10 Toys – and More – Kids Love (Parents, too!)
As you start working on that gift list for Christmas (or Hanukkah or Festivus or just because) you may start to wonder if all these toys are really all they seem to be. How can you decide which items will be played with in the months and years to come and which will be a waste of the $39.99 you have to spend? One of the best ways to know is to ask friends with kids. This is one of those cases in which the been-there-done-that school of advice has much to offer. Granted, all kids are different – and a toy that is a favorite for one may be overlooked by another – but there are some toys that hold a timeless appeal. Today I’m talking our family favorites, approved by my own three children. Some are tried-and-true classics and others are more the greatest of the latest. I hope you’ll share your own favorites in the comments and help your fellow parents to finalize those shopping lists!
First up, Little People. Not the ones you’ve given birth to and are buying toys for – the classic Fisher Price line of chubby little buddies for the 1-5 year old set. Chances are, you (and your parents!) spent part of your childhood playing with the previous versions of these cute little characters. Around since the 1950s with good reason: they are an adorable, sturdy, and reasonably priced entry into imaginative play. These days you can find sets branded with everything from superheroes to princesses, but there are also the familiar school bus, farm, and family sets that have stood the test of time.
Our toy bins are also full of products from another company, Melissa & Doug. Among our favorites are the magnetic dress-up dolls and the lines of play food. The dress-up dolls are full of fun options and sets can easily be combined for even more mix and match fun. For those who think dress-up dolls are a “girls only” product – there are plenty of boy options, from fireman to pirates to knights. You can even dress Santa! The play food utilizes realistic wood pieces that can often be connected with hook and loop closure, for matching and cutting fun. Kids can stack sandwiches, assemble cakes and cookies, and chop veggies and fruits – and then do it all over again. The suggested age for most of these products is 3 and up.
A more recent trend in toys, but one that is worth a try is the cardboard play structure. You can find houses, rockets, ships, and more. Genius elements? Lightweight and easy to set up, the kids get to color and decorate the house, and you can just break it down and recycle it when you’re done! These come in a variety of price ranges and can be found just about anywhere (I’ve even seen some at the drugstore!). If you’re the creative type, you can even make one yourself. It takes the understanding that the box is as fun as the toy that comes inside to a whole new level.
Back to basics, blocks will never get old. Depending on your preferences, age range, and price point there are plenty of options to choose from. From basic wooden shapes to multi-colored plastic that can be connected in millions of ways, blocks are a perfect combination of fun and learning. Kids can work on dexterity, color and number recognition, problem solving, creative thinking, and more – and they won’t even realize how much they are learning because they are having so much fun!
My next suggestion isn’t a toy, but it can provide just as many hours of fun. When my first child was almost two we discovered something great – children’s music that she, and I, could both enjoy. There are lots of great musicians out there, and you can find music for every taste. From lullaby versions of Nirvana, to the kids singing nursery rhymes versions, there are options galore. Our favorite, favorite is Laurie Berkner. Many a dance party has been spent marching around the couch like dinosaurs, celebrating our f-a-m-i-l-y, and trying to catch one another for tickles.
The enduring appeal of anything with wheels is evident when walking the aisles of the toy store. One of our favorite wheeled toys has been an RC car simple enough for a 3 year old to master. The Tonka Bounce Back Racer controller has two options – forward and reverse. When the car inevitably runs into an obstacle, it can flip over and drive on the other side. Instead of hours spent lifting and redirecting a car that stays stuck, your kids can take control and do the driving themselves!
Your babies will enjoy almost any baby doll, as children love to imitate their favorite people – their parents – in caring for little ones. You can find baby dolls in all sizes and price ranges, but the ones that elicit the most interaction are the babies with removable clothes. An even better option? A baby sized doll that can wear some of the newborn outfits worn by your real baby. Remember that dolls need not be relegated to the pink of “the girl aisle.” We want our sons to be great fathers, too, and caring for these precious plastic babies helps them to learn the empathy and attentiveness that will start them on that path.
This next item is at the high end for price, with a $49.95 sticker. However, when I consider the hours of play that he has inspired, the cost isn’t so painful. Rody the bouncy horse comes in a variety of colors, and is designed for ages 2-4. Of course, my oldest is 6 and Rody is still making frequent appearances during play. Rody is a reminder of those hopping balls that I played on as a child, with more personality and options. If price isn’t an issue for you, there is even a base that can be added to make Rody double as a rocking horse.
Give your budding artist all he needs to work with by supplying a variety of art supplies. Reams of paper work well, or you can visit the hardware store to pick up a roll of paper for a price that is hard to beat. Paints, crayons, and markers in a variety of colors will help to inspire their creativity. We especially like the Pip-Squeak markers from Crayola as the size is just right for smaller hands. When the art show hits the road, you don’t have to stress about mess with their Color Wonder products. And another favorite find that I’ve talked about before are the dry-erase crayons. No more throwing away dried-out markers – the colors are bright and they last!
Music is a huge part of our lives, and despite the fact that my husband and I are more likely to be asked to stop singing than to join in, we celebrate listening to and making music any chance we get. There are lovely options galore for wooden instruments. If you’re looking to go the plastic and electronic route, we had great fun with the B. line of instruments. Parading around with the Parum Pum Pum set was noisy fun for the whole group. I’m loving that the age range for the Symphony in B. is 3 to 13 years – this one is going on our shopping list!
My favorite gift of all? Books. I’ll be coming back to this subject again and again, but a great book is a ticket to a world of imagination. Some of our favorite authors are Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, Karen Katz, Doreen Cronin, and Shel Silverstein. Sturdy books with great illustrations and engaging stories are always going to be a perfect gift for any little one.
So there you have it, ten of my family’s favorites. None of these companies have compensated me or had any involvement in the creation of this post – these are things that I purchased with my own money, and would again. These are the items I go to when gifting others. I hope you’ll find some inspiration for your own shopping here. What would you add to the list? Share your own favorites in the comments!