Friday, 16 December 2011

Time-Tested Toy Favourites

My own children are growing out of the "toy store" years, but as I prepare for the holidays, I will admit to more than a little nostalgia for those days.
There are some toys, however, that even now still get pulled out regularly. Their play value has not diminished over the years, and they have stood up to time & punishment, so I thought they deserve a special mention at this time of year for all those parents who are at the beginning of their toy journey.

Note that I have not included here non-commercial toys of great value, such as appliance boxes, tree forts, sand boxes, rice tables, dress-up trunks, art supplies, etc. Non-commercial toys will be a subject for a separate post at a later time.

1. Pattern blocks. These are colourful blocks in a variety of scaled geometric shapes. They are made of a variety of materials including wood (traditional, and sturdiest), plastic, foam, and magnets. These have been used free-form in our house to build mandalas, make pictures to illustrate stories, to work out geometry problems, for stop-motion animation projects and many other purposes too.

2. Plain (dot-free) wooden coloured dominoes & accompanying gadgets (spinner, teeter-totter, bridge, steps,  bell tunnel, etc.). There have been more domino runs built in our house than I can count, and not a week has gone by over the past 7 years that they have not some out for use. They often form part of a more elaborate Rube Goldberg machine contraption. Our Melissa & Doug set was unfortunately discontinued, so we were forced to make homemade dominoes to flesh out our set and keep up with design demands. Fortunately, another manufacturer (HearthSong) now makes a similar product.

3. Crazy Forts This tinker-toy style building set is aimed for preschoolers. It allows kids to build fort-sized contraptions while still keeping the kitchen chairs available for adult use. Just add a blanket or sheet to finish off the fort. There is also a separate LED light you can pick up that fits into a connector piece so you can light up your fort. Yes, my tween & teen still get some use from these, although they only come out every few months or so now.

4. Plain wooden blocks. The more, the better. Foam also work, but aren't nearly as rugged and are tougher to keep clean. Look for smaller sizes with lots of variety in shapes (cones, arches, pyramids, cylinders, cubes, rectangular and triangular prisms, semi-spheres, etc.).

5. I hesitate to include this as it is made of plastic, but Playmobil is still going strong in our house. My youngest uses it to model historical scenes as well as scenes from favourite novels.

6. Building sets, such as Lego, K'nex, Straws & Connectors, UberStix, etc. The key here is to buy generic sets with no theme; the themed sets we have have only seen a single use (or at most, a week's worth of play) and once the novelty wore off, the generic pieces were taken for use in more creative projects while the specialized pieces sat in storage bins. The one exception to this might be Lego Mindstorms. UberStix is especially interesting as it incorporates all major building sets along with recyclables, including plastic water bottles, shower caps, drinking straws, etc.

7. Snap Circuits These sets have a guide book that takes you through ordered projects that introduce you to basic concepts in a logical way. This includes basic principals of circuitry and safety guidelines. After that is where the real fun begins.
Hint: if you cannot find a Snap Circuits piece you want, you can connect regular wires & components to the set, but be sure to follow safety rules and size your parts accordingly. Be sure your children thoroughly understand the basics before your introduce non-Snap Circuits parts.

Do you have any favourites to add?