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November 14, 2018

Some Toys Are Just Selfies. Others Know How To Find Smiles.

The aqua flexi-man hung on a yellow shoelace a yard long. He swung down between the bunk beds. He did a cool double flip. My six-year-old owned a set of these flexi-people with green and orange acrobat wires, and rearranged the trapezes as their fictional world grew.

When she got older she talked about those Bendos as an example of open-ended toys that weren’t boring. Most living rooms have baskets full of forgotten toys and game pieces.

Santa should give me a S’more prize. I’ve spent $20,000 on children’s gifts since 1993. I’ve seen all the Parent’s Choice toddler gifts and brain-enhancing puzzles, gadgets, and gewgaws.

Only $1000. fostered joy and engagement. It’s hard to admit, but if you’re excited about a toy, there’s a strong chance Emily and Aidan will see it a homework assignment or trip to the dentist.

I want to believe in the eye-catching toyland offerings.  They are educational and gorgeously packaged, and clever. So, you too, go wild. Try out the talking blocks. Maybe it will work out. But, I have a safe list for you below of toys that do work out. Do they tap into a need for independence in the kid? That’s my theory.

To like this list, you have to like clichés. Take a deep breath and if you need encouragement, look at any nearby toybox. If I can spend $20-$100 on something that teases a smile six months later, then I’ve tricked all this commercialism into something real. The one who received the gift has welcomed it into her world.


Best gifts

Sports balls–new soccer or basketball

Bicycle – yes, please (with expensive helmet)

Small cars – why would anyone think these are only for boys?

Modeling clay – so much better than playdough

Walkie-talkies – with extra batteries

Long grabber claw – good for annoying others

Stuffed animals, especially teddy and puppy



Air Hockey

Box of locks – these are expensive, but Melissa and Doug has a flat version for $22.


Magic trick set


For babies

Soft caterpillar with music

Board books


New things worth trying:

—Green Toys  has 100% recycled toys that look nice. I did buy recycled blocks once from another company and the kids wouldn’t play with them because the colors were too muted, too chic.

—Recipe/ingredients  gift subscription: a delivery of ingredients and recipes meant for children age 4-14+  One month is $24. My kids would like this because they loved the Blue Apron recipe delivery service we received this year.

—Bendos flexible figures (available on eBay) I still smile when I think of the acrobatic flexi-men.

Disclaimer: My children did teach themselves poker when left alone with their grandparents’ poker set, so their views may not be representative.

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