Classic toys that are worth the money

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Reader Sarah asks, “I’ve been thinking about getting rid of some toys. … However, since this is our first child, I’m always challenged on what we should keep for future kids, or what we should go ahead and get rid of. I hate toy clutter! What toys do you keep around?

Great question, Sarah, and one we ask often. I wrote about free toys to create or repurpose with everyday household stuff, but there are many times when store-bought toys are worth the money.

I agree with you – toys cost a lot of money, they can easily take up way too much space, and they too often are loved for way too short a season. Timeless toys are best, so that they stand the test of hardcore play, and so they entertain both genders in many different ages.

I also believe that when a toy does less, the child does more. In other words, when a toy lights up, sings, dances, moves different parts, and talks to the kid, then the child… just watches. There’s not much room for creative play there.

I ask myself the same question about toys that I ask about everything else in our house, a la the great quote from William Morris – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

Is this toy useful? And is it beautiful? If so, keep it. If not, find it a good home.

Keep in mind that you need to refer to your children’s opinion with these answers – you may find that florescent pink My Little Pony rather hideous, but your little girl may play with it four hours a day. Sounds like it’s beautiful in her eyes.

So with this in mind, these are some of the toys that are sticking around our home. Our kids are still young, so I’d love to hear ideas about great timeless toys from those of you with slightly older kids.
Here’s my opinion on the best classic, timeless toys for almost any child.

1. Wooden blocks

My mother-in-law made our kids basic wooden blocks out of scrap wood, sanded to a smooth shine. They’re nothing but natural wood, which means our babies can drool on them as much as they want with no concern for toxins. Our preschool plays with these daily, and the creative potential is near endless.  Melissa and Doug make a great set of classic blocks, but they’re also simple to make if you have scrap wood and the right tools.

It’s worth the money to invest in wood blocks. Your grandchildren can play with them when they visit in 40 years.

2. Art supplies


Photo by Chris Gierszewski

I’ve written about our art supplies closet, and guest writer Amanda shared a great idea about creating a portable craft box for your kids. Kids can spend hours with blank paper, markers, crayons, pencils, paints, scissors, glue, and googly eyes. Don’t forget about old magazines, newspapers, leaves, flowers, and toilet paper tubes.

3. Dress-up clothes

Former Halloween costumes can be fun for all sorts of imaginative make believe, as well as your old bridesmaid dresses, your husband’s ties, and garage sale hats and purses. My daughter just got a superhero cape for Christmas from Plum, Pear, Apple, and she’s already had a blast saving those in need. Don’t go overboard with costumes, of course – a simple trunk of fun costumes and clothing is plenty.

4. Books


Photo by Landon Michaelson

Ah, books. I adore books, and this is one area where I really hesitate to declutter too haphazardly. Quality books stand the test of time, and once your child discovers her love of reading, her world expands tenfold. I wrote about my favorite children’s books a few months ago, and I’ve since found even more books I’ve grown to love.

5. Play kitchen and food

You can easily reuse empty food containers and secondhand kitchen supplies, but I think it’s worth it to invest in decent play food. I try to go with either wooden or fabric. We like this set of wooden food you can cut, and for my daughter’s birthday, I plan on making her some felt food. You can find some great felted or knitted play food on Etsy. And I like IKEA‘s ceramic and stainless steel play dishes and cookware.

6. Building toys

Lego, K’NEX, Duplo blocks, Tinker Toys… All these are great for open-ended play and hours of entertainment, either solo or with friends. Similar to wooden blocks, these toys provide a lot of flexibility and creativity.

7. Basic dolls and stuffed animals

I’m a fan of classic baby dolls that don’t do much, and I’m a fan of classic-looking animals that are soft, sweet-looking, and aren’t going to fall apart. I’m also a fan of not having too many of these things, which can easily happen.

8. Board games

Games are great for interaction, for learning about following directions and taking turns, and for learning how to win and lose graciously. The wide variety of board games out there will appeal to different ages, but classic ones are Memory, Sorry, Mancala, some of the Cootie games, Uno, Scrabble, and basic cards. Cranium makes a good line of children’s games as well.

Our general guidelines for toys are that they’re made of quality materials, they appeal to a whole range of kids, and they’re open-ended to make room for all sorts of creative play.

What classic toys do you keep around? What are your guidelines for what stays and what goes?

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Comments

  1. I am now a Nanna, and I have a toy box which my preschool grandsons love to vist and play with.
    I have toy cars and some small plastic animals, along with Jenga blocks. They have a great time making farms, and streets and brmming the cars, and flying the planes around the place.
    Another favourite is a craft box – some pipe cleaners (chennile stems), kids scissors, crayons, glue, sticky tape, staplers, and paper of all sorts. A particular favourite are magazines which they are allowed to cut up and stick/staple together.
    Of course the lego type blocks are a perennial favourite.
    Janet McKinney

    Janet McKinney´s last blog post…2009 Here we come…

  2. We have had much success with the above apart from dolls and blocks – neither my son or daughter has been into these. One toy we have that is out almost every day is a wooden road and rail set. My son (4) in particular spends hours playing with this and has done since he was old enough to push the cars and trains along.

    Nicki´s last blog post…Is that you Cindy Lou?

