Sunday, July 21, 2013

Favorite Kids Toys

Here is a list of my favorite children's toys that (in my opinion) are worth the money and are played with the most by my age group of kids (ages infant-5+):

1) Leap Frog toys: this includes any and all Leap Frog products that I have bought for the kids. The toys seem to be marketed to the appropriate age group as well. The Tag readers are great and decently priced (we have both the Tag Jr. and Tag reader). Our favorite educational toys have been the Scribble and Write and the Count and Draw. These help kids (aimed for ages 3+) learn to write their letters (upper and lower case) and number correctly, draw shapes, make straight lines, play math games, and draw simple pictures using curves and straight lines. These two toys alone are well worth the money and truly completely educational.
For babies, I recommend a Scout or Violet. The boys did not have a Scout, but Elizabeth received Violet as a gift from cousin Nicholas and it is by far her favorite toy. Violet sings Elizabeth songs to sleep, plays games, counts, and talks to her (you can even have your Violet or Scout say your child's name).
We have just about every other phone, music player, and reader toy Leap Frog makes and all are constantly played with.

2) Melissa and Doug: pricey but worth it. This brand of toys creates no battery, wooden toys which entices kids to use their creativity. Parents tend to push their young kids into learning letters, numbers, reading, and being overly involved with activities at such a young age, that I feel too many parents forget that children learn best during simple play. Melissa and Doug have some of the best puzzles, learning boards (including a simple latches board, shoe tying board, and a Basic Skills board to name a few), dress up costumes, and wooden toys (my kids favorite is the Birthday Cake Surprise and Pizza Parlor where kids can create their own pizza pieces and cake pieces with toppings and then practice "cutting" the pieces). Well worth the money considering they're some of the most played with toys. Some of the toys do have smaller parts to them, so I wouldn't recommend these toys for kids younger than two unless otherwise stated on the packaging.
Melissa and Doug toys are a great way to get kids into pretending and using their imaginations while learning.

3) Fisher Price Little People: incredibly durable and suitable for children of all ages. Kids don't usually actually start playing with them appropriately until 2 or so, but there are no small or breakable pieces involved with these toy sets, so I have had no problem letting the youngest of kids play with them. The kids often set up an entire Little People towns with the sets we have and act out different scenarios with the people. Last year, my sister in law gave us her Little People Preschool House set, which was perfect for those kids off to preschool in the fall. Fisher Price also makes Little People Wheelies sets, another of the kid's favorite toys. These are a larger, chunkier version of Hot Wheels and the are no worries about pieces being chewed or falling off. With hours of fun pretending and practice sharing the sets between 9+ kids, I'm glad I spent the money on these toys!
If you're looking for sets, I recommend checking out craigslist. These toys are so popular that there always seems to be sets for sale on craigslist for less than half of the regular cost. Or, most of the larger sets (such as the barn and Disney princess castle) go on sale for half off during the Christmas and Easter seasons (yes, for real, I know this because I am a freak about getting good deals. Just wait until I do my favorite children's clothes post).

4) Thomas the Tank Engine wooden railway and train table set: we don't have a brand name Thomas train table (in fact, ours was handed down to us from my amazing sister in law Andrea and my nephew Brandon) but there are many off brands (Circo from Target and Imaginarium are two of the more popular off brand train tables to buy) that are just as good and sturdy. Our train table is used for just about EVERYTHING, so much so that we've started making different table tops for it (a chalkboard table top, a felt table top for game night for us adults, and a Lego table top).
I prefer the wooden railway above the other Thomas sets because the kids have a blast (and learn at the same time) setting up different configurations with the tracks and moving the trains along the tracks. There have been many train crash scenarios played out. When the kids decide to build a track, it makes them work together (as there's usually 4 or more kids helping in the construction) and compromise with each other as every child has in mind a different way to build the track.
If you're looking for a train table and train set, you can always find items on craigslist for less than half of the cost or I recommend checking out Target for their Circo brand tracks and then buying the Thomas trains from Toys R Us. During the Christmas season, Toys has excellent deals on all Thomas items.

5) Lego Duplos: great for ages 1-5+, these building toys come in many different sets and invoke hours of play. Legos help build and fine tune hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. I have yet to meet a kid who doesn't get creative with Legos. Duplos are a larger version of those small, easily swallowed Legos (for those that don't know). We have quite a collection here as this is what all of the kids have been playing with lately.

6) Play Kitchen: it doesn't matter the brand or how good it is (we replaced a cheap plastic one with a very sturdy Little Tikes kitchen because there's 9+ kids playing with it daily, but the cheap plastic one was great while it lasted!) but give kids a set of play food, dishes, pots and pans (we've bought the multi packs of all of these at Toys R Us) and kids can spend hours "cooking" just like mom and dad.

The Best Baby Toy:
Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes. It has bright colors that light up, grabbing an infants attention, or even a three year old who becomes captivated enough by the lights and sounds to grab it away.

The Best Nonsensical Toy:
Hexbugs. My boys now have quite a collection going and enjoy turning the "bugs" on and watching them move through their habitat. No educational value here, just a good time watching them move around. There's a larger remote control Hex Bug that we do not have yet (Santa present maybe???) that seems cool and a bit more involved than just turning the bugs on and watching them.

Now I have shared my favorite toys for kids, so I want to know: what are yours for your children??? What do your kids enjoy playing with the most?