Okay, I admit it. I like making lists. So, time for another! With the help of my staff of professional advisors, here is my list of....
BEST TOYS FOR CHILDREN
1. Blocks. Legos are good, because they snap together and allow for building more structurally-sound creations. My favorites, though, are the plain wooden blocks that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Blocks are fun for babies and toddlers, and also for teenagers and their parents. Ageless. Timeless.
2. Dress Up. Go for the classics - capes, shawls, hats, vests, scarves, Grandma's cast-off high heels, cheap costume jewelry, etc. Thrift stores and Goodwill are great places to shop if you're stocking a dress-up box. With a Disney "Cinderella" dress, a kid can only be one thing - a Disney Cinderella. With a box of scarves, she can be a princess, or a gypsy, or a ballet dancer, or a haute couture fashion designer. (One of the funny stories in our family is how little Emily used Indian pants to make "long hair" for her younger brother, then proceeded to "style" it with bows and ribbons. Amazing what you can do with a few basic items and a good imagination!)
3. Sand - or - Dirt. In a box. In the back yard. (You'll need a screen to cover the box with when it's not in use because neighborhood cats will rank this toy top on their list, too.) You don't have to spend money on manufactured sandbox toys - recycled yogurt cartons, ice cream buckets, laundry scoops, etc., work just fine.
4. Dolls. For the girls, baby dolls are best, but fashion dolls are fun, too. For the boys, the larger GI Joe dolls. You can go lay down a cool grand at American Girl Dolls/Pleasant Company and outfit Baby Me with furniture, toys, pets, and an enviable wardrobe - but DON'T DO IT. And don't waste your money on Barbie clothes - there's nothing available on store shelves for her to wear, anyway, that wasn't designed for a professional hooker. You don't have to buy GI Joe the battery-powered, high-tech, mobile command unit complete with radio-controlled vehicle, either. Instead, buy an assortment of fabric swatches, thread, needles, and trim. Even very young children enjoy creating new dresses and uniforms for their dolls. And my boys have spent countless hours sawing, hammering, drilling, sanding, and painting, building an impressive arsenal of tanks, jeeps, and artillery pieces for their GI Joe army.
5. Craft stuff. We really like Sculpey clay at our house, but Pla-dough is great for younger kids. Paint - watercolor, acryllic, fingerpaint, fabric paint, leftover exterior latex from painting the shed, black and green spray paint (great for camouflage schemes!). I would NOT recommend oil-based paints, at least not until you officially have a master artist in the house - cleanup is a monster. Crayons. Good quality colored pencils. Good quality drawing pens. Markers - fine tip, broad tip, washable, permanent, primary colors, flourescents....more is better. Glue, tape, staples, string. Boxes. Cloth, buttons, lace. PAPER. Granddaddy brings whole boxes of paper from Office Max when he comes to visit, and it's one of my kids' very favorite gifts ever.
6. Rope. Most hardware stores sell a 3/4 inch cotton rope (used for working with horses, I believe) that is absolutely fabulous for climbing because it is soft and doesn't burn your hands. We try to keep a length of rope hanging from one of the trees out back. The boys use it for climbing, to build upper-body strength; the girls will tie a board on the end of it for a temporary swing. Also, long lengths of smaller, nylon rope are fantastic. My kids have used rope to build tents, wilderness shelters, rafts, and swinging bridges. In fact, rope has frequently been a request at our house come Christmas or birthday time.
7. As Thomas puts it, JUNK. I'll admit that I'm prone to throw away anything that I don't see an immediate use for, but plain old JUNK makes a terrific "toy" and ranks at the top of the list at my house. The boys have recycled old lawnmower wheels, barn tin, and wood scraps for their GI Joe vehicles. The girls have used empty thread spools, plastic food cartons, and scraps of upholstery fabric to create furniture for their Barbie dolls. A long afternoon, a vivid imagination, a nice supply of "junk" - no telling what amazing things your kids will invent!
8. Last on today's list, but first in importance - Books. Lots of books. If I could only give my children one thing with which to entertain themselves, it would be books. But that is such a serious thing that I don't really consider it a "toy" - no, it is a necessity. Again, skip Disney books and the Junior Illustrated Classics. And the stupid books based on the latest inane kids' movies. Don't buy a picture book that isn't truly beautiful or delightfully whimsical - otherwise, what's the point? Read-a-loud books - the old fairy tales (one illustrated by Anastasia Archipowa is our favorite), A. A. Milne (the real Pooh Bear), E. B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, C.S. Lewis...so many delicious stories! First "chapter books" for kids - we really liked Frog and Toad, Little Bear, Henry and Mudge, Nate the Great. I could go on for pages about books.....
In conclusion, don't purchase any toy that limits itself to one type of play. My girls received a Fairy Kingdom Playset one year as a gift. Really cute, I thought - colorful plastic flowers, which were houses for tiny little winged fairies. But that's all that it could ever be - a fairy playset. After a few weeks, it disappeared into the girls' closet and hasn't been seen since. But the plain old baby dolls, Shea and Alice? They have had tea parties, wardrobe sessions, been hiking around the farm in backpacks, performed ballets, held church services, completed math lessons for school, written stories, sung operas, planted geraniums, and shared cookies out on the porch swing. Don't choose toys based on the glam marketing of companies riding the latest fad wave. Give your children the limitless possibilities that spring from the fertile and creative imagination that is already theirs.
What's on your list of favorite toys?
5 days ago