    • I agree with all of the above and would add Fisher Price Little People sets. My sons LOVE these. They are to them what weebles were to us. They are plastic but adorable. We also love wooden puzzles. BTW I can’t wait to look at your link to the things re-purposed from home for toys.

      Becky´s last blog post…Monday night entertainment!

      • I agree with the little people sets. Our daughter just got her first one for Christmas and she is loving it! She got the Noah’s Ark set and it’s just small enough that she can shove all the animals in and smash the lid on and then carry the whole thing anywhere in the house, usually to me so that we can play together. :-)

        Courtney´s last blog post…Skills for sale

        • The Little People are a big hit here in our house. We have three kids – ages 3,4 and 6. They will play for hours together – and I’m not exaggerating! They are happy to play from breakfast ’til lunch – creating stories about the little people.

      • We are big fans of the little people too. My 3 year old will play with these day after day for hours. She got the My Loving Family doll house for Christmas and I think it is a real keeper too.

        melanie´s last blog post…Pinwheels for Peace

        • All of these are so great! Our daughter also plays with Little People for hours and hours on end. Our son played with them when he was small and now my daughter plays with the same exact set four years later. They are great build-on toys too that can be great for girls or boys. I am a huge fan of those!

          Amy´s last blog post…All Knitted Up: The Anthropologie Inspired Capelet

    • The wooden train & rail sets are amazing. My 3 boys (4, 6, 8) love it, the middle one takes his favorite engine to bed. I have “bribed” them to do chores with a promise to build a new track. It’s also great for grandparents’ gift lists. My parents and sister now buy a piece for each boy for his birthday & Christmas. I think we’ll get at least a few more years out of this.

  3. We have a bit of carpet with roads, a pond, some parking lots, a stream, etc. painted on it. This gets a TON of use by our youngest cousins and hopefully will also be a big hit once our two littles get big enough to build buildings (with their wooden blocks, of course) and race their cars around the streets.

    We’re also looking into having grandparents and aunts and uncles combine to get a nice wooden train set as the kids’ Christmas gift next year.

    Joanna´s last blog post…Guess Who Went Pee-Pee In The Potty Last Night?!?!

  4. Playmobil, Lego, various wooden block sets (Lincoln Logs, colored blocks, architectural looking blocks), few board games (Monopoly, Scrabble, Checkers, Razzle, Trouble). I routinely go through the toys/books and weed out the stuff that is no longer played with or hasn’t been played with for a long time. We have limited storage and like to keep clutter to a minimum…

    Edi´s last blog post…Recipe Book Organizing

  5. Thanks for the ideas – I’m trying to think of a gift for my little niece that isn’t just more junk for my sister to deal with! You’ve given some good points about what will be held onto and what will just be chucked out in a few months. I think I’ll go with the wooden blocks. :)

    FruGak´s last blog post…Five Frugal Mintues with… Savings not Shoes!

  6. I’ve been slowly trying to eliminate the primary colored plastic toys that make their way into our home via grandparents and friends. The one exception to this is Little People stuff. My son loves them so we keep them around, and even add to the collection occasionally. We just got my kids (4 and 2) a big play kitchen for Christmas and I am planning to make a trip to IKEA to get the pots and pans set you referred to. I hear they make great kid kitchen items. I try to encourage imaginative and pretend play so things that foster that are the ones that stick around this house.

    Emily@remodelingthislife´s last blog post…Shopping at TJMaxx

  7. I really agree with you on avoiding the toys that do everything for them. They aren’t challenging; they’re merely entertaining. My daughter is really into legos and those tiny, plastic animals right now. We also have a play kitchen/food and dress up. Other than dolls, stuffed animals and books, there isn’t much else in her room besides these things and they seem to be more than enough. I think they occupy her longer too.

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post…The Timeless Art Of Sewing

  8. This is a great list! We have duplos (including a train that gets a lot of us), wooden blocks, the IKEA kitchen pans, classic stuffed animals and baby dolls, art supplies, and books. I also keep wooden pattern blocks, fabric scraps around for my kids to play with (could count as an art supply, I suppose), as well as several nice, indoor-friendly balls of various sizes (I especially love oballs, which can’t be thrown hard enough to do any real damage and can be held by the tiniest baby) and toy cars. And a high-quality dollhouse with large, solid pieces. Several of my children’s toys actually belonged to my younger brothers and sisters, these classic toys (especially those made from natural wood) are such high quality that they last forever!

    MaryAnne´s last blog post…

  9. These are great suggestions. Honestly, we don’t have many classic toys, other than books, of course. I love these ideas, and will definitely be incorporating them! I love wooden toys, they are always great, although I find they are much more expensive.

    • They are more expensive, true. But they last eons longer – so I think they’re worth it. We save up for them, which means we have fewer toys in the meantime. Which I love. :)

      Plus, I’m just more and more aware of the whole plastic/lead stuff going on. We live overseas, so we have even fewer standards than the U.S. does for quality and safety in manufacturing, so we veer on the safe side.

  10. In our house, nothing entertains as well as a plastic bin full of toy cars. Yes, we may be suffering from toy car excess, but they love them. Legos and wooden blocks are another favorite. (The blocks are usually an obstacle course for the cars.)

