Christmas time always makes me think about toys. The toys the kids want. The toys the kids actually will play with longer than a few days. The toys that we end up tossing. The toys that involve a million tiny pieces that always get lost. The toys that make so much noise that they are banned from the common area. And then there are the few toys that are awesome. These are the toys that transcend time and gender. The toys that the kids play with year after year and never seem to get bored with. These are the toys that I like.
Out of the hundreds of toys that have come through our door in the past nine years, I can narrow down the keepers to a very short list of five.
1. Train tracks. David got a set of these when he was two. He loved them then, and the kids still play with them seven years later. I almost gave them away to my nephew a few years back, but the kids raised such a fuss that I let them stay and ended up buying a booster set.
2. Legos. Just your basic set. The fancy sets that involve 1000 pieces that all have to go together in an intricate pattern and involve an instruction manual bigger than my phone book? These are built once and then end up in the general lego bin. I don't even waste my (or Grandma's) money anymore.
3. Building blocks. Cheap, basic building blocks that are for ages 18 months+ that were one of David's first presents? These are the prized toys in our house. Every day when the kids listen to the latest installment in our read aloud book, they fight over who gets to play with the blocks. Lucky for them they are getting more for Christmas this year.
4. Dress-up clothes. David doesn't really go for these, but the girls love their dress-up clothes and regularly show off their latest outfit creations. The more sparkly and shiny the better.
5. Scooters (and bikes). David got his first scooter when he was five. Two years later I bought him a new one after his wheels lost their round shape and became octagons (it was the same price to buy a whole new scooter versus a new set of wheels when purchased on sale). Lizzy confiscated the old scooter from the trash and played with it for a year before we replaced it. Joy then rescued it from the trash and has been using it for the last year. Yesterday her new scooter came in the mail and the old, octagon-wheeled scooter will finally be put out to pasture (or brought to the cottage where they can ride it on the bike path). They ride their scooters year round outside, in the basement, through my kitchen (until I yell at them to get the scooter out of my kitchen), and have an elaborate game they play called Drive Around City. It is one of their favorite games and they play it almost every single day.
There are a few toys that deserve an honorable mention. These toys are played with a lot, but they haven't reached the same status as the top five. They are squinkies, zoobles, My Little Ponies, and a variety of stuffed animals. Stuffed animals would have made the top five list except for one thing--they are where my kids show their fickleness. They have a favorite--until a new one comes along. Then the old one is tossed and the new one becomes the favorite. They generally get traded around between the kids until I no longer know whose is whose when the fighting starts. But they become props in all sorts of games and prove to be indispensable come bedtime.
Over time I have come to learn that the best toys are the ones that are open-ended. Meaning they don't require batteries, they don't talk or make noise, they can be used to create lots of different things, they can be used as a prop for just about any make believe story, they don't require a masters degree to assemble, they can be used over and over, and they can be shared. These are the makings of a really good toy.