Our Toy Hall of Fame

Or, gifts for toddlers that will have years of play value…

Sand & Water Table
The single best $70 we’ve spent has been on a basic sand table from Step 2 like this one.  We bought it for my daughter before she could even walk.  We didn’t have a backyard at the time – only a small deck – and it turned our deck into usable play space (very important when you’re entertaining a toddler at home all day, every day).  My 5-year-old son still plays with it several times a week.

We’ve dragged it inside our large master bathroom for wintertime kids’ parties and into our garage just so the kids could get out of the house during rainstorms.  It’s held sand, water, oatmeal and pasta noodles, been home to animals, soldiers, trucks and boats, and hidden pennies, beads and fake jewels.

Magna Tiles
At about $50 a box, these aren’t cheap.  But they’ve been a great value for us – my children have played with them several times a week for the past 5 years.  We like the clear colors and I buy them at our local Learning Express.  They are great blocks for clumsy little toddler hands because they’re magnetic and stay together.  And they make fun houses for animals and tiny figures because they’re see-through.

Schleich Animals
We’ve had cheaper, softer animal figures that were discarded long ago. But the realistic-looking animals from Schleich fascinated my children when they were toddlers (and were great learning tools) and still get played with when my kids, now 5 and 6, need inhabitants for some kind of structure they’ve built.  Schleich has such a huge variety that most of the animals come in adult and baby sizes (very important to young children).  Widely available at Target and Learning Express and my favorite section in the FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue store.

Wikki Stix Party Packs
Good for sticking in your purse and pulling out during waits at restaurants, amusement parks, etc.  The ones that don’t end up with crud stuck on them can be reused.  It’s no coincidence that our favorite family restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, hands these out to kiddos when they arrive.

Klutz Hand Art
All of the Klutz books are great, but this one, in particular, has had a lot of staying power for us.  Years, in fact.  My children received it as a gift when they were toddlers (thank you, Heather) and they begged me to trace their hands again and again.  Now they can trace their own hands, and they’re still having fun making dragons and bats.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It Game
This is our favorite board game for 4 reasons: it’s gender-neutral (we have a boy and a girl), you win or lose as a group (our older child beats our younger child at every other game, and you know how that goes), the kids love it and we think it’s fun, too.

Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Symphonies
These CD’s are brilliant!  Hilarious, information-packed lyrics for children and adults set to classical music masterpieces.  All four of us – ages 5-40 – love them.

The Laurie Berkner Band
Our other favorite kids’ artist whom the grown-ups appreciate, too.  Fun music for young children.  Seniors, too – my mom, a fitness instructor, gets her Alzheimer’s group moving with “We are The Dinosaurs.”

Giant Bubble Wands
Another great idea that came from Learning Express.  A big tub, several good-quality giant bubble wands and homemade bubble solution (12 c water, 3 c Dawn Ultra, 3/4 c corn syrup).  When the kids were toddlers the tub was a staple in our backyard.  Since then, we’ve brought it out for birthday parties, family get-togethers and school parties.  Every time, there’s someone - a child or adult – who has never seen anything like it, so it’s been a hit over and over.  Well worth it to buy extra wands as you’re able to.