    We are slowly weeding out the plastic junk that they got when they were little. There are a few things they still want to hold onto, but I’ve gotten rid of most of the obnoxious “do everything for you” toys.

    Loretta´s last blog post…Winter whining

  11. This is a great list!

    Like many people, I would have to agree with the little people stuff. My son just turned one, and he has a farm set at our home and a space set at his grandparents. Since he was about 8 months he has LOVED these things. He spent hours figuring out how to line up the little people so they were facing each other and then smash them into each other. I can literally watch the wheels in his head turning as he plays, and in the morning his farm set is the first thing he goes to. I love that the farm set has little pics of the animal next to where they “go” so as he grows he can learn how to match.

    The challenge of course is that as soon as you say your son loves something suddenly you end up with ten different sets from well meaning friends and fam!

    Lucie @ Unconventional Origins´s last blog post…New Years Follow Up – Action has been taken!

  12. I still love some of my old toys… and I’m not a kid anymore. Great ideas here.

    Stumbled. ;-)

    Marc and Angel Hack Life´s last blog post…10 Things We Can’t Have Without the Other

  13. Wooden train sets! Boys or girls…doesn’t matter…all love them!

    sarah´s last blog post…Vitamin C

  14. In our home, we have an “artist” retreat area where we keep paper, colored pencils, watercolors, markers, scissors, tape, tape, and more tape, ribbons, beads, fabric scraps. I moved this area to our great room this fall so that it screams out to the petite ones — “I’m here–come create”. Yes it can be messy, but it also provides hours of enjoyment and entertainment.

    Additionally, I would include anything that promotes water play. My girls have enjoyed hours of fun with little tea sets and plain old tupperware.

    Shawn S.´s last blog post…The Dichotomy of Garden Ice and Seed Catalogs

  15. our guidelines for toys are pretty much what you’ve listed in this post… things like Happy Meal toys go in the garbage within a week, and everything else gets purged to the basement on a regular basis, awaiting passing along to a younger child, or a yard sale.

    Krista´s last blog post…Book Review: The Moon Shines Down

  16. I agree with all of these but I also think anything “real” is the best kind of toy. My mother-in-law gave my daughter an office for Christmas, basically a junk drawer insert full of paper, colored pencils, stamps, stickers, play money, a calculator, an open/ closed sign, and a stamp with her name on it. These are all real things and this has been the biggest hit. She plays doctor’s office, yard sale, store, etc. My kids also love empty boxes, bags, pocketbooks (anything they can fill with toys) and tupperware. I save the wooden toys because I want to keep them for my grandkids someday. We have a fabulous wooden kitchen that I hope will last forever!

    Tracie´s last blog post…Simple pleasures

  17. I collected a bunch of Little People toys when my kids were younger. My thought was that I’d keep them around “forever” for my grandkids someday. When we moved recently, I realized that it was time to pass the joy on to other kids instead of keeping the toys in a moving box for the next 50 years! One toy that has kept my kid’s interest for several years has been Kid K’nex. I love toys that are only limited by my kid’s imaginations.

    Kristen M.´s last blog post…Why My Kids Are Not Going Back to School Today

  18. Great list! Anything that has kids creating, building, or using their imaginations is great.

    Ditto on what other readers said about Little People and the wooden train sets. We have a good-size collection of both. (But, with six kids, we’re getting our money’s worth out of them.) They will last forever, I think.

    I would add Playmobil. They make many sets for different periods of history. We are doing classical education at home; it has been so fun for the kids to reenact something we’ve been studying with their Roman, Viking, Medieval, or Colonial Playmobils.

    FishMama´s last blog post…A Tale of a Turkey

  19. Great post! I’m going to blog about this too. :)

    The only thing I think should have made the list was toy cars/trucks. My son isn’t so much into the dolls for pretend, but he does like stuffed animals and his cars.

    Mama K´s last blog post…Breakfast was…

    • Our son is only 1, so I can see replacing the dolls on the list for cars and trucks if you have a boy. Our daughter is 4, so I’m going with what’s appealed to her. So you’re right! Cars and trucks really should be on there.

  20. Great list! Our criteria for toys is similar. The more basic and open-ended the toy the better. I think it fosters creativity.

    With dress-up clothes, we’ve had great success with adding a mirror to our dress-up corner. My daughter loves to see herself all dressed up! She spends a lot more time with her dress-up clothes now.

    Josie´s last blog post…Organized Mommy Baby Log (free download!)

  21. I agree with the suggestions already made. We also have a porcelain tea set for our 3 year old daughter. I keep it on a shelf in a game closet and bring it out occasionally. Oh, and don’t forget about puzzles. My daughter loves puzzles.
    With that said, we also make an effort to not be legalistic about our toys/books. I’m not a fan of the commercialized and plastic world we live in, but I don’t sheild my daughter from it (Tsh, thanks for the remark about the my little pony). Sometimes the Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, and plastic toys are just plain fun …. it’s ok to have toys just for fun sake!

    • That’s true about toys needing to be fun! Thanks for the reminder.

      And of course… puzzles! My daughter loves puzzles. Can’t believe I forgot about them.

  22. My kids play with the wooden train sets and little people the most. Puzzles and art supplies are a close second!

  23. Thanks for the mention of my craft box post. We still use ours almost daily and have added stationery and postage stamps now that our six year old is interested in correspondence.

