I have to share a secret with you: I am really picky when it comes to children's toys. While my children enjoy most open-ended toys (toys that have no “right way” to play with them), I have high expectations for the ones that reside in our home. It started before my daughter was born; I had anxiety about how we were going to fit all the baby stuff into our small house. I had visions of us buried beneath a mountain of plastic toys, discarded packaging and used-up batteries. So, before our firstborn arrived, my husband and I talked about how to keep the accumulation under control and the No. 1 item on the list was to be particular about what we purchased.
Now, years later with two children in the same tiny house, we are still careful. Sure, we are swayed by the desires of our children, but we still seek to choose quality toys for them to play with. Here are four toys we really love:
When I was young, our play kitchen was stocked full of plastic food sets. Nowadays, much to my delight, wooden and fabric foods have taken their place. Our children’s play kitchen is filled with an assortment of food and kitchen items from a variety of places, with a mix of fabric and food play items. From darling petit fours to a bag of fruit or veggies, sweet waffles to pasta or pizza, your play kitchen can easily be filled with tons of fancy foods.
Natural Wood Blocks
I don’t really remember if I played a lot with them as a child, but, as the parent of children, I adore building blocks. When my children get out our sets to play, I am right there on the floor with them, stealing blocks to make my own structure. There is something wholly exciting about creating a form with blocks. My children stay focused for a long time while working to balance the blocks, stacking and restacking, reorganizing and experimenting. We currently have two very nice wooden sets: one for older children (a more freeform set) and one made for littler ones (blocks with edges to make stacking easier).
We’ve all done it; we've purchased an inexpensive plaything hoping that the lost cost is only a special deal and not a reflection of its workmanship. But most of the time we find that low cost = low quality. We learned this the hard way one Christmas after purchasing a princess dress for our daughter. It was purple (her favorite color), it sparkled (a prerequisite for all princess dresses) and it was inexpensive (a prerequisite for us, the parents). Unfortunately, before the Christmas day was through, the dress was falling apart. Major fail for the gift buyers. We learned, though, and now when we purchase play clothes, we splurge for the good stuff.
Our son is one of the noisiest people I’ve ever known. From the day he was born, humming while I held him in the hospital, to today, 2-and-half years later, he is a walking noise machine. Roaring like a bear, fighting off invisible bad guys or pitting two dinosaurs against each other. He can even make quiet toys loud. Now I’m used to it. I can block it out if I need to. But there is one kind of toy whose noise can penetrate my soundproof barrier, and it is the handful of plastic cars he plays with. I’m not even sure where they came from. They could have come from the large car collection we inherited from my husband’s childhood, or they might have come into our possession from any number of places (because I swear, toy cars materialize everywhere we go) but I find their plastic sound irritating. I’ve weeded out a few of them but unless I sit down with each and every one, it’s hard to tell which are the culprits. However, if I could completely our replace our “vintage” collection with something else, I would choose wooden cars and vehicles. Smooth-surfaced, well-designed play cars with wooden wheels that rotate quietly and roll quickly will make everyone happy, from the loudest to quietest among us.
Toys are a joyous part of childhood and an unavoidable (and fun) part of parenthood. Collecting high quality, open-ended toys is the better choice. Children will stay engaged longer and the toys will allow for more imagination. And if you buy right the first time, your children can enjoy them for a very long time.