (all ages) – These hand-knit 100% cotton dolls are on the expensive side so we don’t collect them but we did splurge on one for our daughter for Christmas when she was 18 months old.  Being the second child, she wasn’t really in need of anything because she already had all her brother’s old toys.  We still wanted to get her something special though.  We considered getting an American Girl Doll but thought she was too young so we got her Prudence the Owl instead.  She’s now one of S’s best friends and I have no doubt she’ll end up being a family heirloom.  (Side note: there’s a great selection of characters well-suited to boys as well).
  • Ugly Dolls starting at $7.30 (all ages) – If you’re looking for a great gender neutral doll, how rad are ugly dolls? I just love their colorful look and silly, irreverent nature. Judging by their popularity, kids do too! Despite not being the typical cute doll, these guys have proven they’re still perfect for cuddles.
  • Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Love to Play Puppy $20.02 (9 months – 4 years) – We got this guy as a hand-me down from friends whose kids had outgrown him. The puppy’s a cuddly and engaging first friend. He has two modes – learning and musical and identifies body parts, colors and sings lots of fun songs when various body parts are pushed. All three of our kids have loved him (even 7 month M already) and we whole-heartedly agree with one reviewer who wrote, “For $20, he is very interactive and elaborate…. he counts, names body parts and colors, has funny sayings, and sings many songs (ENTIRE songs). He’s funnier, more educational (and cuter) than “Tickle-Me-Elmo”–minus the annoying voice.”
  • Melissa & Dough Brianna Doll $18.95 (18 months – 6 years) – There’s a lot to like about this basic yet very highly rated doll.  At 12″, she’s a good size for hauling around. Her soft body allows for laying or sitting and her hard arms and legs easily wipe clean.  She has lots of shiny hair to play with and her eyes open and close. Plus, her open mouth allows her to suck on either her thumb or pacifier.  Last but not least, her price can’t be beat!
  • Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo $48.42 (18 months – 6 years) - Elmo has once again managed to land himself a coveted spot as one of the hottest toys around. Parents report that this dancing, singing, sleeping and hugging super-sized Elmo outshines his tickle-me predecessor.  I especially like how he encourages imaginative play with scenarios revolving around astronauts, rabbits, frogs and horses and how his affirmative words and hugs will help kids build emotional intelligence as well.
  • Rosa Grandma Doll & Pancho Grandfather Doll $39.95 (2+ years) – A lot of my kids’ imaginary play right now centers around family structure – they often pretend to be the mom and dad and all of S’s dolls are part of an elaborate family tree (“Pink Bear” is “Bunny”‘s Grandma, “Bearie” is “Bunny”‘s daughter, and etc.). So I think they would both love a set of grandparent dolls to add to their play, especially these guys who will sing songs in both english and spanish at the push of a button.
  • Corolle Emma Drink-and-Wet Bath Baby Doll $46.98 (2 – 6 years) – Two Christmases ago our daughter was 2 and getting more and more into baby dolls.  She was also getting more and more into the idea of potty training (do you hear the angels singing?).  So I figured, why not combine the two? A little research revealed several dolls that actually “pee” after drinking water but reviews, and reports from my friends, suggested that this one was the best. Santa left her under the tree and S was thrilled. I really liked that the doll doubled as a bath toy.  S had been dying to take one of her babies in the tub with her but didn’t have one that would work for that purpose.
  • My Baby Alive $44.88 (3 – 6 years) – Looking to really wow your daughter this year?  This doll is the ultimate in virtual baby care. She comes with more than 30 different phrases to let you know if she’s happy, sleepy, or ready for a snack.  Her eyes close when you put her to sleep and open when she wakes up. She even eats actual food your child prepares and really needs to be changed later on. Your little one will be truly amazed.
  • Disney Doc McStuffins Time for Your Checkup Interactive Talking Doll + Lambie Plush Doll $50.92 (3 – 6 years) – Doc McStuffins has taken the world by storm since debuting in 2012 and, I have to say, I don’t mind getting behind a character that promotes healthy habits and serves as a great role models for girls.  This doll is a best seller not only because of the character, but also because of the cool stuff she does including talking, singing the “time for Your Check-Up” song, and even making Lambie talk when she checks her heart, ears, and temperature. This would be a great pick for any child who has doctor-visit anxiety too.
  • The Adventures of Shen the Panda $49.99 (2 – 6 years) – We had the pleasure of reviewing Shen a couple years ago and he’s been a treasured part of our family ever since (you can read my full review here).  He belongs to C and I’m now thinking of getting his female counterpart, Zylie, for S. Not just your run-of-the-mill teddy bears, these guy are a brand new mixed breed: part stuffed animal and part dress-up doll. Created by a mom whose kids were becoming frustrated in their attempts to find suitable dress-up clothes for their teddy bears, Shen and Zylie are an award winning duo that come with an array of cool accessories (including a passport and a book about their adventures).  They’re soft and cozy like most stuffed animals but their hands, feet, and lower torso are filled with a bean bag material so it’s easy to slip them in and out of their large array of dress up options.
  • North American Bear Company “Girls on The Move” Gymnast Tan Finger Puppet $11.99 (3 – 9 years) – These award-winning 7″ velour dolls are part doll and part puppet and they come in all kinds of characters girls will love. The legs serve as spots to slip in your fingers so that you can make these dolls twist, twirl, jump and do the splits.  My favorite options are the gymnast and ballerina.
  • Hasbro Furby $52.99 (5+ years) – Dolls don’t have to be just for toddlers.  Older kids flip over this tech-based friend. Feed it, speak to it, tickle it, play music for it, and shake, tilt or turn your FURBY upside down. But be warned – how you treat your FURBY will shape its personality.

