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Need ideas for Christmas gifts? In my nearly 26 years of mothering, I’ve seen many toys come and go. As Christmas approaches, I hope I can offer some helpful suggestions. Some toys with longevity are expensive, while others cost nearly nothing or can easily be found at thrift stores and yard sales. You might want to put these on your “watch list.”
Here we go!
1. Educational Toys
I have to confess, I love these sorts of toys because they teach while allowing for creative fun. Here are a few of our long time favorites:
Pattern Blocks (I have two large bins)
Peg Board (The Lauri one has been our favorite for years and years.)
Beads and Strings (Love them)
Geo Board (A crafty person could make one of these with a square board and small nails, and they really are great.)
2. Leapfrog Toys
LeapFrog Word Whammer
Also educational, but in a different category are the LeapFrog products — love them. This Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder,or “Word Whammer” as we call it, is a fantastic learning toy. Little Man got this one for Christmas 2009 and it was played with nearly every day for a long time. I put it away for awhile and then get it out again; he still has fun playing with it. The beauty of this toy is that it makes it easy for children to understand the concept of blending letter sounds.
The toy sounds out the letters and if the child has built a word, it reads it to them. All of the vowels are red, and they know (from the Leap Frog DVD’s) that the vowels are the “sticky letters” that hold the words together. With a vowel in the middle, they can make lots of fun words. Little Man especially likes to spell simple words he is practicing in his reading books. There is also a button that plays the “ABC Song” which Little Man plays a bit too often. Eby uses it to build more complex words such as “the” and “cry.”
I know these aren’t toys, but I have to put in a plug for these great DVD’s. Eby and Little Man learned all of their letter sounds with no effort, how to blend sounds, and even “silent e”, which is making teaching them to read a breeze. Now they enjoy the more advanced DVD’s that teach punctuation and vowel blends.
Two years ago we received a hand-me-down Leapster from my sister. It looked nearly new, so we bought a second one and gave them to the two little boys for Christmas. I save them for times when they need to occupy themselves or I am in serious need of quiet. They still love to play with them two years later.
3. Riding Toys
Noah got a Kiddie Car from Community Playthings for his second birthday — he is now 21. This toy was still played with nearly every day until a year or so ago. From the time he came home from Ethiopia, Eby claimed it. When Little Man turned two, we bought one for him. Sunshine, Eby, and Little Man still ride these around the house on occasion, driving me slightly nuts, but, they have been great purchases.
We also had a very sweet Radio Flyer scooter that Hannah got for her first birthday. It had a sad accident when it was left in the driveway just a couple of years ago, but gave my kids many hours of happy riding.
Three years ago we gave Eby a Mighty Trike to ride on our gravel driveway. He wasn’t ready to ride a bike, but the tires on most trikes didn’t work well on the gravel. This trike has been a fantastic purchase, although the price was a bit much to bear. Fortunately we had gift money from grandparents, so that eased the pain. It is larger than most trikes, so Eby and Little Man will still use it for a long time. I wasn’t able to find the one we bought, but this one with the attached trailer is similar – unfortunately it is even more expensive.
All three of these are rather expensive, but they will last for many years, and through many children. They would be great suggestions for grandparents!
We have a big bin of wooden blocks that are played with regularly. Last Thursday the blocks formed a fence to keep the wild lion (Little Man) from escaping the zoo. The kids also love to build big towers and make roads.
They also enjoy our set of cardboard bricks that we have had for many, many years. They are light, inexpensive, surprisingly sturdy, and great for building walls to crash down with cars.
We have a sweet little village like this as well. I usually save it for Quiet Hour, or read-aloud time, when the pieces won’t get scattered.
We began collecting pieces of our train set when we lived in Ithaca, New York, more than twenty years ago. Little Man and Eby love it. I keep it out for awhile, and then store it away, often trading it with the big bin of blocks. Even college kids have been known to come over and build a train. You can start small with enough track to make a circle or figure eight and add to it over the years.
All of my children have loved Playdough; just last week I got out out the large bin of Playdough toys for Eby and Little Man. Kids will be happy with a small rolling pin and cookie cutters or something more elaborate. You can’t go wrong with the basic Fun Factory which is inexpensive and fun. In the summer, Playdough is an outside activity, but during cooler weather I do my best to have a good attitude about the mess and remember that most of it can be swept up when they are done.
7. Dress Up Clothes
Timeless, inexpensive, and hours of fun, kids love dress up clothes. Nearly every day for many years at my home, somebody was an Indian, a princess, or an animal. Most of the dress ups we have were found at yard sales, thrift stores, or they were passed to us. When the girls were younger I often had to replace the all important dress up shoes, now their dress ups are more elaborate and generally involve performances.
I like puzzles and have to resist buying more and more. Our favorites are floor puzzles, Lauri puzzles, and beautiful Ravensburger and Melissa and Doug Puzzles. Last fall we added the States and Capitals, and a Solar System puzzle; they are both fantastic.
