So, I’ve been doing this motherhood thing for coming up on ten years now. That does not make me an expert. It does, however, mean I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve learned a thing or two.
One thing I have to say is that my children are rarely bored. Please know that this does not mean that they never nag, pester, or harrass me about playing a video game or watching TV. They do. Still, for the most part, I can just leave them to their own devices and they’ll concoct some sort of great imaginative play adventure.
Toys can and should help facilate wonderful play. That said, I don’t believe most people need even half as many toys as they have in their homes. (I speak for myself here, too.)
Watching my children’s adventures unfold over the summer, I really watched which toys got used over and over and over again. I came to some rather cool conclusions:
1. They are toys we’ve had for 5+ years, without exception.
2. Not a single one requires batteries.
3. Not a single one costs more than $20.
So, with that info gleaned, I’ve set out to make a list for the rest of you. Here are five toys that truly go the distance– these are toys that can be enjoyed by the tiny set, but that do not lose their appeal over the years.
Ready? Here we go:
1. Building Blocks
Building blocks come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials. My children are all old enough now to handle the smaller, “choking hazard”-sized blocks, but, I’ll be honest– these big chunky ones? Still get plenty of play. It doesn’t really matter what color or size you choose, so long as it allows for lots of open-ended building. Very structured sets have their place, but they won’t go the distance like a more general collection of pieces.
2. Musical Instruments
What baby/toddler ISN’T given this toy xylophone to pound on? I swear I see these in just about every home I visit. They’re tried and true for a reason. The thing is, there’s really no need to retire it when your youngest heads off to preschool. Notice the numbers I’ve marked on it? Well, those correspond with “sheet music” I’ve made up, allowing the children to play actual, recognizable songs. They take great pride in playing “Twinkle, Twinkle”, “Jingle Bells”, “Amazing Grace”, and the like. Study after study shows that playing an instrument is wonderful for a child’s development– the simple xylophone can definitely be a starting point.
3. Toy Figures
We have knights, we have princesses. We have animals, we have dinosaurs. These small figures run the gamut and you can easily grab a set for less than ten bucks. They take up precious little space and the options for play are seemingly endless. Water? Dirt? Play dough? Next to nothing will damage them, and that’s half the fun. These little figures do not talk, walk, or sing on their own… and that’s a good thing! Every once in a great while, we lose one to a broken arm, wing, or weapon, but the ones above have been rolling around our home for years and years. These are the sort of toy that might get ignored for a month, but then the children rediscover them and create elaborate scenes and adventures that fill their days. Since they take up very little real estate, they are more than worth keeping around.
4. Play Food
That play food set? We’ve had it for almost nine years. We got it along with a play kitchen and, the reality is, the kitchen sees very little action these days. The food, however? My goodness, that play food gets pulled out several times a week. Sometimes they’re pretending to prepare fancy meals. Sometimes they’re feeding stuffed animals. Sometimes they’re imagining they’re on the Oregon Trail and their supplies are dwindling. Seriously– that food is worth its weight in gold. Our set is simple and plastic and it works fine. There are fancier wood and fabric ones that are lovely, too. Play food? Is a toy I wouldn’t want to live without.
5. Cardboard Blocks
My sister bought this set of cardboard blocks for my two older children when they were both young toddlers. They liked them. Mainly, they liked it when we would build structures for them to knock down. As they grew, they were able to do more independently. One might think that school-aged children would balk at these big, clunky blocks– au contraire! These blocks have been used to build entire rooms full of furniture. They’ve been stepped on, skied on, jumped over, and driven around. They have been instrumental in the building of obstacle courses and “cat-trapping walls.” They regularly have contests to see who can construct the tallest/strongest/sturdiest/wildest tower. They are bulky, yes. But, if I actually insist, they also all fit nice and neatly in that cardboard box. I don’t see us getting rid of these blocks any time soon!
I truly believe that toys should add joy to your home and open doors to imagination. Newer and flashier definitely doesn’t mean better. The five toys above have stood the test of time and are ones I whole-heartedly recommend for going the distance.