With four children ranging in ages two to 14, I have a lot of experience with toys.
We’ve been lucky over the last couple of years to attend a few trade events which means we’ve seen ranges that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered, and it’s helped me come to some fairly firm conclusions on what sort of thing I like.
The first and most important characteristic is play value. Will this toy actually last through that first flush of excitement of ‘new thing’ and be something that they return to, build into ?their days and lives and feel sad about should it disappear? Will it enhance their play or can it be adapted to their games instead of them having to adapt to it?
The obvious ones here are teddies and dolls that become babies, friends, animals or aliens that have stories built around them and become a part of our family. It’s better if they can be clothed and unclothed, carried about, talked to and so on.
Toys with in-built voices have less long-term appeal, perhaps because they can’t be quite as flexible - their identity is fixed. These toys don’t have to be expensive.
One of my four year old daughter’s favourite dolls is a handmade puppet which is only a tube of material, stuffed, and then has some other material wrapped round it as swaddling cloths. It features no limbs or hair, yet it has been carried, cared for, slept with and loved for years.
My next favourite are imagination enhancing toys, like the old classics LEGO and Playmobil.
These can be enhanced and built upon, mixed and matched and returned ?to time and time again. My children are endlessly inventive with these, and it’s worth the occasional pain of standing on a very small very hard thing. Honest. It is.
The toys I turn away from are those flimsy plastic fads that usually come in more packaging than there is toy. It’s a bad sign when you unwrap it and there’s a tiny play piece and more bits of cardboard and plastic than you’re supposed to keep. They get so tangled, you can’t even recycle the cardboard.
I try very hard not to have that sort of thing in the house. If they’re gifted to us, they sneakily disappear until they can take a one way trip to the nearest charity shop. We have limited time and space, and I’d rather fill it with things we can all see a value to.