Wow, Toy Story 3 has only been out a few weeks and I am seeing products everywhere. I even went to the grocery store and saw Toy Story cookies and cakes. How do parents sift through all the offerings and get toys that will have staying power and encourage an afternoon of play? What toys can children with special needs use to encourage language development? Here are some of my recommendations to start your child telling their own story:

Buzz, Woody and other poseable figures: Probably the most flexible toy for play are the figures. After seeing the movie, I have watched my little friends clutch the figures and take them everywhere they went–the beach,  grocery store,  park and of course, nap. Buzz and Woody saved the day, rode in cars, went to a  Play-doh beach, and camping. The figures represent a persona that the kids can activate, using dialogue and building their language skills.

“Toy Story Ultra Blast Gauntlet:” Little Buzzes strap on their wrist blaster, press the red laser button and surprise–a triple shooter with side weapons pops up, ready for action. Equipped with 5 darts with suction tips, a sight scope, and laser blasting sound effects, this space weapon will scare any alien. Pull on the purple ring and your weapon snaps back in place, ready for the next battle. The darts project far, so take care in setting up rules for use.

I kept being surprised by kids rounding the corner and setting off the laser zapping noise. Intended for kids 5 years and up, this toy can be adapted to the younger three and four-year old if you remove the darts. There was plenty of fun for preschoolers, just pushing the red button and acting out Buzz’s amazing feats. Again, pretend play builds creative thinking, story telling and language. (Age 5 and up)

“Toy Story 3 Action Link Stunt Sets”: At first I wondered if these “links” of action that can be mixed and matched were open-ended enough for repeated play, but kids convinced me otherwise. I tried out “Jessie to the Rescue,” “Buzz Saves The Train,” and “Junkyard Escape.” Set Jessie loose on her scooter and she hits the railroad sign, which flips open the sides of the train car. Attach the next set and as the runaway train falls into the canyon, and Buzz flies to the rescue. The garbage set lets Woody ride the conveyor belt and tosses Lotso from the  the garbage tower to set off the stunts in this set. Kids quickly learned that the stunts can be connected in a different order before activating the chain reaction. After completing our first run through, a five-year-old boy said to me, “Do you mix it up? I wanna mix the whole thing up!” He even realized that some reactions were quicker and some slower (the conveyor belt) and designed the order so things didn’t happen too fast at the start. Note: the garbage set does not include all the characters to complete the stunts. Adding extra Buddy Pack Figures will enrich play as children have more opportunities to animate characters and expand their story.The trick is getting the links set up and pieces cocked before someone accidentally pushes a blue button and starts the action! (Age 5 and up)

“Toy Story the Great Train Chase” by Lego Duplo:All aboard for some fun with Duplo’s chunky figures–Buzz, Woody and Jessie–as they save the day. With movable and interchangeable parts, this set continues to offer new play options. The tops of the train cars swing open so Woody and gang can peer out or sit down. Combine this theme with more Lego blocks and make the houses, a train station or deli for a snack. There is unlimited fun and opportunity to be creative and build language skills. (Age 2-5 years)

Buzz Lightyear Costume: Children feel empowered when they put on a costume an assume the role of a hero, like Buzz. This costume designed for toddlers, lets the little siblings get right into the act, re-Buzz Lightyear Costumeliving the story and becoming fearless as they save the day. Buzz’s costume was slipped on first thing in the morning over pajamas! When I saw my little friend breeze by, I  pressed his red button and Will’s arms shot up, ready for takeoff “to infinity and beyond!” Comfortable for takeoffs and landings, this costume took a little boy through rescues and adventures, tumbles and flights.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “The figures, Ultra Blast Gauntlet, and Action Links” were provided for review by Mattel. “Buzz Lightyear costume” was provided by Jakks Pacific.