The Best Toys for Your Kids

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I often feel so inexperienced and naive about things…life, really. But the other day as I was watching three of my four kids playing, I realized that I DO have some experience in this whole mom business. And one of the things I’ve realized is how important it is to have good toys for your kids. And it’s not at all about how many toys they have. A few tips, if you’re new to this thing:

1. Decide how much space you’d like to dedicate to toy storage and stick to it. If you have a play room, great! If not, maybe you have a toy corner in the living room or a shelf in the kids room. Whatever it is, stick to your guns on this. Then you can organize what you have in the space you have.

2. Communicate with family about your goals and requests. I’m so thankful that my family listens when we ask not to go all out with the toys at Christmas. (I have to disclose, however, that we just poured it on with the toys for Alasdair’s second birthday. I just defend myself by saying that he’s our first boy, we found some amazing deals, and up until now, he’s mostly been surrounded by princesses, tutus and pink stuff…) At least with our family, leading up to Christmas and birthdays, we are asked frequently about what the kids need and what kinds of toys they would like. I put my favorite suggestions out there for the types of things I know they will play with. You may get some things that aren’t on your list, but hopefully they’ll stick pretty close to it. If your family ignores you and goes way overboard all the time…I might suggest asking for some toy boxes for next year instead of the toys. hee hee.

3. Thrift and Consignment Stores. Yard sales too! You will find the best deals on your favorite toys second-hand. I often tell our family to check out Once Upon a Child rather than shopping for brand new toys. We don’t mind being gifted second-hand items.

The BEST toys.

The toys we like best for our children & that they seem to enjoy the most have the following qualities:

1. Imaginative: Kids have an amazing capacity for imagination. I absolutely love watching what kinds of items they pick up around the house & hearing what it is that they’re pretending it to be. Wood blocks become pieces of cake. My vegetable steamer becomes a helmet. Well, if I go on like this, you’ll see that you really don’t have to have toys at all…kids will always find something to play with, and even with the best toys in the house, they’ll still use your stuff as their play food, weapons, costumes, beds, or other equipment. But we like to have toys that capitalize on their imagination.

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Things that we like that fall into imaginative play: dress-up clothes are a huge favorite here. We often get fashion shows, and I’ve been asking for dress-up stuff for boys and girls since I know they will go to good use (all of our Halloween costumes end up in the dress up chest & we usually look there first when planning our costumes), play kitchen & food, blocks (Legos, Megablocks, wooden stackable blocks, Lincoln Logs), tea sets, Playmobil, etc.

2. Educational: They are always learning & the more things you can learn from a toy, the more interested they seem to be in it. Children love learning about their world & their toys should help them do that. Rather than just giving them lots of electronics that you just push buttons and they do the work for them think: old-school wood puzzles (shapes, animals, and other things to identify), sorting games/toys, almost anything from Melissa & Doug comes to mind (toy clocks, food, animals, puzzles, stitching boards, etc.), and books, obviously.

3. Natural Materials: As little plastic as possible, please! Well, the plastic just seems to break so easily. Kids are pretty hard on their toys. Back in the old days they made toys right! With wood! Occasionally while we’re at good will or Once Upon a Child, we scope out the toy section to see if there are any great toy finds. Just recently for Alasdair’s birthday we found a wooden track & car set. I think something comparable, but new would retail around $50, but since they were second-hand AND on sale, we got them for $16! Again, Melissa & Doug items, those wooden Thomas trains (but I would never pay retail!!! eeek!), and I’ve seen an adorable wooden kitchen with all wooden & metal accessories. It is WAY cuter than the big ugly plastic ones. (We have a big ugly one – but it was free). If you can afford it, there are some really cute things out there on etsy.com. Or you may find that you are crafty & can make your kids toys. If so, stick around because I’ve done a few things myself that I can’t wait to share!!!

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4. Encourage Activity. Balls and bikes are the essentials. My kids would ride their bikes all day if they could! And having a few balls to play catch or kick around is essential to outdoor fun. My husband’s family always played four-square or basketball. My siblings and I used to go out and play basketball. Or we’d set up a couple of nets and play soccer in our front yard. After a little while we’d have all kinds of kids from the neighborhood out there with us.

5. Fun with Science. I suppose this could be lumped in with educational, but don’t underestimate home made play dough or slime, or making fun things with salt dough and baking them. This last Christmas I was making some salt dough ornaments and the kids used cookie cutters to make play cookies for their kitchen. Outside in the summer you can set up a fun water table with funnels and buckets and cups and strainers… Will keep them busy and cool for.ever.

Those are just a few tips for those of you starting out with toys for your kids. Do you have any favorites I left out?

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