I like to think that I am not a materialistic person. Really, I try hard not to place too much value on things. But the truth is, I have one great weakness. Okay, maybe two, if you count books. Oh fine, three, counting my beloved iPad. But my other great weakness is toys. That’s right – you heard me – toys. I am kind of toy crazy. When I was a kid, I loved dolls of every kind. (My daughter, unfortunately, never quite took an interest in dolls, despite my best efforts to spark her enthusiasm).
Like most Americans, I gave my three kids more toys than any human child could possibly need or want. I’m not really sure why we bothered – pressure to conform to the norms of middle class society? Some ridiculous urge to give our kids every bit of the luxury we enjoyed during our own childhoods? Whatever the reason, our children’s toy organizers were often bursting with cheap plastic McToys and battery-operated garbage, until I finally made them throw away or give away all but the most essential, most treasured items. The funny thing is, the toys that remained, for the most part, are the few which I consider to be among the top toys ever invented. If I could rewind the clock and give to my children only the toys which add value to their play, only the toys which spark the curiosity and imagination, these are the toys which I would choose:
1. Playmobil $$$
The wonder toy of open-ended imaginative play, Playmobil has been my favorite toy since my own childhood. No matter your fancy – pirates, astronauts, fairy-tale princesses who battle evil dragons – there is a Playmobil world of characters and accessories at your fingertips, ready to be played into being. The downside? Thousands of teensy-tiny accessories which fit perfectly into the figures’ hands, but have a terrible tendency to be sucked into the vacuum cleaner.
2. Lego $$$
Lego probably has just as many open-ended realms of fantasy, but this time, you get to build it. Follow a plan or dream up your own designs. Extremely educational without the obvious academics. Versatile and fun for either gender. The downside? Stepping on Legos in bare feet in the middle of the night is excruciatingly painful.
3. Rokenbok $$$$
I am amazed whenever I meet people who have never even heard of Rokenbok. Then again, it is only available through specialty toy shops. Basically, Rokenbok is like Lego meets Erector Sets crossed with remote control vehicles. Okay, that isn’t quite accurate. You see, you build this construction world with blocks, and then operate these R/C trucks to move “Roks” around, and…oh shoot, I am not explaining this well. Here, just watch the videos. I swear, it is super-awesome. Downside? Super-expensive.
4. CitiBlocs $$
Exactly like their more expensive predecessor, Kapla Blocks, CitiBlocs http://www.citiblocs.com/ are narrow, lightweight wooden blocks that can be stacked in various, creative ways to create structures. Simple fun, no batteries required. Downside? The structures break rather easily.
5. Unit Blocks $$$$
Simple, perfectly-cut, smooth blocks of wood that can be transformed into castles for your soldiers, skyscrapers for your Playmobil figures, parking garages for your Hot Wheels vehicles – the sky’s the limit. The downside: Building a decent collection of unit blocks is very costly. I highly recommend collecting them a few blocks at a time over the years, as we did with our children. (The Lakeshore Learning Store sells blocks by the unit).
6. Wooden Railroad Sets $$$
I nearly wrote Thomas Trains, because these wooden railway sets are high in quality and play value, and the fun faces and stories capture the imagination of the youngest train engineers. However, our family is quite fortunate to have also collected a few very high-quality pieces from Brio, which I personally prefer due to their low commercialism and high value. Downside: A play table is practically a requirement. I built one for our children for a fairly low cost when they were preschoolers. When they were older, we used the table to build Rokenbok sets.
In addition to these few expensive Super Toys, I would add a few small essentials, such as vehicles, dinosaurs, and a couple of high-quality dolls and doll accessories (if, unlike me, you have a doll enthusiast). These are the toys that lasted. These are the toys that were used the most and loved the most by my children, and by many children around the world and throughout the decades. I know, I know, trendy toys come and go. We have lived through My Little Pony, Bakugan, Squinkies, and then some. But the funny thing is, our children seemed to enjoy wishing for and collecting these trendy toys much more than they actually played with them. There were no tears shed when they were finally lifted away by the garbage truck. But as for the Super-Toys, I don’t think I can ever bring myself to part with them. Once my children grow up and head off to university, the toys will be neatly packed into indestructible plastic tubs and saved for the next generation. Then again, maybe I will convert one of the spare bedrooms into my very own Playmobil world of fantasy.