Toys Your Kids Will Actually Play With

Toys Your Kids Will Actually Play With

Toys Your Kids Will Actually Play With

With three kids, toys are not hard to come by in our apartment. However, there are only a handful of toys that entertain a special needs 11-year-old, an almost-3-year-old and a 16-month-old in equal measure. When we see the kids playing with one of the toys on this list, my husband and I will often say to each other. “We really got our money’s worth out of that one,” to which the other usually responds, “and then some.” Several of the toys on this list cost less than $10, but in order to be on the Top 10 you can be sure that they have worked some serious overtime.

All of the toys listed below meet the following criteria: 1) They are played with at least 3 times per week. 2) They entertain all three children, together or separately. 3) We have made the “money’s worth” comment at least once.

1. Duplos: Not Legos. With his limited fine motor skills, James prefers the larger sized Duplos, which works well with toddlers in the house. We have a few big duplo bases and 2 buckets of blocks. The kids play with these almost every day, and can keep busy building for an hour (a long time in Mommyland). They are easy to clean and practically indestructible. And, they can be fun for adults too, so the potential for quality family time is an extra bonus. Yes, they can be a little expensive—want an expert tip? Try eBay (we have struck gold there)!

2. Discovery marble maze. I know that marbles and 16-month-olds don’t generally mix, but with proper supervision this toy entertains all three of my kids for hours. To keep them out of each other’s hair (the baby can really “Godzilla” the marble towers) I usually build three separate mazes, individually tailored for ability (and height). It’s not as hard as it sounds; each maze takes less than five minutes to put together, and what’s 15 minutes when you’re talking about hours of fun? Again, sets can be expensive. Same tip: try eBay before purchasing new.

3. Balls. My children are not ball snobs—any ball will do. I think they might be partial to balls that bounce (especially if we’re somewhere inappropriate like the doctor’s office), but size doesn’t matter. One of our current games is taking cardboard boxes of various sizes and lobbing lots of balls across the living room into them. Kind of like a loose, giggly version of beanbag toss.

4. Leapfrog Fridge DJ. We spent $7.99 on this item two Christmases ago and it’s still a daily-use item. The magnetic radio sticks to the fridge and plays about 15 songs in 3 categories: numbers, letters and classics. Most of the songs are now in our daily repertoire and it isn’t uncommon to catch someone in there jamming to “Birdie, Bye Bye.” Yes, including James.

5. Hot Wheels retractable race track. Got this for less than $20 for James’s birthday 3 years ago, still going strong. The racetrack rolls in and out like a tape measure with two tracks, so no big race track all over your little Manhattan apartment. It works with most Hot Wheel type cars, doesn’t require batteries, and can extend 12″ or 4 feet depending on who is playing. Best part, IMO? There are little flags at the end of each track that indicate the winner, which really cuts down on the “I won!” “No, I won!” arguments.

6. Crayola Dry Erase Crayons. These have been used and cleaned up successfully on dry erase surfaces, car and house windows, highchairs and subways (seats and windows). No joke. At less than $7 do I really need to continue?

7. Train table. After reading a lot of reviews and doing some serious price shopping, we settled on the Imaginarium brand, but there are lots of nice options out there. The Imaginarium City Train Table takes up a lot of space (around 3X5) and at $140 it was our most pricey purchase on this list, but since Christmas the kids have logged at least 100 hours on this thing (remember, I’m not exaggerating numbers this year). The set includes a bunch of cool pieces like a crane, bridge, train station, and tunnel, all with cool sound effects. It comes with a couple of trains but is also compatible with Brio, Thomas and generic wooden trains. So we’re at a cost of $1.40 per play hour so far—at this rate it won’t be long until the thing pays for itself.

8. Little Tykes indoor “fold away” playground (folds up for compact storage, New Yorkers!). With a toddler-sized slide and steps it is perfect for my younger two. Add in the mini basketball and soccer net and James can join in their fun. Great, amazing fun for rainy, cold days (or weeks). Easy to put away, fits into our foyer when open. Paid around $99, worth every penny.

9. Fisher Price toy laptop – “Fun to Learn.” I can’t say that the Fisher Price brand is better than any of the other toy laptops out there right now, but for the last 3 years it has captivated all of my children in one way or another. There are a variety of skill levels so that my 16-month-old can play tunes, my 2-year-old can work on phonics, and my 11-year-old can try out math games with a “mouse.” No, not at the same time.

10. Nintendo action figures. Random, but surprisingly successful, these little characters have been carried continuously by one child or another for the last 6 months, and if they get lost we actually have to take the time and look for them. We have collected Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and Toad so far—they run around $8 for a pack of 2. Two of my children are sleeping with one in hand right now.

wooden toys your kids will actually play with

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14 wooden toys your kids will actually play with

With so many loud, flashy plastic items filling the shelves, it can be hard for wooden toys to stack up. But wood definitely doesn’t equal boring.

