Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gifts for 2012: Kid Tested, Mommy Approved

Christmas is right around the corner, and if you are anything like me, you try to get your shopping done early. There are so many fun activities and crafts that I want to have time to enjoy doing with my children, so I like to have all my gifts bought and hidden away, ready to open on Christmas morning.

Toys that enter my house must meet all three of the following criteria:
1. It must offer hours of entertainment.
2. It must require the child to manipulate and play with it. 
3. It must have a proper place in our house.

Tickle Me Elmo, although entertaining, does not meet all of these criteria. It is what I call a "novelty toy," because it's entertainment value quickly wears off and becomes just another toy that takes up space on the floor of the playroom. I would estimate that 95% of the toys that we own do NOT require batteries.

Here is my list of the top 10 toys that every child under the age of 5-years-old should own...

10. Variety of craft materials 
Put together a basket of materials for your little crafter to open on Christmas morning. Many of the materials can be purchased from the dollar store. Glue, scissors, tissue paper, gems, stickers, markers, glitter, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, googley eyes, foam shapes, paint, etc... Bored one day? Pull out some materials and see what you can make. It's also fun to use unconventional craft items and let your child explore their creativity (picture frames, trays, glass jars, etc.).

Painting with water colors outside. 
Gem light catchers. Materials: dollar store frame, modge podge and gems.  
Bracelets made with paper beads that we made by hand. Materials: markers, paper, glue, and pipe cleaners.  

9. Animals/baby dolls 
We are not gender biased towards toys in this house. My daughter will be getting her first baby doll for Christmas this year and I fully expect to find her older brother playing with it from time to time. That's perfectly fine by me. After all, I want him to be a hands on kind of dad when he grows up. Stuffed or plastic animals are also great toys for children to use for role playing.

8. Cars and/or trains 
Our playroom is flooded with cars and trains. I'm not really sure what the appeal is for children, but both my kids play with them every single day. My older child builds tracks for his trains and enjoys pushing the trains along his new creations. I also find him playing with the cars as if they are really people. He has them talk to each other and act out scenarios. My daughter just likes holding the cars and trains (she is 9 months old) and seeing if each of them taste differently.

7. Costumes
My son wears a costume every single day. We have a full length mirror mounted on the wall at his height in the playroom and he looks at himself at least a hundred times a day. Again, we have costumes appropriate for both genders. My son tends to wear the "boy" costumes, but I have caught him wearing butterfly wings on top of his super hero cape before. This type of expression is perfectly fine by me!

Combine trains AND costumes for even more fun!

Headband, diaper and tu-tu. 

High tea with his friend, E. 

And, I'm not really sure what this is. 

6. Instruments 
We love the Melissa and Doug instruments. Making music together is one of the few things my two children can do together at this age (L: 4 years; Lil: 9 months) and both have fun.

5. Blocks
Again, Melissa and Doug blocks are what we like best. This is another classic gift that will grow with your child. We build castles, houses, parking garages, tracks, etc.

4. Duplos/Legos 
If you're child is under the age of 5, then you should purchase him some Duplos. Legos are technically recommended for ages 5 and up. My son started playing with them at 3.5 years, and although he needed some guidance with them at first, he is fully capable of building things with them on his own now at age 4.

3. Playdough 
You can purchase playdough or make your own. Either way, it's a must for any child, any age. It's fun, it's educational, and provides a creative outlet for your little one. These are our favorite tools for our playdough sculpting projects. Each time we take the play dough out I give the kids something different to use with it. Just change up the tools, or make different mats by putting clear contact over a piece of construction paper that you draw on, and playdough will never get old.

2. Kitchen and accessories
We own the Melissa and Doug Corner Kitchen, but there are other brands that I've seen out there that look nice, too. Just make sure you get one that is sturdy and cannot get knocked over. Plastic kitchen set = you picking up the kitchen and all the accessories roughly a million times a day. We also purchased the KidKraft grocery store and plastic fruits and vegetables from One Step Ahead.

1. Magna-Tiles
Magna-Tiles are our absolute favorite toy. Big L loves them so much that he asked for another set for Christmas this year so he could build bigger designs. My 9-month-old also loves playing with them. The translucent geometric shapes casts neat colors on the floor when you play with them in front a window with sunlight. You can build 3 dimensional shapes or dimensional shapes on the floor or on the side of the refrigerator. So much fun!

"Look, Momma! I made a pizza!"

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