    I would add a great quality dollhouse to your list. We have a big, very plain one furnished with simple furniture (it’s all made by Ryan’s Room; Plan Toys also makes similar sets) and it receives at least an hour of play every day from both the boy and girl in our family. The storylines they come up with are amazing, and I’m certain that our grandchildren will enjoy it equally.

    In the building toy vein, we also love the sets from Gears! Gears! Gears! Another toy that everyone can play with together, and since we realized that we can construct little remote controlled walking toys it’s opened up a whole new world of play! This has held the interest of kids two to twelve in our house, so really a great long-term toy. Oh, and I love playing with it and I’m over thirty!

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    Amanda @ kiddio.org´s last blog post…Very Best Raspberry Coffee Cake/Danish Braid

  24. great list! of course, thanks to the consumer products safety improvement act that’s set to go into effect Feb 10, 2009, many of the things, especially toys sold on etsy, will no longer be legal!!! are you aware of this? it’s a huge issue that’s not getting enough attention, and we should all be contacting our legislators to demand that it be amended before it goes into effect. if it’s not amended, it will put many small businesses selling children’s toys and clothing, etsy sellers, and resale stores out of business. great blog post on it at http://thiscraftymom.wordpress.com/tag/cpsia/. find out who your elected officials are at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. i already wrote my legislators.

    • Yes! It’s insane. I plan to blog on it soon. You can also go here at Cool Mom Picks for more info – use the links they provide to take action. You can also join this group on Facebook for more info.

      Thanks for the reminder, Jennifer!

  25. My two oldest are now grade school age and we still get great mileage out of capes, costumes, and swords ( and nerf guns which we love but i realize not everyone shares that opinion) For the Younger two we kept the above mentioned classic toys and the playhut tunnel/cube/house system. That’s the only really large item i’ve let them keep.

  26. I would add
    - quality puzzles. My child loves puzzles, especially an alphabet puzzle his grandmother found in a yardsale. I would never have dreamed how much time he would spend playing with shapes and letters.

    and

    - trains. He got a small (non-name brand, so it wasn’t as expensive) train set for his birthday, and he plays with it all the time. Legos build cities for the train to run through; stuffed animals become people to visit on the train. It’s great for using his imagination, and it too will stand the test of time. Since we only have boys in our house, this toy is very practical for us. I have heard friends say that little sisters play with their brothers’ train sets, too, but I don’t know this first hand.

    I also rotate toys, so that they keep their novelty for a while longer, and I have a miscellaneous box for odds and ends – bouncy balls, floppy hats, sun glasses, etc. What’s funny is that the miscellaneous basket often is his favorite place to play. He enjoys digging through and finding something he hasn’t seen in a while.

    Stephanie´s last blog post…mush – updated with a bonus clarification

  27. I love these ideas. I am looking for some good toys that will last a few years. :) We made felt food for my daughter for Christmas. It was a blast!

    Mandy´s last blog post…WFMW: Felt Food :)

  28. I also wrote about this very thing a few weeks ago when deciding what classic toys I should get my daughter for Christmas (link below). They were a hit! Needless to say, classic never goes out of style.
    http://poetsandsaints.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/8-great-gifts-for-kids/

    Sara´s last blog post…Things To Do with Kids This Winter

  29. Great post! I’m trying to keep the toy clutter to a minimum in my tiny house and your list is perfect.

    Lola has a beautiful, handmade doll, several stuffed owls, and some simple wooden toys. They fit neatly in a large bowl in the corner of the room. I’m sure as she gets older, more will be needed, but we’re off to a great start.

    Tara´s last blog post…Featured Artisan: Natasha from luxefibre.com

  30. I loved this article! I taught kindergarten for several years, and I can honestly agree with you when it comes to buying toys that spark imaginative play. The students loved playing with the blocks and legos the most! But, I also kept puppets, dress-up accessories, cars and car mat, little people and animals and puzzles close by. We don’t have any kids yet, but will keep your article in mind. I love creative play!:)

    Theo-Ann´s last blog post…Mom’s Princess Jasmine outfits

  31. I would have to add matchbox cars. My son could spend hours playing with them. My kid’s also enjoy trains and doll houses.

  32. my in-laws kept a lot of my husband’s toys and they are a big hit with the kids. They especially love the playschool parking garage with the elevator that dings when it goes up or down. The toy that we love is our wooden train set!

  33. Cars, our playmobil dollhouse, books, balls, puzzles, blocks, a play kitchen, musical instruments, and a CD player with his own small collection of CDs (both children’s music and some burned “adult” music) have remained favorites for a long time. Also, anything they can get inside and play in is a fantastic stage for imagination. We have a big school bus that folds up and can be stored under the bed, and it is always a hit when we bring it out. We pretend to drive all over to visit Grandma, the beach, you name it.

    Thanks for this post! We are currently dealing with the Christmas and birthday toys our son received this year that have lights and sounds and batteries… Its hard to know what to do when you receive toys that are far outside the scope of your own parenting philosophy about toys.
    Any suggestions on how to handle this?

    Briana´s last blog post…Quick and Easy Chicken Pho

    • It’s definitely a challenge, and I don’t have any straightforward suggestions. However, a few weeks ago, the Q&A Tuesday was on how to handle well-meaning gifts, and the commenters made some great suggestions.

