"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Toys: What to (and not to) buy from mamas who've been there

Everett_with_computerEverett's developmental pediatrician has recommended, among other things, that we organize his toys better; and part of that has been purging lots of the precious whats-its and doo-dads garnered from the Bins, or from a random assortment of relatives and friends. We've been talking a lot about the concept of "quality" here at chez cafemama. And all last week while I had my nose to the corporate grindstone, launching a new personal finance blog called WalletPop, I was thinking about what things I wish I hadn't bought -- instead putting the money into college savings, or a therapy fund.

Today I couldn't help but fall in love with this post about toys you shouldn't -- and should -- buy your kids for Christmas. It's written by the mother of one of the lead bloggers at WalletPop (a financially-savvy 19-year-old). And to her list I'd add:

  • Don't buy: Anything remote-controlled
  • Do buy: Die-cast trains
  • Don't buy: So-called "educational" toys, which nearly always have batteries and only teach your kids how to push buttons.
  • Do buy: Books in quantity
  • Don't buy: Toys linked to Disney movie / Cartoon Network show / video game; why further that vicious cycle of feeding your children to the marketing machine?
  • Do buy: An easel, quality crayons and colored pencils, a big roll of paper.
  • Don't buy: Excessive stuffed toys, especially those with voice boxes; they'll take over your playroom.
  • Do buy: Dress-up clothes (or make them!)

What's on your list?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I totally agree with both of these lists and the importance of play. Without enough play not only are our children not ready for school, they are not ready for life.

I have on my website, www.letkidsplay.com my top ten toys that will make your child more creative, smarter and do not have lead in them. To avoid lead, I stay away from major manufacturers and find smaller family owned businesses.

My list has everything that was talked about above, but gives you some specific companies that I like. I get no benefit from any of these companies--I just like them.


For little ones, buy lots of wooden toys & skip the plastic scary stuff please! For big kids, art supplies, books, memberships to the Zoo, Omsi, Kids Museum...

Blocks rock. Good old wooden blocks. My in-laws have some that are at least 40 years old, that my husband and BIL played with. My kids, 8 and 5, still play with them. They're a little old to receive blocks as gifts, but they'll still play with them if they're around.

Our big present this year for the boys is a set of plain wooden blocks from barclaywoods.com. Not cheap, but they'll last forever. We have some small wooden blocks that get played with all the time, and this will really allow them to build some fantastic stuff!

Other things they're getting from the grandparents are a parking garage and wooden trucks from Plan Toys. I also found a small wooden table top puppet theater at discountschoolsupply.com. And there will be some books of course. And I'm making superhero capes.

Stocking stuffers will be crayons and bubbles.

Now if only someone could come up with a great list of things to get for my husband, dad, and father-in-law! They're the hardest to shop for!

We're hooked on Legos lately. They're not made in China and I think of them as sort of a classic as far as toys go. I love to see what Anders comes up with when he plays with them--he builds barges, tug boats, air traffic control towers, animals, etc. and the latest thing he's enjoying is just making fun patterns with all of the colors. My husband and I love playing with them too!

Every year on our Playmobile is on our list.

This year the Playmobile is 25 years old and it was their fathers!

What a great topic.

I second everything mentioned above. Sine additional things on our list which have been favorites....

A music set - with drum, tamborine, shakers, triangle.

Wooden animal figures (we actually have a Noahs ark)

Tea set

This year my 2.5 year old is getting a play kitchen (for each day of advent, she is receiving one HABA vegetable, leading up to the big day....), a hobby (stick) horse, an umbrella, and a her first real game.

I can not say enough about books. Although my husband complains about now many we have, I tell him that books can never be enough.

This year the big splurge is a wooden play kitchen for my 2.5 yo & 9mo that i got from ebay, play cookware from Ikea and wooden food. Yeah it was spendy but I know they'll play with it for years and when they tire of it, I'll sell it. Legos are the best ever, my nephews have a huge collection that belonged to my sister and I.

