Do your kids have a handful of toys that they play with over and over again, despite a room full of toys? Mine do! Sure, they get new toys for their birthdays and Christmas and for a few weeks get “shiny toy syndrome”, but they always return to a small group of favorite play things.
As I looked around their rooms the other day, I noticed that many of these favorite toys are ones that we bought when my daughter, now 7, was a young toddler. Several years later, she still plays with them, now with her little brother, who is 2. That got me thinking… any toy that lasts 5+ years and 2 kids is worth talking about, so I made a quick list! Best of all, the toys here are all educational, inspire creativity and imagination and don’t require batteries.
Scroll down to see my holy grail toy list!
We bought an easel for our daughter practically as soon as she could stand and she still uses it. Both kids use it for painting and chalk drawing, and playing school. If you have the space, it’s great, but frankly, I prefer the simple chalkboard and whiteboards that we picked up for $20 at our local office supply store. My father in law was kind enough to put a frame around a whiteboard so it matches our son’s room décor. Best of all, it works for magnets, MagnaTiles and washable Crayola markers. (I’m not crazy enough to give my toddler an Expo DryErase).
We also leave cute messages for our kids on the boards! They love seeing their names in big writing.
Scooters are a great alternative to bikes. They don’t take up much space, plus they’re very intuitive for kids to learn. The 3-in-1 Micro Mini model in particular has been great for us because it lasted our daughter from 13+ months to just about six years old when she was finally too heavy. It’s still in great shape and our now 2-year-old is cruising on it. For young toddlers, it has an attachable seat that allows them to sit while scooting. When they’re ready, just remove the seat, adjust the handle bar and they’re ready to use it as a stand-up scooter. We haven’t had any issues with rusting or warping even though we often kept it outside. So when it was time to upgrade our daughter to a bigger size, we gladly went with Micro again.
Of course, don’t forget a helmet:Fun parenting hack: I saw a post on Weelicious recently where she took her daughter’s scooter on an overseas flight, putting it right in the overhead luggage bin. Apparently, scooters are great for older kids to use for sight-seeing around the city. I haven’t tried this yet but sounds like a great idea!
This simple little ride-on is so much fun. Powered solely by the rider’s momentum, it works equally well indoors on hardwood floors as it does outside. Kids as young as two or three will get the hang of it, but it’s equally fun for adults. One of my favorite pictures is of my 60+ year old mother cruising around our house with our daughter riding shotgun.
Funny story… When my husband saw the simple brilliance of this toy, he bought a half dozen of them and set up a car dealership in the living room so our daughter could learn the art of sales. For months, she hawked them to every kid that came over for a playdate! Sales were a little sluggish, though, so gifted them for a lot of birthday parties that year. Everyone that received one loved it as much as we did, so I guess it worked out ok in the end.
Hands-down one of my favorite toys of all time! MagnaTiles are flat, colorful magnetic building tiles. Use them to make buildings, towers or flat designs – anything you can imagine. We bought our first set more than five year ago and to this day, one or both kids plays with them at least a few times a week. They’re perfect for a wide age range, so I often put them out for playdates and family parties. The icing on the cake is that Magna Tiles are a great STEM toy. Children learn everything from pattern and shape recognition to geometry and physics, all while having fun.
MagnaTiles also travel well. We take a small pouch of tiles on errands like a visit to the doctor. We also bring them on every airplane ride. Because they’re magnetic and flat, they’re less likely than blocks to go rolling five rows in front of us, and we have found all kinds of surfaces to stick them to while on the road.
Be forewarned, though – at around $99 for a 74-piece set, MagnaTiles are pretty expensive. You also need a reasonable number of tiles to make any kind of a sizable structure. That said, the “cost-per-play” of MagnaTiles has made them worth it for us, and I’d prefer one expensive toy over ten junkie ones any day.
My mom just sent the glow in the dark and crystal clear (ice) versions for my daughter’s birthday and they’ve been fun additions to our collection. Plus, you’ll definitely see the new MagnaTile Qubix on my holiday list.
If you have room for a toy kitchen, it’s a great toy for kids 18+ months and older. Yes, you can introduce them that young. Kitchens are great for inspiring imaginative play. Kids can play restaurant, cooking show or go grocery shopping…the possibilities are endless. Recently, we moved the kitchen from my daughter’s room into my son’s and I’ll argue with anyone that says it’s a “girl toy”. What does that even mean?