    • Briana – we received 2 different FP sets, the castle and the circus. When I was a kid, these sets didn’t require anything other than Little People and imagination. They still come with the Little People, but they also come with lights and sound! We chose not to add the batteries – our daughter has had fun playing with the sets, and doesn’t know the difference. This won’t work for all lights and sound toys, but for us it allowed us to graciously accept a gift that may not have fit our ideal toy guidelines. It’s an ‘almost’…and that works for us.

  34. we have a lot of the things in the original post. and we have a small house, so twice a year (before summer birthdays and Christmas) we do a big purge where we bring ALL toys to the den and sort them in piles. with the girls’ help (they are 7 and 5, but we have been doing this since the oldest was 2), we play “keep or give away”. they know we will keep anything they truly love, but if they don’t love it anymore we need to give it away so someone else can.

    make art every day´s last blog post…Happy Birthday, Ella!

  35. I’m still trying to get a clear grasp on the toy situation– how much is enough, what kinds are worth spending money on, learning to discern toys that my son/daughter will actually enjoy and benefit from (sometimes I am so off on this one! :) )…

    Adding to much already said, having a ball basket is great for us. Just simple balls will generate so much creative play– especially with my son and husband (daughter is still too young to join in- 7 mo)….I love the simplicity of those playtimes too– and how adding rules is the biggest thrill for both of them :)

  36. My 2 year old daughter is loving, loving, loving her little people stuff right now…we have the Noah’s Ark (got it 2nd hand for $5, with animals and all), plus a bunch of little people and extra animals…she has a great time with them….My next little people investment is going to be the Little People Nativity Scene for next Christmas!

    We also love books and puzzles! I like to get good quality puzzles that will last as we also have a 6 month old girl and I run a private dayhome….I can’t believe just how quick its been to accumulate toys, especially toys that dont even get played with….

    ONe of my new year plans is to purge and only have what I know the kids will get something out of…we have a couple battery operated items that are played with but for the most part not a big success in our house….the other HUGE success for my 2 yr old is dress up clothes and her Little Tikes Kitchen and play food…its in our kitchen so she can “cook” along side me…along with her Little Tikes table and chairs, she uses me and daddy to have tea parties and eat supper!

    Thanks for all the wonderful idea….Simple Mom, I loved your list of children’s books and I recently became an Usborne Books consultant here in Canada…wow, super great books!

  37. So great to see my thoughts in a post! Thanks for confirming what I knew but didn’t know I knew it! :-D Checking out the links.

    LaDonna´s last blog post…Loft Pictures. LOTS of them!

  38. I’m a Nana. A few weeks ago my preschool-aged granddaughter was thrilled to discover a clear tub of Breyer horses, carefully packed away and stored in the back of a closet by her auntie a few years ago. I quickly gave her auntie a call and requested permission to open the storage tub. “Of course!” she laughed as her niece was practically quivering with excitement to open the lid. My granddaughter’s imaginative play was inspiring: she wanted to know the name of each horse and what each could do well. (I had to quickly make up a few names and talents!) She wanted to know which horses were buddies and she paired them together. We corraled the little herd up into small groups: ponies under the rocking chair and running horses propped along the sofa. She formed new pairs and groups, rearranging to suit her imagined storyline: mothers and babies, pintos and solids. She built soft paddocks out of sofa pillows and rolled towels, and practiced “novice indoor horsemanship” by making sure each one had a little pile of food (wheat cereal), a bottle cap of water, and adequate shelter “in case it rained”. Three generations of horse nuts have now played with those beautiful hard-working Breyer horses.

  39. Yes, yes, yes! I’m with 150% on all of these!

    CC´s last blog post…Teaching Tuesday: My childhood favorite can still teach me things!

  40. I would definitely have to say that all these are great. My girls can also play hours and hours with their little kitchen and food, dress up clothes, baby dolls and baskets and bags, blocks, little people (oh the things that they create with them!), and their wooden train set. I have to mention some really wonderful games for little kids- Zingo, The Picnic Game, and Cariboo. We play them at for at least an hour a day. And books can take up hours!!

    Andrea´s last blog post…This is how we do it

  41. Any thoughts on what’s a *reasonable* number of stuffed animals and dolls?? With three little girls, these items in particular have multiplied to the point of insanity. I’ve been squirreling away some of them when it’s clear that they’re not being played with, although recently my oldest has fixated on some tiny stuffed animal that I gave away, thinking it wouldn’t even be remembered…

    I’m just not sure if I should set a numerical limit, or a however-many-you-can-fit-in-this-basket limit, or what. Thoughts??

    Great post, Tsh!

    • Hmm… I suppose there’s no hard and fast rule because every family has a different amount of kids and a different amount of space.

      We have a basket of stuffed animals, and it’s full. To me, that means no new stuffed animals unless other ones go.

      Perhaps each of your girls can have a basket? Just a thought.