By far, the most popular toy(s) in our home is our set of wooden train tracks and trains. We have a mish-mash of brands, Brio, Melissa and Doug, and a couple of others. They all fit together, the boys can drive their trains or Matchbox cars on them, and there is no end to the creativity. We build right on the floor as opposed to a train table and so far we have enough tracks to make a "big big big" track. I can say that Brio does make the best paraphanalia pieces (quality wise and ease of use) but they are the most expensive. We've been putting our money into the off brands for tracks and Brio for the accessories. I can't recommend it enough.

Puzzles are the other favorite in our house. Wooden, big floor puzzles, doesn't matter. We love them.

I love all the kitchens out there, but we just don't have the room. So, if you're in my shoes, skip the kitchen but get the food, dishes, etc. My son loves his "grocery" set. Just last night he was fixing Thanksgiving dinner for me!

And Playmobil? Love it. We have quite a few of the 123 pieces, and I'm glad we're ready to move into the regular sets. I'm not all the impressed iwth the 123 (the house and barn are just facades, which hasn't been that much fun for my guys). I do like the cars and people from 123, and don't know anything about the train.

Can you tell I love toys? And don't skimp on the storage for all this stuff. The best toys come with pieces, so we have lots of tubs for everything. It stays a lot more accessible and organized when everything has a home at the end of the day. My husband thinks I'm neurotic, but I think it makes a big difference.

Although my kids are somewhat outgrowing them, the wooden train tracks had a really good run in our house.

Get 'em cheap and local at www.woodentracks.com

I agree with everything except the rc-stuff -- because my husband is a huge rc helicopter/airplane etc nut and is already looking forward not only teaching the little one to fly, but (if he shows the slightest interest) many more hours of building/fixing such items (great way to learn how engines work). He previously volunteered with a group that worked on the same with kids (I think it was the Boys and Girls Club).

We're doing headlamps this year so we can go for night time walks in the dark. Also a CD player for the kids room so the boys can listen to books on tape after I've reached my limit at night before bed. We're also doing scooters from Santa, to ride in the grandparents garage until the weather gets nice again. We LOVE Playmobil--did you know that on Ebay you can get all the pieces from Germany that you can't get in the U.S.? I'm addicted even more than my kids are at this point.

sara -- nice point on the remote control airplane! I'm referring to the cheap rc toys my sister-in-law and her friends never can resist picking up at walgreens. they're battery hogs and they tend to break so quickly i have to look around to see if i'm on candid camera. ("amazing disintegrating monster truck!") when it's a craft, it's a whole different category.

i love the wooden trains, too; right now we have bins of both ikea wooden trains & tracks and thomas diecast trains with their (yuck, but well-loved) plastic tracks.

and the headlamps are a great idea; REI has tons of good options there. (note: those cheap headlamps are cheap for a reason, we've broken so many of the fred meyer ones!)

I saw an article in The Oregonian right before Thanksgiving about customized books for your kids. I checked out the website, www.memediakids.com, and it is wonderful! I ordered a book for my 5 y.o. daughter and I can't wait until she opens it X'mas morning. The story is sweet and perfect for a toddler or preschooler and the artwork is amazing. Best of all, it is written and illustrated by two Portlanders and it doesn't contain lead paint or otherwise recall-able junk.

Last year, I made my children (3 and 4 yrs) each a Snapfish book with photos from their year, narration of the photos, and a letter to them. They loved it so much that they are hoping for one again this year.

For us, it's as much about toy stores as it is about toys. There are exceptions, to be sure, but I almost universally trust anything from the Learning Palace, from Kids at Heart and from Thinker Toys.

One of my pet peeves is packaging and if I buy one more truck, figurine, etc., that requires a screwdriver to get it out, I'll go crazy, so no more. Sometimes I think it's almost a conspiracy -- let's take sleep deprived, overwhelmed parents and give them a logistical task that would challenge a master carpenter while their child is standing in front of them whining for their new toy! Nutty.

Our 2.5 year old is getting the BIG box of crayons (I don't think he knows it exists; I think it's going to blow his mind). A hippity hop. A pancake cookbook and some cinnamon sugar, a funny peanut butter & jelly spreader from Williams Sonoma, and probably an enormous plastic real-looking digger that he can ride on and dig in sand with.

