Top Twenty Toys 2012

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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.”

LeapFrog DVD’s

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!

4. Blocks

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.

5. Trains

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.

6. Playdough

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.

8. Puzzles

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.

11. Dolls

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.

19. Games

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!


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. Paula Miles Spears
    November 5, 2012

    At our house, dolls of all kinds have always been popular as well as Legos. I got out our "classic" Lite Brite from when Kenneth was little, and my young ones love that thing. All it needed to make it useful again was a new light bulb! One of my littles loves to dress up and one loves wooden blocks. Plus they all love electronic toys, alas. We got some inexpensive marionette puppets in Mexico and they are currently enjoying using their lemonade stand as a puppet stage… might add some puppets to the mix for Christmas.

  2. Pam D
    November 5, 2012

    I just finished making simple sock puppets that I found on Pinterest…they turned out so cute. My younger son loves puppets….so I'm excited for him to have these for Christmas. I went to the dollar store and for less than $1 per puppet…I will have about 15 puppets. lol (I'm making some to pass on as gifts as well)
    My kids are also book lovers. I've been looking at goodwill and yardsales all season for nice quality books. I've found some great ones to pass on.
    My oldest son has just discovered his imagination….and in doing so loves to play dress up. He rarely goes out without a costume these days. He's getting a bin full of "new" costumes for Christmas.
    I love that my Christmas shopping looks alot like your list here. lol I love classic toys that aren't all "bling" if you know what I mean. 🙂

  3. Christine N.
    November 5, 2012

    Apples to Apples has a Jr. version that I like better than the regular even with adults. As a 30something mom, most of the people in the regular version are actors from my parent's generation and generate a lot of throw away cards.

  4. Amber
    November 5, 2012

    Legos and Playmobil are favorites around here! Thanks so much for the suggestions! I'm very interested in the circuits for my son. Will read about them!

  5. Melissa
    November 5, 2012

    Thank you for the ideas!!!!

  6. melodie
    November 6, 2012

    This is a great list! LOVE that most of our favorite toys are listed…can't wait to get one or two things to add this year!

  7. Ann
    November 7, 2012

    The circuits are something new to us (and with ten kids it's fun to find something new!). For a highly intelligent 10 yo boy, would you suggest the larger set? Is it worth the higher price?

    The only items I would suggest are real-life products for kids that lead to play, like a little pup-tent, flashlight, sleeping bag set. Also, an inexpensive camera. Walkie-talkies have also been popular (worth spending the $ on a decent pair). For younger kids, stacking/nesting blocks.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 7, 2012

      Hi Ann! It's nice to hear from you. We have the larger circuit set for Sunshine and it is perfect. The things she makes are very fun, and the college students who hang out here love it too. Thanks for the other suggestions. I have another post coming up on "Real-Life Tools for Gifts" and I'll be sure to include those things.

  8. Ellen
    November 7, 2012

    These are our current favorite puzzles. Geopuzzle makes them for each of the separate continents, and every country is its own piece. It's made geography a breeze, and our boys are only 6 and 4. The cardboard isn't as thick as the Melissa&Doug floor puzzles, but we've just made a point of keeping our toddler away from the pieces. We've been immensely satisfied with them.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 7, 2012

      These look great! I'm going to add a Readers' Favorites section to the post and put these there.

  9. Lynn
    November 7, 2012

    The amazon links are gone right now.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 7, 2012

      Lynn, thank you for letting me know. I just checked and I can see the links. It may be that you have a setting on your computer that blocks ads and prevents you from seeing them. If you turn it off, they should show up.

  10. MRK
    November 9, 2012

    Many of the things that you and your readers have listed are favorites of ours as well. Rather than repeat anything, I wanted to send a short list of items that I don’t think anyone here has mentioned yet. First, here are some which are things that we already enjoy: (1) Automoblox minis (this fits both the cars and the building categories…it’s especially fun to have several to mix and match). (2) Watercolor paper to go with the watercolor pencils that yo ulisted (we have ones made by Alex and have found this to be a fun art supply to have on hand…you may already be using watercolor paper, but I thought I’d mention it just in case). (3) Hotwings diecast airplanes and runway pieces (we have a large bin of these, in combination with a couple of the airplane sets made by Daron – for example, the UPS set is great fun. This gives the kids another option in addition to the car collections…they love to set up a few intersecting runways, airport trucks, cones, baggage movers, and airplanes. We found a great selection at 3 years ago, and they are still a favorite here. We keep the fact cards about each airplane in the bin, too, so that as the kids get older, they’re able to learn interesting facts about military planes, commercials jets, WWII planes, etc. We made sure to buy extra runway pieces including some that intersect). (4) For outside toys, I’d add the Razor riprider which is a favorite with our entire neighborhood and a Spring Swing. (5) When the kids were younger (ages 3-7, probably), we loved the Orchard game by Habab. Great cooperative play and a beautifully crafted game. It was played a lot. I’m going to just submit a separate comment with ideas that I’m considering for this year.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 9, 2012

      Thank you for this great list. I've begun compiling reader suggestions to make a Readers' Choice post. I want to check out the airplanes you mentioned.

