Sunday, October 19, 2008

Great Toy #1: Christmas Shopping Guide

Christmas is not far away, and just about every Mom I know has been setting aside a thing or two already.

From now until Christmas, I will showcase one toy idea per week to help inspire parents to make their best choices when they have a personal pow-wow with Santa.

There are a few guidelines I follow when choosing toys for my children. Great toys must:
  • be Age-appropriate -- I don't get Barbies for a one year old. I don't get the Playschool telephone for a twelve year old. That's just common sense.

  • Teach something -- I love toys that teach a concept or require intellectual input from a child. Problem-solving toys are a favorite, as are skill-building toys.

  • Inspire creativity -- Imagination-building toys or toys that allow children to pretend are fantastic. They definitely have a place in my household.

  • be Flexible -- The more flexible a toy is in its use (i.e. not a uni-task toy), the longer it will hold my children's attention. There is nothing worse than buying a toy only to have it fall into disuse. Toys that can be played with in many ways help children to be inventive, and that's just more fun.

  • be Well-made -- I prefer toys made in the United States or Europe. Sometimes that can mean they are more expensive. But a toy that will hold together and take punishment (and one that is sure to follow good safety standards) can last through all THREE of my children. That's a good investment, in my book.


The first toy on our list is:K'Nex building sets

K'Nex is a plastic building set that is available for a wide range of abilities, from preschool on up. The building set has plastic rods, gears, and connectors that allow children to create just about anything. My seven year old has made a motorized working car, a Ferris wheel, or even a grandfather clock with his set. My five-year-old makes hand-held snowmobiles, planes, and cars. My youngest fits pieces together to make fish or other animals for much simpler play.

K'nex sets are entirely manufactured in the United States. Their website has a place for kids to share designs or print off instructions for new projects.

K'nex is a toy that has engaged my children's minds and encouraged them to use their creativity. Playing with it helps them to develop fine motor skills and spatial thinking. It has been fun to see the little engineer come out in all of them, in entirely different ways. The sets we have are far more flexible than the Legos I played with as a child, and far more affordable.

-Midwest Mom


  1. This is very good advice. You should submit it to a parents magazine. I have a couple to add:

    Buy season appropriate clothes. Yes that Gymboree t-shirt that you bought on clearance/Ebay is cute but it's also December.

    Check with the parents before purchasing a big gift. You don't want to steal Santa's thunder on Christmas Eve

    Please no stuffed animals but I do encourage the purchase of puppets.

    That is all!


  2. Laurie,

    Thanks! That is so true. There is nothing worse than your daughter getting a cute sundress for Christmas. (It's not like we're taking a Florida vacation or anything these days!)

    I like your idea about puppets. We get a tremendous number of stuffed animals. Each of my children has an entire zoo in their bed (it makes morning bed-making a long process!)

    Maybe that's another post for another day. ;)

    Have a great week! - MM

  3. Oh, I'm so excited to read more toy recommendations. I love your requirements, they are exactly what I look for in a toy. Plus they are what makes a toy fun for more than a day. Looking forward to it.

  4. Thank you, thank you - thank you! I was searching for toy ideas for a 5 year old - I have no experience with kids (when I say none - I mean NONE!). I was looking for fun but educational toys. This looks great and I can't wait to see what else you come up with.

    My only suggestion is that this should be a gift giving guide for kids - christmas, birthdays, whatever the occasion.

  5. Abbyjess -- welcome back! :) You're right, there is nothing better than a toy that grows *with* your child. My husband is an engineer, so when the kids are building something with their K'Nex, he likes to get right into their play. That's another great plus in my book.

    Tanya -- Thanks for visiting the blog! I hope my list will help -- be sure to check back. (You can always sign up for an RSS feed so that new posts are delivered to your mailbox.) One of my boys is five, too. :) And of course, you can use these gifts for *any* time of year! I am just highlighting ideas from now until Christmas because Christmas shopping is on my mind (and other Moms' minds, too.) Hope you find an idea you can use!

  6. so many toys to pick for,what about the money? good tips anyway

  7. Allow me to third the stuffed animals thing.

    If you're thinking of buying a child over the age of one week a stuffed animal, you'd better have some inside info that it is particularly welcome for some reason. Otherwise, you have missed that boat by miles.

    Babies are issued their lifetime quota of stuffed animals at birth, anything after that is just clutter that can't be washed.


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