The Christmas toy flyers have arrived in the mail and the request for Christmas lists have come in from family so there has been a lot of talk about wish lists around my house.
At four, my daughter is the type that circles everything in the toy catalogs. She wants all the toys. At least, all the toys with any hint of pink or characters she knows and loves.
The struggle for us is to figure out what she will actually play with. We watch a lot of those “unboxing” videos on YouTube where people open up new toys and talk about them but they don’t give you any real clue as to whether a child will actually play with them.
By now you’ve probably heard about the ‘it’ toy of 2016, Hatchimals. We have watched a few videos of these critters busting out of their shells and it looks pretty cool, but none of the videos show what the toy is like after it hatches. It seems to be a lot like a Furby and I don’t know any kid who actually had the patience to train one of those things.
So here’s my list of top toys my kids actually play with for those of you looking for a good gift for ages 0-4:
- Activity tables
- Little People
- B. Toys Woofer and Drum
- Baby Dolls
- Leap Frog My Scout & Violet
- Beanie Boos
- Toy Kitchen & Play Food
After having two babies I still can’t really advise a new mom on the best toys for newborns. They liked very different things when they were really small – most were things we could attach to their playmat. But they both enjoyed activity tables once they were old enough.
The great thing with most of these is that you can remove the legs and put the table on the floor so a baby who can sit can start to play. Now that baby G can stand, we keep our table in the kitchen and it’s the first place I put baby G when we go downstairs in the morning so I can start breakfast and make coffee. It’s great for babies first learning to pull to standing and cruise and baby G even pushes it around like a walker toy. Big G still joins him to play from time to time.
We bought my daughter the Little People Animal Friends Farm second-hand for $5 when she was just one and it’s probably been played with more than any other toy in the house. She still uses it, as does our 11-month-old. Her play is obviously much more imaginative, while he enjoys putting the animals in and out of their stalls and hearing the animal sounds play when he opens the gates. In three years we have never replaced the batteries and the sounds are still going strong. The toy is great for teaching kids about animal sounds and introducing imaginative play.
The thing is… we kind of got carried away when we saw how much my daughter loved that barn. Between what we bought and gifts she received we now also have the Surprise & Sounds Home, the school bus (in pink because it was the only one available at the time), the Play & Go Castle, plus a garden, play structure, store, and even a ferris wheel (most of which they don’t sell anymore). It got to the point where I would rotate the toys in and out.
Believe it or not, we don’t even have half of what’s available so there seems to be something in the Little People family for any child’s interest.
B.Toys Woofer & Drum
Both of our children love music. Big G received the B. Toys Parum Pum Pum drum her first Christmas and while she wasn’t quite ready to play with it (she was three months old) it has been used a lot since! We pulled it out for baby G when he was 9 or 10 months old and he enjoys playing with the shakers and banging the drum sticks together. We have since added a few other musical toys to the set and it can get noisy but it’s always a lot of fun. It’s something that is pulled out a lot.
She was also given the B. Toys Woofer on her first birthday. She didn’t play with it much, but over the next year she started playing with it more and it eventually became something that was played with almost every day. She would bring it with her in the car on any trip. A warning though: it has a ‘woof’ setting where all the songs are played in ‘woof’ sounds as well as acoustic and electric guitar settings and when the ‘woof’ became her favourite I kind of wanted to hide it.
In general, B. Toys has a lot of great toys. We also have their toy keys and phone which have been used from under a year to now (big G is four).
Big G wasn’t really in to puzzles early on but around 3 she started getting them. This year she was given some really beautiful puzzles and we all love them! For us it’s a break from all the imaginative play she enjoys, and it’s a good challenge for her.
We have dolls that eat and poop (no joke – it’s Baby Alive), drink water and cry real tears (Baby Annabelle), and others that giggle or cry when you push their tummies. The one big G uses the most is Bebe Do by Corolle. She doesn’t do anything (but she smells amazing). I was going to say this falls in to the ‘girls’ category but our son has recently become very interested in G’s babies and also appears to like Bebe Do the most. I don’t know what it is but he gets really cute around the baby doll. Because we have so many toys I rotate things in and out and when the dolls have been gone for a while and G spots them she gets really excited. They fit in to her play in so many different ways; sometimes they are customers at her restaurant, other times they are friends from school, or they are her babies. I love watching the way she plays with them.
Leap Frog My Pal Scout and Violet
Both of my kids have one of these friends in their beds right now. I remember big G getting My Pal Violet when she was just a few months old and thinking it was way too early for her. I don’t remember when she started really playing with it but at 11 months baby G definitely likes his Scout toy and can push the buttons.
