There are some toys that I find myself picking up over and over again—but not because anyone has been having any fun with them. They’re just in the way. And by the way, they weren’t free. We have three kids and our oldest is 4 (yep), and if I had to do it over again, these are the only things I’d buy (which would joyously mean skipping the train, activity table, giant foam puzzles, the water table and many, oh so many more things).
Made out of wood and leather, I loved this thing at first sight. So we bought one for our first daughter’s first Christmas. At 6 months, she wasn’t quite old enough to enjoy it, BUT by 9 months, she was using it as a walker. Then riding it a little later. Now we have three small kids who’ve all enjoyed it. In fact our 18-month-old still zips around on this thing daily.
There’s something about packing up and taking off (even if it’s for the living room) that toddlers can’t get enough of. Every backpack, lunch bag and rolling suitcase we’ve ever purchased is still in heavy rotation whether we’re headed for a real destination or not. Bonus: They can be used for storing other toys when not in use.
A perfect quiet time toy, magnets like this dress-up toy are simple and easy, and that's what little hands need. Each of our kids has spent 10 minutes or so at a time (a lot for a 2-year-old) playing with them. I especially love that this one comes with a pretty little tray to put everything away in each time.
We have tons of play food, including this breakfast set from Ikea, and the kids play with it constantly. They make “cookies,” “sandwiches” and all kinds of combinations of things. We used to have a play kitchen, but I kind of love it now that we don't. They use their imaginations to come up with new ways to cook, bake and store their creations. (Also, these are machine washable, which always makes this mom's heart soar.)
Although not technically a toy, our play table and chairs have gotten a massive workout over the last four years. They do crafts here, host tea parties, “write letters” to Grandma and eat breakfast; we’ve even had real birthday parties at this table. Kids as little as 18 months can easily slide on and off the chairs, making it work for all three of our rascals.
Psst, we gave our kids Halloween costumes for Christmas last year. Three fleece outfits from Old Navy (one strawberry, one cupcake and one fish) were not only on sale but the perfect addition to our collection of princess dresses on the dress-up rack. (Consignment stores are another excellent resource this time of year.)
We have a monkey who has traveled to more places than some adults. Whenever one of our kids takes him somewhere, someone inevitably leans down with a big smile to ask, “Ahh, what’s his name?” This person then becomes a little disappointed when one of our brood looks at him incredulously and says, “Monkey.” This particular monkey is about as big as our preschooler, which is part of the fun. And here’s what I like: He’s machine washable.
Of course all little kids love books but some of our family favorites have a few things going for them: They’re repetitive or rhyming, while others tell a simple story. We also have a couple with a calendar element, a kind of one-story-a-day calendar. These are the most beloved books by our brood: The Pout-Pout Fish, Are You My Mother?, Olivia, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Cat in the Hat, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Curley’s Tales of Truth and Extra Yarn.
I’m not one for a lot of clutter, or gunky bath toys that get black stuff inside their squirty parts. No, that’s not for me. But we’ve had these letters for two years and they hold up perfectly. They stick to the walls of the tub, they clean up easily and it’s fun for everyone to find their special letter every time.
Kids love nooks and crannies to play in, and a big tent like this one works well if you’ve got a few like we do. Not all play tents will last forever, so I wouldn’t go overboard with buying the most expensive—nor the cheapest. It’ll run its course, but if your tent experience is anything like ours, your little kids will have a blast while it lasts. (And if it doesn’t, real tents, the pop-up kind, are more durable and usually a little cheaper.)