  11. MRK
    November 9, 2012

    Here are some things that are on our list of possibilities for this year: (1) NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe (book) along with a decent but not overly expensive telescope. Still researching telescopes…of the ones I've found that seemed to be a decent quality, the least expensive is the Celestron 21037 PowerSeeker 70EQ Telescope at about $90. (2) Razor Ripster (3) Indoor/Outdoor Sturdy Rope 6' Ladder – HearthSong (4) Tape crafts…I have two items on the list right now: Alex All Duct Out and Tapeffiti 30pc Caddy (5) Air Hunterz Z-Curve Bow or Airt Hunterz Zing Shot (6) Thames & Kosmos​ Remote Control Machines (7) an Engino Models Set. The "ultimate" is $90 and the 30 models set is about $40. (8) 10 Days In The Usa Game (or one of the others…they have Europe, they have Africa…)

  12. MRK
    November 9, 2012

    (9) Loopdedoo (10) 20Q Version 3.0 (11) Nerf Lazer Tag (12) Mini Ogodisk Super Disk Set (I don't know which of the three sizes to get yet) (13) Flybar Foam Maverick Pogo Stick (14) Alex Ready Set Stilts, though if my kids were older, I'd go for Geospace Walkaroo Stilts by Air Kicks (15) Rory's Story Cubes. Also, if my kids were older, I'd think about the game You've Been Sentenced and also Wham-O Trac Ball Racket Game. I may send one last list of ideas about books…there are too many book possibilities, of course, to really make recommendations, but I found a few that I think might be of interest to many.

  13. MRK
    November 9, 2012

    The books I wanted to share are (1) A Terrible Thing Happened – A story for children who have witnessed violence or trauma by Holmes (I think this may be a book of interest to readers of this blog) as might be (2) The Boy Who Didn't Want to Be Sad by Goldblatt and (3) The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia. For anyone, these might be of interest: (1) Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book by Taro Gomi (or other similar selections. There is one in the series called Scribbles. (2) Usborne Book of Drawing, Doodling and Coloring (3) We love the stained glass color books by Dover. (4) More in the educational realm, these books are on our list this year and may have broad appeal, depending on age group: Go Figure!: A Totally Cool Book About Numbers, One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science!, and One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve with Math!

  14. MRK
    November 9, 2012

    Whoops, the Orchard Game is by Haba, not Habab (in my comment above). I remembered a few other things (can you tell I have been compiling too many ideas for my budget)?! Most of the ones in this comment are intended to help get the energy out and/or help with sensory issues: (1) We have a great collection of fidgets that we bought at a therapy shop online. We keep a box of them in our "quiet area" where the kids can go to try to regulate. We have things that stretch, things that squeeze, things to click together and twist, things to tip and watch as items float visually through them, things to blow to make a string go around, etc. (2) a pull up bar… (3) a slackline (I think we're going to go for the Gibbon classic) for the kids to practice balance outside…and as they get better, they can do tricks, too. (4) check out esportsonline for things like a cocoon sock, ball-nett-o, and many other physical education types of items. (5) a knee hockey set. Okay, done! 🙂

  15. Sharon
    February 25, 2013

    I discovered these wonderful magnetic wooden blocks when I purchased a groupon deal for Tegu. They were pricey, even with the deal, but indestructible and fun. We purchased the pocket pouch, the Discovery set, and a set of 4 wheels.
    Another toy along the same lines is Magformers ( My kids had seen something similar at a children's museum and really liked them, so we got some of these for Christmas.
    The nice thing about these kinds of building toys is that 1) they're easier for little hands (and safer!) and 2) they're a lot easier on the feet when they are left lying on the floor! 🙂

  16. fisher price online
    July 29, 2013

    Nice list. We got the bubble mower from Fisher-Price and our kids love it. How long did it take to put this list together? It's pretty detailed


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