I don’t find big G uses all the functions on Violet so I’m surprised she likes her as much as she does. She really likes the bedtime music function and wants the dog close to her when she goes to bed. I also find Violet around the house sometimes tucked in like a baby or mixed in with other toys so she definitely plays with her a lot.
When baby G was born I really wanted something to do with big G that didn’t take a lot of engery because I knew I would be tired. We have also found games are a great way to help her wind down at the end of the day. We have found a few that she really enjoys (and we like them too!).
G could play this when she was 3, but there are ways to make it more difficult as she gets older. It is a really simplified version of the game that comes with three Disney princesses to move along the board. It’s a quick game so we can actually keep her attention for two or three rounds. You flip a card to determine where to move on the board and we still fudge the cards at times if we are going to beat the pants off her but we do let her lose sometimes!
G also received this when she was three and didn’t quite understand how to play. Six months later she was getting better but we still played as a team against Daddy. Now that she’s four she is playing on her own and asking really good questions. We suggested Disney Jr for her because she knew most of the characters on the boards but there are a bunch of different versions. As it is, we go over ground rules at the beginning of each around (i.e. who is a girl, who is a boy who is a person and who is an animal).
This is a really easy game: spin the spinner and it tells you which colour acorn to pick up, or whether you can steal another player’s acorn, or lose all your own in a wind storm. At three G could play the game and a year later she still likes it. She had a bit of trouble with the squirrel tongs but she’s getting better. Somehow, we still haven’t mastered what each picture means on the spinner so we keep the rules close.
These are popular with all of G’s friends – whether they are girls or boys. They’re the big-eyed stuffed animals you often see at child level at stores like Carter’s. G has two owls and some other small thing and as much as most stuffed animals sit unused in her bed or on a shelf, these are some of her favourites. I often find her carrying her Beanie Boos around the house involved in some imaginative game. She says she wants five more for Christmas!
Toy Kitchen & Play Food
We got a toy kitchen second-hand and it does get used but I honestly think G would be just as happy if we didn’t have the kitchen but had all the accessories. Last Christmas she received a great dish set and play food made by Learning Resources. This food is so realistic we have had several babies (including g) get frustrated with the bowl of cereal because they want to eat it!! G likes to set the table with as many place settings as she can possibly make and then serve everyone something. She takes out almost every kitchen-related toy we have and it looks like such a mess but it keeps her so occupied I just keep my mouth shut and leave her to it.
A great tip for breastfeeding moms or any tired parent – teach your child how to be a waitress and play restaurant! I thought I was pretty brilliant when I figured out I could just sit on the couch nursing baby g and act as the customer in her game.
I know this one is obvious, but G’s wish list wouldn’t be complete about some books! Plus, I wanted to tell you about these graphic novels we found. G is four and she is really interested in novels (see my post about reading to find out why – it’s a cute story). One day she discovered this book at the library and loved it! The great thing was because it was written in a graphic novel style it wasn’t too long for a bedtime story (though, we would sometimes do one or two chapters at night instead of the whole book) plus, she has seen the movie so she could also “read” the book on her own whenever she wanted. She spent hours flipping through the pages looking at the drawings. We have put a few more of these on her Christmas list.
As you can tell by the outrageous price on Amazon, this toy isn’t sold in stores anymore. In my opinion, it’s the best ball popper toy by Hasbro. We bought the elephant for G but it was hardly used at all. When we brought this second-hand busy ball popper in, both kids were excited to play with it. Baby g continues to love it, and during G’s birthday party there were kids aged 5-7 playing with it (to be fair, they may have been putting other random toys in it to see what would be pushed out by the air but still). The downside to buying this second-hand is that you likely won’t get all the balls, however, you can buy them from Hasbro if you want extras. Oh – and it’s takes D batteries and we have already changed them once and have only had the toy a few months.
I would also say anything that lets the child mimic mom or dad like a purse or a bag of tools. G has several purses filled with a wallet, phone, keys and other things you might find in my own bag. She also has a bag of tools to mimic daddy.
Of course, craft supplies such as paint, markers, paper and colouring books are also good options if you know the kid enjoys crafting.
One thing I would say is that our own biases a really play in to what our kids enjoy. I don’t have a clue what to do with Mega Bloks so I don’t tend to bring those out to play and I find my daughter doesn’t pull them out on her own. Even playing is a learned skill to a degree, taking some time to play with your kids and show them different ways to use their toys also goes a long way to ensuring they play with them. And try to avoid buying too many competing toys. Case in point: characters like My Little Pony, Paw Patrol and PJ Masks. My daughter loves all those shows but when she never plays with all the characters together so if she’s playing My Little Pony, her Paw Patrol figurines are in a drawer gathering dust. An option to battle that is to rotate toys; put toys your child isn’t using much away in a closet and bring them out again in four to six months and it will be as though they were new again!