What we've found is that it's not about big or expensive with him, but more about his excitement. The crayons may be just as much a hit as the expensive digger. But we know he really wants that, so we may go for it.

He also will get a big boy bed one of these days, probably before Christmas, and we've asked his grandparents to put money in his college fund. We have a big wicker toybox that is his maximum toy volume, and if it overfills he/we have to get rid of something. We are very close to max right now.

We have the cardboard blocks -big size- and the kids love them. They build houses, pirate ships, beds for dolls and animals, all kinds of things. The big size is fun; they can stack them so high they even need a chair to keep going up.

I also have done ebay searches for the old school little people stuff from fisher price, the barn, school house and camper are all so cool and have no yucky noise makers.

The digger we found so far is plastic. I know wood is all the rage, and I have to agree, I've always thought plastic was just kind of gross. Does anyone know about a non-plastic one like this?


Larissa-This is the other digger I've seen. http://iqkids.com/sanddigger.html I don't know how it compares to the one you're looking at. If you're looking for sand toys, don't forget good old metal Tonka trucks. You can still find the good ones at Finnegans.

I went out of my usual comfort zone and am getting my almost 2 year old one of the Fisher Price Little People (plastic and with noises, ugh) parking garages becuase his older brother is getting one of the Plan ones and I know he'll love having his own. I'm stuck trying to find one that's developmentally appropriate (Plan pieces are too small for him) and not crappy. I hope I don't regret it. Anyone else out there have the "racin' ramps garage?" I miss the Little People sets of my childhood. I had the house and the garage, with the peg people, and loved it!

I also watched them play today with this post in mind. I forgot about their tools. A good set of tools is a necessity.

As for all the talk of lights, we love them. We have some headlamps and the kids (3 and almost 2) don't really wear them on their heads for too long. I suppose older ones might do better with that. What mine really like are clip on lights (we pick them up at bike shops). They can put them on themselves anywhere and they have an easier time managing them.

Good thing most our kids can't read otherwise they'd be onto who is really giving them gifts. We're giving our little guy an easel and some drawing and painting supplies; and his big brother a big-boy battery operated train set. Both boys love the wooden tracks and trains, and even set the racks to go around the tree. Is it too stingy to limit the number of gifts to one or two? I feel like we get so many from our extended family; and to us the point of the holidays is to spend and enjoy the time with family and friends.

By the way, I cannot keep my boys from using the ornaments as part of their play. Oh well! Carter had me take down the church so it could part of the train set; and he uses the hooks to hook together random hot wheel cars.

I think parental giving of one or two gifts is more than appropriate! we only wish we could stop aunts & uncles from sending so much. many of the toys given by aunts/uncles/friends in past years is part of the lot that's currently being banned from our home.

so, how many of the toys you give are "from" Santa? my parents always did one or two gifts from them; one or two from Santa.

sarah, thank you for asking the santa question. i too am curious about this. we had intended that santa would stuff the stocking and leave one gift. however, oftentimes that "oneness" gets a little blurred. i mean, santa can't just leave an airport tower with no airplane or airport. or he couldn’t leave a kitchen with no food. silly santa.

Santa usually fills stockings and leaves one present per kiddo and one "family" present that we all share. Accessories are important in this mix though. Sometimes the airplanes, etc. turn up in the stocking. If there has to be more than one present, everyone gets more than one because Santa is always fair.

Growing up Santa always left a gift ready to play with. He also stuffed stockings. My mom explained to me that Santa wanted us to have something to play with while my parents had their first cup of coffee and adjusted to being up so early. Stockings always had an orange for good luck and various other things.

In our home, Santa continues to leave something ready to play with. Last year it was a mini trampoline. He also tends to leave the hard to wrap things like a wagon.

This year Santa searched Craigslist and found a dollhouse that my 6 and 2 year old girls can both play with and enjoy. The stockings will contain things like an orange, a little candy, art supplies, etc.

I LOVE the ready-to-play-with-toy idea! I'm adopting it for my family this year. Maybe Christmas will be the one day I get to drink an entire cup of coffee in one sitting.

The comments to this entry are closed.