Every year since my twins’ first Christmas, I have tried to limit the kind of toys that make a lot of noise and only do one thing. It’s not that we hate them, it’s just that 1) the number of toys that children can have singing different songs and making different animal noises at the same time is enough to make you want to poke at your own eardrums and 2) a toy that essentially works on the “push a button and this thing happens every time” premise gets old for children really fast. In whichever order you prefer.
On the other hand, when my third child was 2 and began to be obsessed with Thomas and all things train, I was so bummed that my parents didn’t keep my sister’s enormous collection of high-quality tracks and trains. It turns out, as you may have heard now and then, that well-made wooden toys that foster imagination are pretty timeless. So while I get rid of EVERYTHING I can (I’m definitely no hoarder), things like wooden trains and blocks and other classic toys will find a safe place in our basement until we have grandchildren. In about 100 years, of course.
So, every year you can bet I spend a lot of time exploring what toys – new and old – fit the bill. They’re never on my children’s lists (though, truth be told, this is the first year we’ve actually received a list and it’s pretty good), these are the kinds of toys our entire family can play with together for many years to come, long after the latest Barbie or first-generation iPod touch, or noisy plastic toy is given away.
(For the record, we’ve owned plenty of noisy plastic toys, too. But you and I both know those toys will find their way into your house without my help, and will be different every few months anyway. So I think I’ll just skip that list…)
Crayola Colored Bath Dropz – We always enjoy “fun” baths (glow sticks, finger paint, bubbles, etc), so these tables that turn the water colors are a smash hit. It’s extra fun when you add bubble bath!
Wikki Stix – We had our first encounter with Wikki Stix at a restaurant in Chicago when our daughters were small. Instead of coloring menus and crayons they each got a tiny pack of Stix. Just this sample kept them entertained – and showcasing incredible creativity – for days. We couldn’t wait to buy more; everyone we’ve introduced them to has loved them the same!
Silly Putty – Childhood isn’t complete without lifting print from a newspaper onto Silly Putty, right?!
Create-Your-Own books – My daughter has known for years that she wants to be an author and illustrator when she grows up. Faber-Castell makes blank “bitty books” in a kit, Scribblitt allows you to send your children’s story to be published as a special hardcover limited edition, or Illustory provides kind of a hybrid method. They’re all absolutely worth checking out, depending on what you’re looking for!
Melissa & Doug Wood Blocks Set – these are a smaller, colorful companion to the “Standard Unit Blocks” below, but we love to mix and match them to make all sorts of fun worlds!
Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards – didn’t you just love to play with these in school?! There are also magnetic varieties and books that challenge kids to build certain pictures, but any set will provide lots of fun. And you don’t even have to tell them it’s good for their brain, too!
Etch a Sketch – On our recent trip, my girls saw a child playing with a classic Etch a Sketch. It was “that toy from Toy Story”, and they asked how you actually make a picture on it. Aack! This needs remedied, because it’s a rite of passage to be completely frustrated by inability to draw anything recognizable on one of these, right?! Or, you know, maybe they’ll become the next Princess Etch a Sketch!
Melissa & Doug Stamp and Sort Mailbox or My Own Mailbox – My three kids absolutely love to receive mail and surprises in their mailbox at my parent’s house. These can be used for pretend play, or to deliver real secrets, notes, and trinkets to one another!
Melissa & Doug Role Play sets – My kids have collected a dozen or so of these over the years, and they have been played with faithfully by all three. The accessories that come with each are adorable and of lasting quality, and the costumes are too cute for words!
Spirograph Deluxe Design Set – Spirograph was one of my all-time favorite toys growing up, and I have had the best time sharing it with my daughters the last few years. This set has everything you need to reminisce and make fun designs with your family for hours!
Legos – I mean, it’s Legos. If you’re here, I’m just going skip any explanation or arguent to let you get back to shopping. 😉 This classic set is great for anyone, or you can build things like Wall-E. Wall-E in Legos!
Bristle Block Stackadoos – Any bristle blocks are great, but we prefer this adorable set by B toys. I didn’t have these growing up (did they skip a generation? I’m not sure how I missed them!) but my kids love them! They don’t hurt to step on quite as bad as Legos, either.
Aquadoodle toys – Aquadoodle makes a variety of toys from small travel kits to giant “coloring” mats. My girls absolutely loved everything about them, so we were pretty grateful to also find replacement “markers” 🙂
Marble Run set – I don’t know what it is about these, but everyone I know has so much fun changing up the run and watching (or racing!) the marbles down. It’s simple, but provides hours of entertainment. I’ve seen these in plastic or wood, with racing tracks and without, and for prices much less or more expensive. Lots to choose from, but I think any of decent quality will last (and be enjoyable for) quite some time!
Lincoln Logs – They’re exactly like you remember them, and celebrating more than 100 years!
More expensive but worth every penny
Melissa & Doug Standard Unit blocks – these have been roads, castles, towers, train track extensions, Godzilla fodder, and so much more for the 7 years we’ve had them, and they look as good as new.
Melissa & Doug Architectural Unit blocks – I’ll admit, I would buy these only after/if you’ve fallen in love with other building blocks. They are super high-quality and can take your (or, you know, your kids’) creations to another level though, if you like to build!
Symphony in B Music Toy – Ok, ok. So this one actually does make quite a bit of noise. However, it’s both beautiful “noise” and lets little ones explore some really, really cool aspects of music. What do instruments sound like together? What does an orchestra sound like without ____? What instrument makes that particular sound in a symphony? We had a toy that was like a predecessor to this one, and the ability to play a song and isolate certain sections, instruments, etc was really fascinating for my kids. Now we enjoy picking out instruments we hear on the radio, etc. It’s a really unique toy, and definitely worth a look for kids of all ages! Check out the video here.
Magnatiles – These have caught my eye for a few years now, and were one of the first gifts I purchased this year. When I asked my facebook community about them, the response for both Magnatiles and Magformers was absolutely overwhelming. It appears this is a must-have for every family! 🙂
CHECK OUT MORE GIFT GUIDES HERE —
… and stay tuned for more installments of our “Twelve Days of Gift Guides” as we count down to Black Friday!