Sunday, January 16, 2011

What makes a great toy?

It's January! With all of the Holiday festivities behind us I have a question for you, are your kids playing with the toys you gave them or have those new playthings fallen by the wayside?

We had a big closet cleaning session before the end of the year and it got me thinking about what makes a great toy. Some things that we buy stand the test of time, they are full of wonder and intrigue for me and my boys. Others don't fair so well. I may have spent the same amount of money on the "keepers" as the others, so if money isn't the deciding factor, what is?

The Great Toy Test!
What Makes A Great Toy?
1. Durability
Ask yourself a question before buying a toy: "Will it last longer than the box it came in?" A great toy should be able to stand up to tough play by multiple kids. My son still plays with the same Duplo blocks that his dad enjoyed as a little boy. They are tough, long-lasting and easy to clean. Do yourself a favor and don't bring junk toys into the house. (Side Note: I have a bag in my closet where I store all of the trinkets and things we get from birthday parties as soon as we get in the house. That way they are out of sight, out of mind and I pull them out for road trips.)
2. Promotes Creativity
There are plenty of toys out there that are a replication of a character from a movie or TV show. Cute as they may be, when playing with these type of toys kids only reenact what they have seen rather than using their own creativity to come up with something new and different. A great toy is open-ended and usually doesn't require batteries. It can be used in many different ways. (For example, the same Tinker Toys that Owen used to build this "Lifter Machine"...
also were used for these "Robot Arms!" Two totally different functions out of the same toy, both Owen originals! (Play Dough is another example of a toy that promotes creativity.)
3. Longevity
Will your child be able to play with this toy for years to come? Toys like balls, Lincoln Logs, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, slinkys and bubbles have been around forever and for good reason, kids of all ages enjoy these! Another toy we love are the TRIO blocks from Fisher-Price. Like Duplo and Lego blocks they will be fun for years to come. And my husband and I love to play with them too!
4. Promotes Learning
Does the toy encourage exploration into different topics or teach some skill? Books, computerized learning tools and puzzles deserve a category all to themselves.

5. Inspires Artistic Expression
A while back I showed you our art closet. There are a ton of great ideas there for how to use everyday items around the house to encourage your little budding artist. Another toy we received recently was a set of art stencils from Kimmel Kids.
Let's see if they meet my "great toy" standards.
1. Durability? Check! The thick, durable and flexible plastic stencils came packaged in a heavy canvas bag, all made in the USA! Yippee!
2. Promotes Creativity? Check! We used the stencils in a ton of different ways:
Painting both on and around them!
Pretending to be a Mad Scientist!
And tying a string on them to make butterflies float around the kitchen! I'd say they did a pretty good job in the creativity department!
3. Longevity? Check! I see us using these in the future when he starts to understand how to do rubbings, pattern and tracing.
4. Promotes Learning? Check! The Kimmel Kids Stencils prompted a conversation about butterflies, mixing colors, and magnifying glasses!
5. Inspires Artistic Expression? Check!

Run your kid's toys through "The Great Toy Test" and see how they fair. Maybe it's time to donate some of those junk toys and invest in some Great Toys this year!


lee and hannah said...

great post!! as the mama to a little girl, i'm totally with you on avoiding the movie stuff... the disney princesses will work their way into our home eventually--for now, i'm not going to rush it :)

eden's favorite toys from this christmas are a keyboard (music), play tent, books, and her pink duplo block set...

Lisa said...

Excellent post. Mindful selection of toys is really important to me. I have been influenced by Montessori, Waldorf, and simplicity philosophies, but it always comes down to this thought by William Morris: Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be useful or know to be beautiful.

Sarah said...

Lisa, that's a great philosophy for toys and an encouragement for my attic!! :)

Surf Momma said...

I love this post! We got our little one the wooden Thomas & Friends tracks and trains for Christmas & I think he's going to love them for years! I love that they are wooden and I love that he can make a different configuration of track every time he pulls them out! This post also reminds me that I need to finish getting some things for his art closet!

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