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

These classic toys aren’t just for the ‘gram. Often more durable and safer, wooden toys encourage creative play, promote sensory development, and give kids a tie to the natural world. Our child-tested list of the best wooden toys kids:

kids wooden toy
PHOTO: HAPE

1. Rainbow bead abacus

How many ways can your little one count with ten rows of ten beads? This brightly coloured abacus is a great tactile toy for a toddler, an introduction to counting and grouping for a preschooler, and even a fun way for older kids to solve simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. $32, indigo.ca

kids wooden rock toy
PHOTO: ROCK BLOCKS

2. Rock blocks

Wooden blocks may seem obvious, but these eco-friendly, naturally dyed (using cranberries, blueberries, wild indigo and beans) wooden blocks come in organic shapes that are perfect for building, balancing, stacking, and sorting. Choose from an array of palettes like rainbow, blue, pink & green, and natural, or mix and match your favorite sets to create your own multicolour collection of handcrafted “stones.” Set of 8 in Rainbow, $39, rockblockshop.etsy.com

wooden kids toy
PHOTO: JULIE MORTON, STEPPING STONES

3. Customizable wooden family

Two moms? Single dad? Triplets? Young kids will love seeing their family reflected in their own unique wooden family set. These adorable peg dolls are built to last, with woodburned faces and a beeswax finish. Choose natural wood or coloured (non-toxic acrylic) for a keepsake item that’s plenty of fun to play with, too.  Colourful (family of 5), $24, steppingstonesshop.com

kids wooden toy
PHOTO: MELISSA AND DOUG

4. Stack & Sort board

This pretty peg board with stackable shapes is ideal for supporting the development of your little one’s fine motor skills, in addition to helping them practice sorting, shape identification, and counting. $13, amazon.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: AMAZON

5. My Busy Town activity cube

 7 homemade baby toys you can make out of ordinary household stuffThis 5-sided wooden activity center from AlexBrandsis designed for toddlers 12 months and older, but it can easily engage preschoolers and kids in early elementary with its turn and learn ABC, 123 and  first word tiles, curvy wire bead trains, peek-a-boo doors, and spin-and-match animal characters. This toy grows with your little one for a worthwhile return on investment, providing smiles year after year. $130, amazon.ca

Wooden kids toy
PHOTO: HAPE

6. Chunky clock puzzle

Versatility is the biggest draw of this cute puzzle from Hape. Preschool-age kids learn shapes, numbers, and colors as they grow familiar with the practice of telling time. $19, allstarlearning.ca

kids wooden toy
PHOTO: JULIE MORTON, STEPPING STONES

7. Tree slice alphabet tiles

Word play is the most fun when it’s tactile and sensory. To craft these beautiful, all-natural letter sets, small birch tree slices are kiln dried and lightly sanded, then woodburned with a matching upper and lowercase letter on each side. Each set is handcrafted by a Keswick-based kindergarten teacher and toymaker. $65, steppingstonesshop.com

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: MELISSA AND DOUG

8. Farm cube puzzle

If you’re worried about the short shelf-life of some puzzles, this 16-piece cube set keeps boredom at bay with six different farm animals. The shape adds a tactile element and means this puzzle can double as a set of blocks, too. $17, amazon.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: NEST

9. Grimm’s stacking rainbow

Let imaginations run wild with this beloved and iconic open-ended wooden toy. The arches can be stacked, flipped, and rearranged to create towers, bridges, car ramps, fairy houses—you name it. Hand it over without any instructions and watch the magic happen. 6-piece set, $40, nest.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: AMAZON

10. Kinderboard

Promote physical play with a durable balance board made from beech plywood. With a little creativity, watch as this Waldorf toy easily doubles as a slide, extra seat, step stool, seesaw, pirate boat, or rocket ship. Kids love it, but it’s sturdy enough that even grownups can take a turn.  $230, amazon.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: HAPE

11. Fantasia blocks castle

This set of 22 uniquely shaped blocks can be arranged to create a whimsical castle straight out of a fairy tale. Kids love matching, stacking, and designing while working on their fine motor skills.  $44, walmart.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: PLAN TOYS

12. Oval xylophone

The gift of music keeps on giving as it grows with your child. This cute wooden xylophone from Plan Toys engages kids through sound and colour, and it’s made from recycled rubbertree wood and child-safe, water-based dyes for extra peace of mind. $30, mastermindtoys.com

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: AVA’S APPLETREE

13. Grimm’s Wankel stacking tower

Introduce your little one to colours and shapes or help an older toddler develop spatial awareness and fine motor skills with this stacking tower from Grimm’s, the lauded Germany-based natural and sustainable wooden toy company. $45, avasappletree.ca

Kids wooden toy
PHOTO: MELISSA AND DOUG

14. Pattern blocks and boards

Little artists everywhere will love this set of coloured wooden tiles. Ten template boards let kids design their own bunnies, butterflies, flowers, and suns by mixing and matching 120 wooden tiles in six different shapes. Tired of the templates? Craft a one-of-a-kind, freestyle mosaic instead. $25, well.ca

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