      I like your hair. :)

      • Thanks! :-)

        Right now we have one communal basket in the living room (where they play), plus more loose animals and dolls in their two rooms. But since Christmas the basket is overflowing, and I think some culling is in order…

  42. The essentials at our house are dress up clothes, dolls, puzzles, books, and art supplies (got an easel last Christmas which has been a GREAT investment!) We are also very fortunate to have a “Poppy” (my dad) who manufactures educational toys. They are all solid wood and have a natural finish – which I love. They are timeless and, of course, quite special to us. Among our favorites are a name puzzle, cash register and dollhouse. He has sold them through large educational companies for years but I am encouraging him to open an etsy shop also so he can sell direct also. Maybe we’ll advertise on SimpleMom when he’s up and running!

  43. Some of my fave games are go fish, candyland, chutes & ladders and memory!

    shirley rempel´s last blog post…My 101

  44. What a great list to have on hand. I’m with some of the previous posters…cars, balls, and a wooden train set. That train set has given my boys hours and hours of entertainment from age 1.5 up to my son who’s growing out of it at almost 5. But those cars are their favorites now (at almost 3 and almost 5). I don’t think we could live without cars. I buy them at garage sales for super cheap. I know it seems silly, but they both love the kid sized apron and chef’s hat we gave them…they love cooking with me with those!

    Linn´s last blog post…Hearts and Minds: a book review

  45. Basic transportation toys are essential! Everything from a big ol’ Tonka truck to little Hotwheels, to wooden blocks with wheels.

    Also, balls of all sizes and materials are essential. I like softer ones for indoor play, and bigger, bouncy ones for outside.

    Really, any age-appropriate sports-type toys are good as well. You don’t have to teach the rules, just let them make up their own!

    Faerylandmom´s last blog post…The Mister Gets Down & Boogies.

  46. Great list!!

    Wendy´s last blog post…a day of reflection

  47. I totally agree with the Little People. We bought the bus for our youngest, and she still loves it at age 9. I love anything classic…Jenga is a great set of wooden blocks, I have a playset called Varialand which has squares of different house/farm scenes that kids can piece their own picture together, Madeleine dolls–they are modest and well-made. A good set of colored pencils makes coloring more enjoyable. A bug vacuum has been a must with my favorite bug-catcher. Sidewalk chalk and bubbles are a must in the summer. I am keeping the trains, my favorite picture books for my grandkids (way down the road!) And I still have the dollhouse my father made me when I was a girl.

  48. Over the past year I’ve been slowly weeding out all the annoying primary colored beeping noise machines in our toy collection. I have three boys under 6 and they love all those toys mentioned in your post, except the dollies. Instead of dollies they play for hours everyday with wooden trains and tracks and Lincoln Logs. As far as wooden trains and tracks go, I’ve tried several brands, and even though they are among the most expensive, the Thomas the Train collection has held up the best, by far. Even if some of the paint chips off the edges the wheels and pieces stay together. I’ve also discovered that the bigger more expensive pieces such as the round house or station sets don’t get nearly as much use as the engines and tracks. One large piece that I went back and forth for the past 3 years on buying was a train table. I wondered how much they would really use it. Well the boys got one for Christmas and they love it for building all kinds of cities, train tracks, Lego lands, and Lincoln Log villages. It must be that flat surface at just the right height that spurs the imagination. Wish I would have got one 3 years ago. I think it is for little boys what a play kitchen is for little girls (even though the boys like kitchen stuff too).

    Trachelle@High Heels and a Sippy Cup´s last blog post…Wishing you . . .

  49. my sons 15 months, so im now starting to get a sense that those v-tech type “learning” and character toys that talk, light up, and do a bunch of other things really lose my little ones attention quickly.

    so far must haves at our house are lego duplos, fisher price little people (for christmas my son got the car garage, tug boat, and farm set and LOVES them) cars, trains, and trucks, blocks, wooden puzzles, balls, his tricycle, a play tool set, and a couple dinosaurs.

    we will probably be investing in a train table soon. my son loves to play with his cars and trains on the coffee table and couch so their at eye level… and my nephew has a thomas train table which my son can not leave when hes over there.

    as we buy toys i’ll continue to try to keep the less is more mantra- and think back to what i remember from my childhood…

  50. Our wooden train/tracks set and Lincoln logs are wearing well after two generations of heavy use. I like to play with these too!

  51. Great post!! As a mom of a 2.5 year old and a 3 month old I deal with this everyday. What to keep and what to donate. My solution has been to keep the things that my oldest loves to play with. He doesn’t have a lot of toys so I don’t have a lot of clutter. I do find that we are getting quite a collection on manipulatives: wooden blocks, duplo blocks, lincoln logs, and legos. I try to only put out 2 types at a time and put the others away for a while and then switch every so often.

    My mom has most of my toys still: barbies, games, play food, etc. . . that my son plays with when we are over there (which is often). It helps that I don’t have to pack things to entertain him with while visiting.

    Also we have a large family and there are also new kids so we rotate toys. My nephew (now 13) had a playhouse when he was 1 that has gone through 3 sets of cousins and is now sitting in our playroom for my little ones to enjoy.

    LaToya @ Christian Momma´s last blog post…Post Baby Body Blues

  52. I’ve been kind of ruthless when it comes to this lately – getting rid of all of the plastic crap and keeping the art supplies, dress up clothes, wooden toys and vintage toys from my childhood.

    LobotoME´s last blog post…{ new year, new you – healthy & fit ME }

  53. i think the proof is in the pudding! this Christmas, my husband and i scaled back on quantity and went for the quality toys: we bought wooden blocks, play food, and other classics. on Christmas morning these were the big hits! the “one hit wonder” toys, that make too much noise and do “one thing” only, were picked up turned on then quickly dropped. they don’t hold children’s interest, they are “disposable entertainment”.

  54. Our oldest is 10 and she’s big on logic games and building games. The lego sets we picked up have been played with everyday since Christmas.
    Our youngest, 3, is water obsessed so I fill up the sink, pull up a chair and let him have at it with stainers, measuring cups and spoons. He also loves to play mailman with all of the junk mail.
    Our 8 year old LOVES trains, he consistently plays with his wooden trains and Geotrax(Fisher Price) trains. Honestly, I think he’s going to become some kind of urban landscaper, with his train obsession.
    As a family, we also love our Namits game, Parcheesi, play doh and crafts. Popsicle sticks and glue being our current favorite.

    Kimberly´s last blog post…In Memoriam – Diana Shafroth

  55. My toy guidelines are similar to yours. The fewer we have the better and the less the toy does on its own the better. Unfortunately loving family members don’t always share our views. So their gifts find more appreciative homes via the Salvation Army. = )

    Classic toys like wooden Thomas tracks and trains, Duplos, Lincoln Logs, stacking rings, play dishes and food, pull phone, matchbox cars, traditional baby dolls, a quality books are things we hang on to.

    One thing to keep in mind is that a toy may not appeal to one child but be loved by another. My oldest boys are 20 months apart and couldn’t be more different. A catapult Lego set is a good example. The oldest likes the catapult so he can throw tiny paper balls. The younger boy likes the catapult so he can take it apart and put it back together.

    Stephanie’sMommyBrain´s last blog post…How to Make a Monthly (or Weekly) Menu Plan.

  56. http://www.strongmuseum.org/NTHoF/inductees.html

    The national toy hall of fame is a pretty good list of toys that have stood the test of time. I was reading through the comments and noticing a lot of the toys people have suggested are on there.

    Courtney@BooksNBoys´s last blog post…Sun…Mon…Tuesday! Shout Outs

  57. This is a great post! I wish I had read something like this 6 yrs. ago before my 1st child was born (although the wooden stuff seems more available now). In the last nearly 6 years of watching my 3 different children play with our toys, I have definitely seen that what you posted is so true! The classic-type toys are the best!

    I am soon going to be phasing out all the plastic stuff we have. The only exception are the outside ride-on toys. We have a Little Tikes pickup truck that the kids can ride in and push with their feet. My 1st child got it for his 1st birthday and it has been played with every day since by at least one of my 3 children. It is great for imaginative play as they make trips to the “store”, etc. It is also a hit when friends come over!

    It Feels Like Chaos´s last blog post…Why I began to blog

  58. Lincoln Logs are another good one. Legos also have a great reuse factor too, but aren’t good for little kids. The worst things are things like remote controlled cars. They break easily and have an interest period of about 2-4 weeks IMO.

    The Happy Rock´s last blog post…Think Fix It First, Replace It Second – Replacing A Bathroom Fan

  59. I forgot to add my kid’s really enjoy tinkertoys and wedgits.

  60. Your list was much like mine. I’ve always been a firm believer in buying toys that have a high play value, last, and are beautiful. I also need toys that can be used for both sexes as we have five children, four of them 8 and under. Some toys not mentioned are pretend toys like Little People or those hard resin animals and dinos that you see. Sadly the trendier the toy, the more easily it breaks or looks bad after a few hours of play.

    ishouldbedoinglaundry´s last blog post…My answer is an easy one

  61. great list– similar to what we have or want to invest in the future. :-)

    i’d add musical instruments– simple percussion instruments, little guitar (also taught our little guys to use our regular sized guitar without hurting themselves), little keyboard (yes it’s plastic, but it’s great). our oldest (3 years old) especially has gotten quite adept at mimicking contemporary christian worship leading with his little guitar and our family really enjoys family worship time where he ‘leads’ on guitar, and his little brother (20 months) does drums/ dances, and his father and i sing.

  62. This is awesome info. Reading this should set me on the right track this week when I “purge” some of our toys. I do this every year after Christmas because it seems like after all of the present-opening there’s just so much “stuff” that’s accumulated. Thanks for the help!

    Gina´s last blog post…Coming on Monday….

  63. Amen to the Duplos. My kids(three girls and a boy, ages 9,7,4, and 2) all play with these. I always say that if I had to be stranded on a desert island with my kids and could only bring one toy, I’d choose Duplos, hands down.

    Kristen @TheFrugalGirl´s last blog post…Food Waste Friday(on Sunday!)

  64. As someone who is trying to get pregnant (and already stocking up on children’s books) this is a great guide for what toys will be best to buy. Thanks for the list!

  65. avatar
    Sean (father of two) says:

    Here are the top five for my boys (age 6 and 4), in no particular order:
    1. Legos, Legos, Legos!
    2. Die-cast cars and planes (e.g., Matchbox)
    3. Play food
    4. Playdough
    5. Wood Trains

    Bonus: Puzzles

    With a large family, they’ve received all kinds of toys, but most of them, while exciting to open, just didn’t hold their attention. These are the toys they reach for again and again.

  66. I don’t know if someone already said this but I let my children play with the plastic or tin (safe) coffee cans. They love dumping/pouring things from one to another. We reuse cereal boxes for crafts. We use toilet paper/paper towel rolls to make all kinds of things, including a pair of binoculars to go shape searching or play “I spy”.
    I used to despise stuffed animals…but as the “noisy” toys slowly left our home, the kids have really taken a liking to playing with their stuffed animals…making them talk, lining them up, serving them tea, etc. Stuffed animals are now a welcome toy around here!

    Christin´s last blog post…J.O.Y. is Mine in 2009

  67. avatar
    Amy in Ann Arbor says:

    Candyland is supposed to be the first board game that a young child can play.

    My family found two types of Radio Flyer vehicles to be essential. We just had to have Radio Flyer Classic Red Tricycles, plus the Radio Flyer ‘Town and Country’ Wagon. Mind you, RF products are *expensive*, but they are sturdy and well-made. If you keep them out of the rain, they can be passed down for use by several kids. The wagon is the big one, with removable wooden sides. After your kids are grown, you will still be able to use it in the garden, or to carry your gear at outdoor events. If you want, it even comes in an all-terrain model.

  68. Favorites at our house include blocks, trucks, trains, Fisher Price Little People sets, Jungle animals to play inside, and Wagons and shovel and pail for outside. I almost forgot puzzles.

  69. Love this! Someone may have said this already, but my kids (girl 8 and boy 5) love a lot of the ThinkFun games. Zingo is probably tops. We also love Yahtzee (of course). Great for math skills too. I just bought a pack of dice and a box of the playing cards. So cheap!
    My daughter loves her sewing kit (just a cute old tin filled with necessities: tiny jar of buttons, needles, thread, tiny scissors, pins and some fabric scraps). Big hit last Christmas! She’s also gotten into needle felting recently. I just have to watch her to make sure she puts the needle in straight so it doesn’t break…and make sure the needles get put away properly! Thanks for compiling a list that resonates with me…and completely coincides with the kinds of things we have around our house!

  70. My son has spent hours upon hours with his Thomas die-cast magnetic train cars and tracks. No matter what toys he gets, he always goes back to those. My husband and I love the durability of these train cars (not one has broken yet) and know that out of all of the toys that he has the train cars will be the ones that we will keep after he has grown up.
    Children’s books, a sweet baby doll for my daughter whose eyes open and shut and a doll house are definitely on my list of timeless toys, too!

  71. xylophone, tambourine, and maracas are worth it if you can handle the noise and you can buy all of them tough enough that you can give them to really little kids.
    .-= LeahGG´s last blog ..What Some People Will Do to Get a YouNeverCall Hat =-.

  72. Tsh, will you please republish this post, in light if the coming holiday season? It would be great timing! :)
    .-= Katie ~ This Natural Life´s last blog ..Life Adjustments =-.

  73. How often do our kids get a toy, use it, and then they are done with it? This happens all the time and this is why this list is important. I have gotten my kids into all sorts of board games and we play them all the time. I´ll be getting them a few more this Christmas and they will last forever!
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..Best Toys for Christmas 2009 =-.

  74. As someone else said above, The Radio Flyer wagon and tricycle are the 2 toys I remember from my child hood of more than 50+ years ago. I know I had other toys but I don’t remember them as much as the wagon and trike – other than the Etch a Sketch
    .-= Bruce´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  75. avatar
    Joy Hilscher says:

    I enjoyed reading the posts! The toys that all 5 kids have enjoyed and can still play with together are:
    1. Duplos
    2. High quality play animals (ex: Schleich)
    3. Knights & castle
    4. trains
    5. Blocks & army men (army men are cheap & break easily but get lots of use in the block & duplos cities)
    6. Dress up clothes
    7. light sabers (seriously, my boys chase each other around for hours with these)

  76. We’re a household of books, puzzles, and games. I tend to be an impulse shopper and have a nutty way of buying any kind of toy that catches my eye. All that’s done is creative boxes of unused toys. So my new years resolution was to keep the toy purchases to these 3 items…they’re what my granddaughter loves the most. All that other stuff that I’ve wasted my money on has just gotten thrown to the wayside while she pulls out those few things that she loves the best…..although I must say that a swingset will be the big purchase for the spring…looking forward to that one!
    .-= Tina @ ride on toys for babies´s last blog ..A Power Wheels Tractor That Can Perform On Any Surface =-.

  77. My kids love the Knex systems. I’m always amazed at the incredible things that they build – they even use rubber bands to make the wheels turn.
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..The Fisher Price iXL Learning System | The iPad For Preschoolers updated Mon May 31 2010 3:42 pm CDT =-.

  78. Can I put in a pitch for a train set? Not the electric kind necessarily. But a wooden set, with lots of different sizes and shapes and tracks that can be mixed and matched in infinite ways. I had one growing up in Germany but, alas, don’t know if they still make it.

  79. Thank you for this interesting article.

  80. I just found this post – I must be sure to add some of these ideas to various guides/lists I am making. I thought you would also like my converse list of popular toys that are NOT worth the money:

    http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/eden/popular-toys-that-are-not-worth-the-money

    What else should I add to it?

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