gift guide: top doll accessories

Accessories for Playing House

Once you’ve found a doll your child will love, it’s time to explore the vast array of incredibly realistic accessories available.

  • Chico Doll Stroller $39.99 – In my humble opinion, if you’re going to buy one accessory for your child’s doll, it should be a stroller.  S likes her dolls, but isn’t obsessed, yet she LOVES to pile them into her stroller and take them for a stroll around the house over, and over, and over again.
  • ERGObaby Original Doll Carrier $24.00 – With baby wearing being so popular these days, this is the perfect gift for any big sister or brother who’s witnessed mommy wearing their own younger sibling. There are tons of options, including miniature Beco, Moby Wraps, and slings so your child can get suited up just like mommy.
  • Corolle Mon Premier My First Accessories Set $34.99 – This is a really nice all-in-one set.  I like that it covers all your basics from feeding to the potty and includes some fancy extras like the bottle warmer.  Best of all, there’s a handy bag to store it all in.
  • Badger Doll Highchair with Plate, Bib and Spoon in White or Pink $19.18 – This is a simple, basic highchair for your child’s doll that’s received great reviews. What more could you ask for?
  • Badger Basket Quad Deluxe Doll Stroller $48.62 – At first glance, I thought this was over the top.  But then a good friend told me how much her two girls love their double doll stroller, so I thought “if two’s good, maybe four’s really good”.  And then I thought about how S stuffs no less than 6 baby dolls in her stroller at a time most days, and I realized this might actually be brilliant – if you have the space. (Plus it’s really not that much more than a quality single doll stroller.)
  • Joovy Doll Booster Seat $29.99 – The photo of a doll loaded up in this in the backseat of a car was just too cute.  S would absolutely love it!
  • Melissa & Doug Doll Play Sets $13 – $15 – If the Corolle all-in-one set is just two many pieces for you, Melissa & Doug also offers a very nice feeding set or changing set that includes a diaper bag.
  • Lil’ Doll Cradle $26.99 – This is another basic staple that any doll lover will enjoy.  Getting to put baby down for a rest is a nice way to extend the dramatic play (and we find the cradle works well for storing S’s doll collection when not in use).
  • Doll Bicycle Seat $16.95 – Being able to strap her baby in and take her for a bike ride will make your daughter the envy of the neighborhood. Such fun.
  • Joovy Doll Car Seat $49.99 – This is pretty darn cool.  This doll carseat carrier works just like the real thing.  The base stays in the car and the carseat latches in and out of it.  If you want to get really fancy, there’s even a tandem stroller for it to snap into as well.
  • Green Toys Tea Set $19.59 – Whether playing with mommy or a favorite doll, tea time is always a fun way to pass some time.  We’ve had this set for over a year and it still looks like new (despite lots of use in the playroom, bathtub and even sand box).  Plus I love that Green Toys are 100% recycled, made from milk jugs, are FDA approved to eat and drink from, and do not contain BPA, phthalates, or lead paint.
  • Designed by You Doll House with Furniture $82.09 (3+ years) – This doll house isn’t really to be used with the dolls on this list but it comes with it’s own little people and serves as another great way for your kids to experiment with playing house. Whenever I make a big toy purchase for my kiddos, I obsess about it a bit.  I research (a lot) to find the train table, play kitchen, etc. that’s not only going to hold up the best, but will also offer up the most beneficial play experience.  When my daughter indicated that she wanted a doll house for her birthday last year, my research led us to purchase this one and we’ve been really, really pleased with it. The rooms are easy to access and it came with a bizillion pieces of furniture that both my son and daughter use for lots of dramatic play.  What I love most about it, though, is that instead of one permanent structure, the house is modular and can be reconfigured a bunch of different ways. This really extends the kids’ engagement.  I would recommend this for both boys and girls (if hubby gawfs at buying your boy something pink, just paint over those two walls with chalkboard paint to add to the fun).

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If you like these recommendations, I encourage you to pin or bookmark them for later when you’re ready to start shopping.  I would also love it if you forwarded the list on to your parenting friends or shared it on facebook – trust me, your friends will thank you for the help and you get to be the cool mom (or dad) with all the best resources. It’s a win-win.

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P.S. See all 10 of our 2015 Gift Guides here.

 

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