Kitchens come in every style and price point, but I personally love this one from Ikea. It’s sturdy and easy to assemble. It’s also height adjustable so can grow with your child. The neutral design blends well with most home décor and the price is reasonable. My only wish is that it came with a wall mounting kit. We rigged one with a piece of wood and drywall screws, but it’s not ideal.
I learned the hard way that kids don’t need a ton of accessories to make kitchen play fun. At one point, we had loads of plastic veggies, wooden foods, and a multiple sets of pots and pans. I found myself cleaning the toy kitchen as often as our real kitchen. Last year, I donated all but a couple food items and a few dishes and my kids still haven’t noticed.
Bonus Suggestion: Anything Playmobil
Now, this is a little bit of a cheat on my part since our family only started playing with Playmobil recently, but I’m hoping that once you see how great these toys are, you’ll let me slide a little! In my mind, Playmobil is the German equivalent of Lego. Outside of the US it’s massively popular. The play sets come in themes (think pirates, dinosaurs, fairies, NHL, children’s hospital, construction site) and include people, vehicles and structures.
I love that both of my kids can play with most of the Playmobil range, albeit a bit differently. My daughter (age 7) likes setting up elaborate scenes in the playhouse and assembling the more intricate structures like the aquarium. My son (age 2) mostly zooms the emergency vehicles around.
The best thing is that Playmobil toys are virtually indestructible. Yes, the wheels of the Porsche will come off when your toddler bangs them against the concrete repeatedly, but the car will survive unscathed and you can just pop the tires back on. It really is great German engineering! I also like that Playmobil is pretty reasonably priced considering the size and quality of the toys. As an example, the truck below is about $25 normally, but I picked it up on Amazon for just $16.
Some of the sets contain some pretty small pieces, so I just put those up until our little guy is a bit older. There is also a super-cute range for kids 1.5+ years called the 1.2.3 series that alleviates this worry altogether.
I hope that this toy round-up was helpful! As you can see, I have a lot of enthusiasm about kid’s toys. While I love researching and recommending them, I’m also super picky about which toys come in our house and I strive to limit how much our kids have.
Some Thoughts on Toy Overload
One problem with having tons of toys is the clutter that comes with it. Worse, though, having too much stuff can unintentionally create restlessness and short attention spans in kids, not to mention spoiled behavior. Have you ever heard a child say “I’m bored” while surrounded by toys?! After I wrote this post, I read this article on How to Raise a Minimalist. It gives some good suggestions on curtailing materialism in kids. Below are some of the suggestions from the article sprinkled with a few of my own:
Limit new toys to a child’s birthday’s and a few other special holidays, and then buy only a few. We don’t buy toys on impulse – period. We’ve also scaled back on the number of presents we buy and instead plan a family trip or buy the kids something they need, like new snow boots.
Be ok saying “no”. A friend told me recently how she just couldn’t bring herself to spend the money for an American Girl doll for her 6-year-old. Instead, she insisted her daughter save her allowance money if she really wanted one. More than a year later, her daughter bought the doll with her own hard-earned money and now insists that her friends are extra careful when they play with it.
Encourage experiences over toys for gifts. For her last birthday, our daughter received a home-made gift certificate for a movie with her aunt and she can’t wait to use it. I know that outing will create a lasting memory and mean so much more to her than an equally-priced toy she won’t be able to find a month later.
Limit screen time and particularly commercials. TV is filled with advertisements for tons of crappy toys and unhealthy food. Controlling a child’s exposure to the ads curbs their desire for these things. When our daughter watches the odd TV show or movie, it’s on a commercial-free platform like Netflix or Apple TV. Problem solved.
Reframe holidays and birthdays to be giving and helping occasions instead of all about receiving. My friend Pooja wrote a beautiful article for Real Simple on the topic here. It inspired us to ask friends to forgo birthday gifts last year.
Tackle it in whatever way makes sense for your family. Our kids don’t mind if we go through their rooms and bag things up for donation. Some kids would prefer to be involved in deciding what stays and what goes. Whatever works best for you – just move along the under-used toys to kids that will really use and appreciate them.
At first I wondered if it was a little odd to write about all of the great toys that our family loves and then end with “but choose wisely and don’t get too many”. But as I think about it, that’s just the reality of parenting – we can have all of the fun in the world with our kids, but it’s our job to set boundaries too.
Do your kids have favorite toys that they’ve played with for years? Please share below!