Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kids Presents—Top Picks

May I humbly suggest that you skip Toy R Us, Wal-mart, and Target in shopping for kids gifts this year. These store carry almost no toys that stand the test of time (with a few exceptions). My criteria for a good toy include: high quality, durability, appeal to a large age range, inspires creativity, can be played with over and over, and you will find almost no toys of that caliber at any of the above stores. In our household, anything with lights, buttons, and sound and music is totally out. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hardwood Blocks

This is truly a classic and for good reason: they last for generations, can be played with by anyone from babies to adults, and because of their endless possibilities for creativity, kids don’t tire of them. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not necessarily saying that if you have all the lights, video games, v-tech junk around your house that your kids are going to ga-ga over the wooden blocks. You have to start cultivating in them a love for creativity and imagination if they’ve never had to use theirs before. It may mean getting on the floor with them for hours and showing them how to build. In the evenings, we build a fire in our den and read from the hobbit while the kids build from the wooden blocks. Only drawback: pricey. We had to collect ours over a long period of time, asking relatives at each holiday to keep adding to our collection. It’s fun to have a lot. I’d much rather have our kids have one really high quality gift than a bunch of junk.

When we used to work with college kids and them in our house several times a week, they used to always play with Isaiah’s magnet set. However preschoolers also love these (warning: choking hazard though for babies and toddlers). These really appeal to adults and youngsters alike. Also pricey and something to collect a lot of over time.

Plastic toys don’t usually appeal to me but these are really neat and they are also durable. You will be amazed at the hours you and your kids can spend making neat things with these.

Vintage Fisher Price Little People
This is possibly the best designed imaginative toy line ever. These have been all of my girls’ favorite toy from a young age. They probably spent more time playing with these than any other toy. You can only buy them on ebay because of the choking risk, instead Fisher Price makes chunky people now. I don’t know why, but kids seem to love the old smaller ones so much more than the new ones. We just waited till they were past the age of putting stuff in their mouths before we let them have them. They aren’t too expensive, especially if you just get a few at a time.

Leggos, and Lincoln logs: we keep our leggos on a large sheet so that the kids can spread them out and then easily clean them up.

Vision Forum: has a great historical fiction line of dolls and books. Similar to what American Girl does but Christian. They also have some really neat, high-quality books for both girls and boys. The Elsie Dinsmore series for girls looks really appealing. We don’t have them yet so I can’t speak from experience, but they are worth reading up on. For boys there is the G. A. Henty and R. M. Ballantyne series. We hope to collect these in the future. Vision Forum also has a large line of family videos. They are also have some dress-up clothes for boys and girls. Since kids love to dress up, why not steer clear of the feather boa and Barbie high-heels and instead go for the historical, modest dresses. For boys there are Indian costumes and Daniel boon hat. They even sell a covered wagon that looks just like what a pioneer would have ridden in.

All these things are pricey and I am not encouraging anyone to go out and spend more money! Instead, I am saying if you have, say $30 to spend on each kid, get them 1 item of really good quality that they will play with for years and years, rather that 5 pieces of plastic junk that they will be weary of before Christmas day is over.

On a side note, don’t underestimate your children’s ability to get excited about helping others. One of my children’s highlight each Christmas is the shoeboxes for the poor. Kids love things like dropping change in the Salvation Army buckets outside store, bringing cookies to lonely neighbors, and shopping for poor families. At such a young age, their tender hearts are very opening to sacrificing for others and they get more excited than most adults about doing those things.


Jill Crum said...

This is a great list!
Blocks, legos, and inexpensive G.I. Joe (small size) guys are what we've always played with most. We've also liked PlayMobile, but they're expensive, and are a little too theme-specific for real imaginative play. We have a nice set of play dishes (with food), dress-ups, and puppets.
And don't forget the basic art supplies. Plenty of paper (I buy a large box full of packages of printer paper at Staples), colored pencils and markers (I dislike crayons), scissors and glue sticks can keep children creatively occupied for hours. I wish I wasn't quite so fussy about other things make, but I leave play-doh and paints to the moms who can tolerate the mess. I have a picnic caddy--one of those containers that holds silverware and napkins--for holding the art supplies at home. That's so much more accessible than the boxes they come in. For travel, each child has a clipboard case. It's got storage for paper, coloring books, and pencils or markers (and a paperback book to read and several small toys) inside, plus a clipboard and carrying handle outside.
We try to avoid culturally-driven theme toys and other gimmicks and stick with the time-tested winners.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Jill Crum

maryannie said...

These are really good ideas. AND, even better, you guys are a model of socially responsible consumption! :) You're also avoiding all the lead-laden toxic plastic toys from China...

Mary Brooke said...

Leslie, I enjoyed reading this. These are the types of things we have at home. it's amazing how few "toys" we have out. Mary Brooke in Atlanta