A Gift Guide To Help Parents Step Up Their Toy-Buying Game ASAP

It’s that time of year again when the holiday catalogs start arriving at my door as if they are multiplying like rabbits in the mailbox. It’s as if they think all I do is sit at home every day and shop on my computer, which is absolutely not true, because I work on my computer sometimes too.

As we drive away from the mailbox, my 6-year-old has started to ask if any of the magazines are for her. I throw the glossy-covered Santa’s helpers into the back seat; Toys”R”Us, American Girl, Fat Brain Toys, Magic Cabin. As soon as we get home, she takes out a bright purple marker from her backpack and circles the 5,000 things she suddenly can’t live without.

Inevitably, a lot of the toys that she wants are able to talk, or think her thoughts for her, or possibly even solve quantum fusion. They ding, they beep, and they can tell you when they’re hungry, thirsty, or bored.

It turns out that these toys, the ones that have batteries and remote controls and do allthethings, are the ones that we should never let into the house. These are the passive toys that will rob our children of their creativity and steal their imaginations until they turn our children into zombies. Or something like that.

The toys that they should have are the ones that don’t do much by themselves at all. These toys have a lot of potential. These toys make kids ask questions and solve problems. Jenn Choi, who writes about learning, productivity, and play, runs a blog called toysaretools.com where she reviews educational toys for us so that we don’t have to. Hooray!

“Instead of focusing all their attention on machines that speak, early learners actually need to practice so-called joint attention skills,” she says. “These skills are going to directly impact their ability to learn in a classroom, to speak up in a meeting, to make sense of conflicting thoughts and points of view.”

Well, my little one has no trouble speaking her mind, but I’d like to encourage her to keep these skills for the future. Choi also discusses on her blog that “good” educational toys need to be able to be used for one of these things:

– Icebreakers in social settings
– Make-believe play
– Memory boosters
– Executive functioning (a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal)
– Artistic expression
– Practicing scientific thinking

I’m currently shopping for toys that won’t burn down the genius of my children’s minds — and toys that will also be something that they are excited to see on Christmas morning. Here are a few of Choi’s choices for toys that fulfill the “good” toy rules.

1. Lauri Tall Stacker Pegs Building Set (for Preschoolers)

Amazon

This toy can help with spatial awareness and fine motor skills. Preschoolers can manipulate the pieces easily and build stuff and knock it down again all day long.

2. Color Cubes

difflearn.com

These blocks are stained, not painted, and even come with pattern cards so that your little one can practice for those IQ tests that they will probably be taking in kindergarten from all this brain stimulation.

3. Magformers

Amazon

My daughter has two mega-sets of these from her grandparents. She will pick these to play with over just about anything in the toy box, and when friends come over, they are always pulled out and argued over.

4. SmartMax Magnetic Discovery

Amazon

More building. More brain development.

5. Geomag Construction Set

Amazon

As kids get older and more sophisticated with their imagination, their toys should be able to keep up.

6. Zometool Creator 1 Construction Kit

Amazon

This is on my daughter’s list from Fat Brain Toys this year. And it looks like something that I might like to play with too.

7. Fat Brain Toys Reptangles

Amazon

Kids love these. I mean, why not? Reptiles. Connectable toys. Cute name.

8. LEGO Family Villa Kit

Amazon

I’m going to put this in here as the most obvious toy in obvious-land. But Legos are always a hit at my house. Always.

9. K’NEXT STEM Educational Sets

Amazon

There are over 500 pieces to this thing, and it’s probably guaranteed to make your kid an engineer by second grade. Awesome.

It’s mostly important to think about our kids’ toys before we buy them and ask ourselves questions: Will they make my kid smarter, will they play with them after Christmas day, or will they annoy the shit out of me within five minutes? All important things to think about.

And some final advice from Jenn Choi: She encourages us to get down on the floor to play with our kids, and states, “When I see that my children are ignoring their open-ended toys, I just start playing with them by myself. I don’t even invite them to join me — but they always do. They’ll sit beside me and say, ‘Hey Mom, look what I made!'”

Editors may receive samples and/or a share from purchases made via links on this page. All opinions are our own.