Our Top Eleven Toys

Christmas will be here before we know it and I enjoy shopping much more if I am not rushed. One thing I’ve learned from FlyLady, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, is to have all of my shopping and most of my Christmas preparations done by Dec. 1st, so I can enjoy my family and the holiday. If you are interested, take a look at the Cruising Through the Holidays page on FlyLady.net.

As I’ve been thinking about special gifts for the children this year, I came up with a list of our top eleven favorite toys that we have purchased over the past 20 years. Some of them are expensive, but they have proven their worth by being loved and played with by ten children.

1. Small Riding Toys.

We have two favorites. One is a small riding toy that H. got for her first birthday over nineteen years ago. They don’t make the same one anymore, but this one is similar.
You can find it here
Here is E. on the one we have:

The second one is made by Community Playthings, an interesting company that makes very high quality toys for schools and daycares. We bought this exact toy for N.’s second birthday. It has been ridden constantly for over 14 years and it is still in fantastic condition. It was one of the first toys E. played with when he arrived home from Ethiopia, and then K. came home and she loves it too. The kids take both of these riding toys outside nearly every day and ride them around on our walkway.

It is expensive, ($100.00!), but I just ordered a second one for W. as a combined birthday and Christmas gift from his grandparents and us. I believe my grandchildren will ride it one day!

You can get information on this one here
(Ed. note: Carole from Community Playthings emailed me a current link for this toy today 10/20/08 and reminded me of another excellent toy suggestion – a sandbox. My kids have loved sandboxes and they are great for creative play.

One more note: since last Christmas, the scooter has been ridden constantly both indoors and out. It was a worth the money.)

2. Wooden Train Set

When we lived in Ithaca, N.Y., we were not far from the T.C. Timbers factory which opened early on Saturday mornings to sell seconds and other items. Over the years we made the jaunt to Skaneateles several times and built up a nice train set. The train is still played with constantly.

You can find T.C. Timbers trains here, or the more common Brio trains here.

3. Puzzles

My kids love puzzles of all kinds. Interestingly, puzzles were one thing that K. was not familiar with when she came home from Ethiopia. Initially she was very frustrated with them, but she has since mastered many of the ones we have and now she loves them too.

Some of our favorites are the Lauri puzzles. I usually buy them from Timberdoodle, which is a wonderful company. You can find them here. I also like Rainbow Resource which recently sent out a fantastic Holiday catalog that you can request by calling 1-888-841-3456. It is full of gifts for kids of all ages. You can find their Lauri puzzles here. Both companies also sell Lauri alphabet and number puzzles (we have both) and other neat Lauri products.

Another puzzle we are currently enjoying is this Backyard Bug floor puzzle:

4. Lauri Peg Board

I can’t find one exactly like the one we have, but Rainbow Resource has one that is similar here. We’ve done educational games with our peg boards, but more than anything the kids have made hundreds of “birthday cakes” and had us blow out the “candles”. I can’t explain why they love this toy so much, but they do.

5. Toy kitchen and food.

Our kids love having a toy kitchen. The one we have is an old Little Tykes kitchen that was passed to us by my niece who is now fourteen. We have a crazy collection of toy food and dishes ranging from old Fisher Price tea sets to neat wooden food that cuts apart with a wooden knife (the pieces are held together with velcro). There are some great wood sets in the Rainbow Resource catalog such as this one. K. is especially interested in the one that is a Bir
thday Party Set
. Here it is:

6. Duplos and Legos
Honestly, my kids have not been huge Lego fans, with the glaring exception of the Lego Robotics team that S. and I. are on which involves building a Lego robot and programming it to complete required tasks. That is an overly simplistic explanation, but good enough for the moment. I always thought my older kids would build fantastic Lego creations, but by the time they were old enough to do it, they had moved on to other things. However, my younger kids play with our big Duplo set nearly every day. Here is E., in his favorite dinosaur pajamas, with a Duplo tower he built (with some help):

7. Playdough
All of my children have loved Playdough. You can’t go wrong with the basic Fun Factory which is $9.99 on the Toys R Us website. 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.

8. Craft Supplies
K., C. and E. 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.

9. Dolls
All of my girls have loved playing with baby dolls. In fact, K. is going to get one for her birthday on Monday. Now that our family is multi-racial, I am more sensitive to the need to have dolls of various skin colors. K. and C. have matching sweet brown babies from Fisher Price. They named them Katherine and Gelila.

We sent K. hers when she was still in Ethiopia. Fortunately, I realized it might not make it home, so I bought three at once. One for K. in Ethiopia, one for C., and one extra to tuck away. When K. came home I was able to give her one to replace the one that was left behind.

When H. and MK. were seven, they each got an American Girl doll for their birthday. H. chose Samantha and MK chose Addy. They loved their dolls and spent many hours playing with them. Two years ago A. got Felicity for her seventh birthday and she adores her. Most of her friends have a doll also, so they play with them together. The dolls are expensive, but have proven to be a good purchase for our girls.

10. Blocks
Our kids have spent many happy hours playing with wooden blocks. We recently brought our big set upstairs and Russ helped the kids build towers.

We also have a set of cardboard bricks that are light but strong. The kids love these. You can find them on Amazon.
11. Dress Up Clothes

Timeless, inexpensive, and hours of fun, you cannot go wrong with dress up clothes. Somebody is an Indian, a princess, or an animal nearly every day at our house. Most of the dress ups we have were found at yard sales, thrift stores, or they were passed to us. Occasionally I have to replace the all important dress up shoes. Just this morning we had a debate over who got to wear the purple shoes with the fluffy feathers.

11 1/2. Brio Mec
This post was originally going to be our Top Ten Toys, then it became our Top Eleven, but I have to add one more toy. It didn’t make the Top Eleven because it has been discontinued by Brio, but if you ever see Brio Mec at a yard sale, thrift store, or on Ebay, buy it! It has been a fantastic toy for our family. There is something similar called Brio Builder Sets, which I am sure would be great fun, but the original set was fantastic.

[This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Happy Christmas shopping!


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Bingaling
    October 27, 2007

    Thanks for posting this list, Lisa! I love finding out what toys stand the test of time (and abuse from the kiddos)! Zack and I have our eyes on a wooden train set for our boys. Thanks for posting links, too!

  2. Anonymous
    October 20, 2008

    Great list – but you left out a sandbox! My children played in a sandbox for years.

    The Riding Toy link is broken – here’s a new link for it.


    Carole from Community Playthings


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