9. Building Toys
We have two large bins of Duplos that have been played with for over twenty years – I’m not kidding. Eby and Little Man are moving on to Legos, but the Duplos still get used on occasion. Last year I dug out my older boys’ set of K’nex and Sunshine has gone completely nuts over them. She has been building creations daily, and particularly loves following the diagrams to create cars, etc.
After Sunshine fell in love with the basic K’nex, I ordered the K’nex Introduction to Simple Machines – Gears for school. Samuel helped her build the first model, then she took off and built a blender, fan, an exercise bike for her stuffed kangaroo, and all of the other projects in the set. Last spring we added Simples Machines – Levers and Pulleys and it has been another hit.
10. Castles, Doll Houses, and Imaginative Play
My nephews who are now 23 and 21, passed their Fisher Price Castle and Pirate Ship to my kids many years ago. Eby and Little Man call them their “bad guys” and love playing with them. If I were to purchase a set today, I would probably go with something like these, although if you can find a used castle, my guys love theirs.
I didn’t originally list Playmobil because we have never owned any, but several readers commented that it is their favorite toy and my kids love to play Playmobil when they go to friends’ houses. There are lots of great castles and other sets to check out.
We also have a dollhouse that originally belonged to my niece and has given my kids hours of fun play. It resides in the girls’ closet now, but we pull it out when younger children come over to play.
With six daughters, you can imagine that we have had many dolls in our home. We love baby dolls and big girl, American Girl dolls. Dimples and Sunshine loved their Fisher Price Little Mommy dolls, similar to the Melissa and Doug dolls. They are relatively inexpensive and quite sweet.
12. Craft Supplies
My younger set will spend hours playing with paper, glue, paints (they love the little inexpensive watercolor sets), markers, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, and tape. Extra exciting items are fuzzy pompoms, foam stickers, pipe cleaners, glitter glue, and googly eyes with adhesive backs. This can also get super messy, but I give them a large plastic bowl for their scraps which helps with cleaning up. Rubber stamps are also a big hit.
13. Art Supplies
Good art supplies are more expensive than craft supplies, but they often last a long time. We still have a large set of Prismacolor pencils that belonged to Mimi years ago. We love our art sketchbooks and recently began experimenting with watercolor pencils in our nature journals. Sunshine received a Moleskine sketch book for her birthday last year and it is lovely. She carries it along when we go places where there just might be something worth sketching.
14. Toy Kitchen and Food
Our kids love having a toy kitchen; the one we have was passed to us by friends. We have a crazy collection of toy food and dishes ranging from old Fisher Price tea sets to Melissa and Doug wood food that cuts apart with a wooden knife (the pieces are held together with velcro). Two years ago we gave Little Man the Birthday Cake set for Christmas and it has been played with a lot. As the kids grow older, these toys aren’t played with quite as much, but when I mention storing them away, even the girls protest.
15. Outdoor Toys
We love having a trampoline and have not had a single broken bone in twelve years. Eby and Little Man spend hours jumping and playing games with balls. Eby got this Stomp Rocket for his birthday a year ago and everyone loved it. They have fun with their hand-me-down Little Tykes basketball hoop and other sports toys. We also have a sandbox filled with buckets and old Tonka trucks, as well as a playset.
17. Marble Run
We got our Marble Run as a hand-me-down many, many years ago and the kids still love it. Ours is from Discovery Toys and looks similar to this one. It is one of those great toys you can get out when there are kids of all ages, including college kids, and they will have fun playing together.
18. Lite Brite
I have great memories of playing Lite Brite with my sister, Laura. We would hide away in our room for hours making pictures and then displaying them for our parents. Our Lite Brite was tucked away for years, but I recently dug it back out and the younger set is having fun playing with it.
There are ten young people in my kitchen right now, so I took a poll of their favorite games. These are the ones they spontaneously offered:
Candyland, Trouble, Guess Who?, Clue, Rat-a-Tat Cat, Uno, Dutch Blitz, The Amazing Labryinth, Connect 4, Life, Stratego, Settlers of Catan, Imaginiff, Blokus, and Apples to Apples.
19. Electric Snap Circuits
This was Noah’s favorite toy as a boy. We wanted to pass it to the younger kids, but it was lost, so I finally bought this set for Sunshine’s ninth birthday and she loves it. While cleaning the garage, we found Noah’s old set and he is teaching Eby how to use it.
20. Cars and Trucks
This list would be incomplete without mentioning cars and trucks of all kinds. My older boys enjoyed playing with Hotwheels cars and track and now Eby and Little Man are joining in the fun. Eby got the Four Lane Raceway for his birthday last spring. The boys also like big trucks, particularly the fire engine and ambulance that make lots of noise.
More recently they have gotten excited about anything and everything remote control. Little Man got a simple remote control car for his birthday and he has played with it every day for over a month.
21. What would you put here?
What toys do your children enjoy? Give us suggestions and fresh ideas!
Let’s get our Christmas shopping done so we can focus our hearts and minds on our families and the coming of Christ. And for those of you who are done — I wish I could say the same!