A tragedy of buying gifts for kids is that even the most thoughtful, well-received present can quickly be discarded. Attention spans are short and kids’ tastes change rapidly as they grow up, so toys that have staying power can be hard to find. But what holiday gifts have kept kids’ attention? To find out, we asked some of the parents on the Fatherly staff. Here, then, are the toys that have stood the test of time. So far.
Babies love stacking, unstacking, and re-stacking cups. They’re discovering and developing motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and, thankfully, the novelty of grasping and manipulating colorful objects is slow to wear off. As one staffer can attest, their kid’s been obsessed with these cups for weeks.
Balls are the OG of toys, as captivating to babies as they are to teenagers, albeit for slightly different reasons. This ball, adorned with the letters of the alphabet, is particularly compelling to at least one staff infant who’s yet to start talking but can’t stop batting it around.
Chess is simple to learn, but it takes a lifetime to master. It makes sense, then, like one staffer’s kid who was interested enough to want a set in the first place, they’ll keep playing for a long time. The bonus of magnetic sets is that they’re made for travel and the pieces are harder for kids to knock over accidentally.
Harry Potter Sorting Hat
Even though most wizards use the sorting hat just once, one staffer’s kids can’t stop playing with it. It features an animatronic mouth and four unique phrases, one for each Hogwart’s house. It’s entertaining even after they’ve figured out the pattern that “randomly” plays each phrase.
Even Steven’s Odd!
The beauty of this fast-paced dice game, per one staffer whose kids can’t stop playing, lies in its simplicity. Each turn, someone draws a challenge card with a specific dice roll on it. Then, the players race to roll and match the numbers on the card with their dice. The first to do so grabs Steven, a dice-headed doll, and wins the round. It’s educational and addictive, not a bad combination for parents who want to keep their kids occupied.
Shadows in the Forest
One of our favorite toys of the year is a board game unlike any other, and its uniqueness likely explains why one staffer’s kids keep wanting to walk back into the forest. You can only play in the dark, using the included lamp to cast shadows around the trees that sit on the game board. It’s a dramatic setting that gets kids engrossed in the game and eager to play as many rounds as possible before bed. The best part? It’s fun for parents too.
After the fun of the eponymous surprise wears off, this kit still leaves kids with seven different toys, including a doll, accessories, and stickers (because who doesn’t love stickers?). “Everything is miniature, and the ball it comes in functions as a carrying case and playset, so kids can take their doll with them wherever they go,” says one staffer.
There’s something deeply satisfying about magnets: snapping them together, pulling them apart, trying to push them closer when they’re repelling each other. Add to that the potential to build tons of different structures creatively with an ever-expandable arsenal of pieces and you’ve got a recipe for a captivating, lasting toy. It’s easy to see why one staffer’s kids are obsessed with them.
The harmonica is a real musical instrument that is dead simple to play. One staffer’s three-year-old adores it. Where you probably wouldn’t want to arm a three-year-old with a fragile and expensive guitar or clarinet, you can invest a few bucks in a sturdy harmonica and watch them go wild blaring away for hours.
Binoculars let kids see the world from a new perspective at a time in their lives in which perspective-gathering is the name of the game. And one Fatherly staffer’s kids can’t get enough of them. It’s easy to see why: there’s the fun of birdwatching and spying on the neighbors combined with the funhouse-like effect of flipping them around and making stuff look tiny and far away.
Stuffed Red Panda
Specific taste in stuffed animals varies from kid to kid, but there’s at least one almost three-year-old for whom this red panda is the most interesting creature around. Because if Calvin and Hobbes taught us anything, it’s that kids need a cuddly companion on their adventures.
Lisa Frank Sticker Book
Kids, as we’ve said, love stickers, particularly the garish, bright, fuschia-dominated designs of Lisa Frank. This book, which costs a mere $5 but contains 600 stickers, has provided hours of entertainment for one staffer’s kid. Word to the wise from the gift-giver: “Make sure they know that daddy’s television is not the place to stick a technicolor unicorn.”
Monkey Hand Puppet
One infant on staff was enamored with this puppet monkey. You may not think much of your skills as a puppeteer, but thankfully infants are pretty non-demanding viewers of puppet shows. It’s also an easy and fun way to keep your kid entertained until one of you falls asleep.