Like it or not, the holiday season is approaching. If you’re like most moms, the first thing on your mind is what to buy for your kids this year. If you’re a new mom, you’re likely to be trying to buy them everything! So, how does the queen of the house decipher between the good, the bad and the ugly this time of year? Thanks to author Sandra J. Gordon those decisions are a little bit easier.

Gordon is the author of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products (8th, 9th & 10th editions), as well as a regular contributor to the Consumer Reports online baby and kids blog. Years of experience with the products available to children has left her with the knowledge and expertise to answer the toughest questions out there regarding what to get this holiday season.

“Toys are to kids what spa certificates and new golf clubs are to grown-ups,” Gordon says. “So if you’ve got children to buy for, you’re probably already getting hints and lists about which play things are the ‘it’ gifts for the season.”

Here is a list of Gordon’s top picks for toys:

For babies and toddlers:

  • Playskool Poppin Park Elfun Busy Ball Popper ($20.99)
  • Fisher-Price Topzy Tumblers Twirlin-Tumblin Fun Park ($39.99)

For kids 4-8 years old:

  • LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet ($99.00)
  • Vtech Inno Tab Learning Tablet with case in pink or blue ($79.99)

The harder to please crowd:

  • Crayola ColorStudio HD iMarker Digital Stylus & App for iPad ($24.99)
  • Transformers Dark of the Moon Action Figure Ultimate Optimus Prime ($59.99)
  • Lego Ninjago Lightning Dragon Battle ($69.99)
  • Crayola Glow Book ($14.99)
  • Illustory Make Your Own Story Kit ($19.99)
  • Just Dance 3 ($33.96)

If you prefer to do your own legwork to find the perfect gift, Gordon also gave me the scoop on some of the most reliable brands. In her opinion, some the top picks are; Fisher-Price, Pampers, Chicco, Melissa & Doug, Medela, Mam, Kolcraft, Phillips Avent, Halo Innovations and Maclaren. While she does believe that some smaller, newer brands can also be a good choice she still advises parents to, “Avoid buying no-name children’s toys and products, like those often found in dollar stores.”

For brand new moms out there, your focus may be more on the basic baby necessities than actual toys. But don’t fret; Sandra Gordon has advice for you as well.

  • Buy the store brand. Certain items such as formula and diapers can cost up to 50% less than name brand, but because store brands are regulated by the FDA, they are required to be equivalent to the name brands.
  • Don’t buy designer baby clothes. Babies grow so fast that expensive clothes are only a waste of money. Take a look in second-hand shops. They typically have new or slightly worn clothes for a fraction of the cost.
  • Look out for the November/December sales and stock up! Toward the end of the year retailers are looking to make room for next year’s hot items. This means great sales on everything that “must go.”
  • Shop around. Once you know what you’re looking for, check a few places or sites before purchasing. Some of the best deals can usually be found on, but Wal-Mart and Target are great contenders.

Perhaps Sandra Gordon’s best advice is to simply use common sense. She says to ask yourself, “What can my child do with this?” before purchasing a product. Items with low-play value like stuffed animals or toys that make noise are likely to be tossed aside after a child becomes bored. However, items such as building blocks, nontoxic art supplies and educational video games allow a child’s imagination to soar, and are likely to keep his or her attention longer.

For more information on Sandra Gordon, visit: