10 Best Toys

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Over the past 8 years we’ve gone through a lot of toys. Some get played with for a day and then sit in their storage bins gathering dust. Others are beautifully-designed but don’t hold my kids’ interest. Then there are the loud, plastic noise-maker toys that my children love and I cannot stand! (light-up shrieking toy jackhammer anyone?) There are a few toys, though, that have been heavily played with for years. I recommend any of these as great holiday or birthday gifts. Although I have sons, these are not just toys for boys, and all of them would be great fun for girls as well. These are listed in no particular order. (This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something via one of my links I may receive a small percentage of your purchase price.)

1. Legos – My boys are currently ages 5 and 7, and legos have taken over our house. Sometimes the classic toys really ARE the best! Whether they're putting together complex sets or free-building an architectural design, my sons are completely absorbed by their legos. Until now I've almost entirely avoided toys with teeny tiny pieces that can get lost or lodged in my foot, but Legos are the exception. Best place to buy - Amazon or the Lego store (they have a loyalty program). Occasionally sets pop up on discounter Zulily - search for the term "brickmaster".

2. Anything from Plan Toys – I cannot say enough great things about this company and the cool toys they make! Eco-friendly, award-winning, beautiful and clever, Plan Toys are made from Rubberwood. And they are VERY hard to break. When he was a baby my younger son loved this cone stacker. Then as toddlers my kids adored the large wood construction vehicles shown in the photo (unfortunately a lot of these have been discontinued - Hope Plan Toys will bring them back!) Currently we're obsessed with the large, PlanEducation kits. These are primarily sold to schools and they hold about 130 pieces, like tool kits or building sets. They're occasionally featured on Gilt  at about half price, and they come in a big, gorgeous rubberwood box. Other cool wood toy brands include Hape, Wonderworld, Kidkraft, and, if you have a big budget - Grimm's - WOW are the Grimm's toys gorgeous. Unfortunately I was never able to afford them when my kids were little!!

3. A Wood Play Kitchen – My sons spent many hours pretending to prep and cook food for me. I think they were especially interested in their kitchen because my husband is the cook in our family. I prefer wood to plastic since it looks and holds up better. The one we had (pictured) is from Hape, and included a lot of really cute food. The Ikea version is darling too. And the Kidkraft versions are cute and come in many different color themes.

4. Trains and Tracks – These are readily available used, and you can save a lot of money buying them via craigslist, ebay, yard sales, or your local mom-listserve. And since they hold up well, you can sell them once you are done with them! Before we bought our train table (found at a yard sale for $30), my older son and I would build tracks on the hardwood floor in endless permutations. I found that the Brio trains were better-looking and better constructed than the comparable Thomas or Ikea ones. But many of the trains (and tracks) are compatible and can be used together.

5. Plasmacar – Of the many ride-ons we’ve tried, this one is the best. It can be driven without using one’s feet. It requires no batteries — it’s propelled by mechanical operation, by moving the steering wheel back and forth kids can ride in either direction. The best thing about this toy is something most parents don’t know — it has a 220 pound weight limit. This means an adult can drive it around the house with a small child seated in front. I really enjoy cruising around with my younger son! And now both of our children have started riding around together. Note: don’t opt for one of the knockoff brands, reviews say they’re inferior to the original. If it does not say Plasmacar, it is not a Plasmacar, it is a knockoff.

6. Magnatiles – My kids love many building toys, but these win the most-played-with award. Magnetic blocks are lighter, less apt to get lost and much easier to clean up than standard blocks. And children love the way the magnets snap together to create boxes and shapes. Magnatiles can be used to build huge structures, and this clear type (which we prefer) allows kids to create transparent boxes to hold other toys. I bought some of ours at my local toy store, Henry Bear’s Park, using a 20% off coupon. If you’d like to receive their coupons yourself, call or visit and ask to be added to their mailing list! OR, if you are a new Jet customer, you can get a box of 100 for around $100 using code TRIPLE15 at checkout!! Honorable mention for other good building toys includes Tegu blocks and SmartMax. I've heard good things about Magformers as well, but we do not have them. Update: check out the NEW black and clear magnatiles sets - I ordered these for my kids for Christmas this year.

7. A Butterfly NetThis turned out to be the best birthday presents my son has ever received (yes, it's from a third party seller so you'll have to pay for shipping - but totally worth it). He has hunted and captured bugs, toads, frogs, fish, crabs, eels, and yes, even snakes with his net. In the process he has become fascinated with the natural world and different animal species.

8. Art Supplies  – (And yep, I linked to Sharpies. My kids have done some wonderful work with Sharpies. May not be appropriate for younger or unsupervised kids.) I think one way to get kids more interested in art is give them a good variety of tools to work with. Let’s face it, the basic 8-pack of crayola crayons or markers kids use at school are pretty lame. I don’t feel any desire to color when I look at them, do you? For younger kids, a set of these nice markers from Pro Art are a great value at a low price. Just make sure kids put the caps back on. Or spring for a nice art set from Xonex. Check Zulily for availability also. Art kits make great, gender-neutral birthday gifts.

9. A Maxi Kick Scooter – We've tried many scooters and this is the best one on the market. The third wheel and simple rear breaking system make it easy for a young child to ride. And the steering column is totally intuitive – twisting the handle is not necessary. If you pull it horizontally to the right, the scooter glides right. After being intimidated by a basic razor, my kids happily scoot around everywhere on their Maxi Kicks all summer long. Don't bother with the Mini Kick - your child will grow out of it in no time. The Maxi Kick adjusts to an extremely low handlebar height, making it suitable even for a 3 year old to ride (suggested starting age is 5, but I think that must be a liability thing.) The only downside of the Maxi Kick it is high price tag. Find them on Amazon, or occasionally on sale on Gilt, so definitely watch their kids section if you're in the market.

10. Papo and Schleich figures – These two brands in particular make highly detailed miniature figures (about 4 inches high) that have given my kids endless hours of pretend play inspiration. First they loved their animals, then they moved on to their knights and mythical beasts and now they have "battles" and play games with their collection. If your kids are into dinosaurs, check out the amazing Schleich ones with open and closable mouths - so realistic! We love these. Get them on Amazon, at local toy stores or at a discount when they're featured on Zulily.

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