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Every year, one toy dominates the holiday gift-giving frenzy. Those that wait get caught behind the curve and either lose out, or have to pay inflated prices for the must-have-gizmos. If you want in on the hottest kid’s Christmas present of the year, keep reading.

Hatchimals. If you haven’t already hear of them, you’re not alone. That’s about to change. These critters take the digital pet experience to the next level. And the reaction kids have to the hatching experience pretty much explains their popularity.

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Hatchimals come in big eggs. That’s a huge part of the fascination factor. You won’t know what’s inside until the egg hatches. Yet the interaction between the child and the toy begins well before the egg breaks open. Check out this audience testing:

The Hatchimal inside learns through mimicry. The toys will interact with whoever plays with them, and–after an incubation period of sorts–they hatch. Before they do, the emit light, sound, and react to movement. They’ll even tap on the inside of the egg and repeat words as they learn.

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When they do break free, the Hatchimals continue to learn. Interaction with them unlocks progressively more complex relationships and keep kids coming back. The early instructions for the Hatchimals break the learning process down into a life-cycle of sorts that includes a “baby stage,” a “toddler stage,” and a “kid stage.”

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The appeal to kids seem natural enough, but it is the appeal to parents that is fueling the viral popularity of the toys. While they rely on sophisticated electronics, kids aren’t simply staring at a screen. And the responsibility that these Hatchimal interactions require is being seen as a useful teaching tool for the responsibilities of pet ownership.

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The toys went on sale early last week, and the buzz in the industry has placed them as the front runner for the upcoming holidays. Want to pick up a Hatchimal for that special kid in your life? Do it soon if you want to beat the rush.