The whole point of toys is simple fun, but the making and marketing of all those toys is a serious business — and a seriously expensive part of parenting. The average American family can spend upward of $1,000 a year on toys and games for kids. And most of those will blaze through our lives like flaming fidget spinners for a season or two before breaking down on the job or losing kids’ interest. These are not timeless toys. On the contrary, the vast majority of new toys and games for kids will just make their way quietly to the nearest landfill after a few months.
Luckily, there is such a thing as a good toy investment — those rare toys that are cool enough to grow up with your kid, from toddlerhood to tweendom. These timeless toys are affordable, well made, and universally fun, appealing to all ages by satisfying our innate love of problem-solving. They’re built to last. They don’t need screens or electricity to be engaging, and they don’t need a corporate backstory or blockbuster tie-in to make sense. Long before we talked about STEM toys, these games and toys were honing spatial and logical reasoning skills, building creativity and shaping us as people.
The fun your toddler has scattering and re-stacking Magna-Tiles at 3 is essentially continuous with the fun they’ll have building complex structures out of Magna-Tiles when they’re 9. Here are 11 other timeless toys that every family should have — and keep.
Legos are the universal building blocks of childhood, and a big brick kit like this gives kids the raw materials they need to build anything their imaginations set in motion — from esteemed monuments to crazy creatures of their own conception. There are few classic toys that enjoy the kind of world dominion Legos have for generations — both classically collectible and continuously refreshed, Legos are forever. This set comes with 484 pieces in 35 different colors, including windows, eyes, tires, wheel rims.
Classic toys remain classics in part because they form a path from the obsessions of childhood to the pursuit of mastery in adulthood. That’s especially true of musical instruments, which help kids sharpen their cognitive tools, from gross and fine motor skills to creative problem-solving, patience and perseverance. An accordion is ideal — even young children can get it to make a sound (thereby learning cause and effect), and with practice, kids can get it to make sounds that are more like sweet music to your ears and less like donkeys in crisis. This accordion comes with a two-octave rage, in the key of C.
There’s probably no toy with a deeper history than the building block — surely kids have been stacking and toppling wood and stone since the dawn of time. Timber Planks are simple, well-crafted wooden blocks that let aspiring engineers push the envelope, stacking, arranging, and counter-balancing 300 planks to construct cloud-sweeping towers, sprawling cityscapes, or abstract masterpieces. The only rule with Timber Planks is to follow no rules — boosting creativity, imaginative play, bold thinking, and experimentation. Comes with 270 natural-finish planks, made from New Zealand pine, and 30 orange planks for an added pop. Built to last forever and easily stowed away in the handy canvas bag that's included.
Families have been baking dough sculptures together forever. Sculpey comes in an incredible array of colors from Red Hot Red to Leaf Green and Sweet Potato. It stays soft as it’s manipulated and tooled, making incredible detail — and alterations — possible until you pop it in the oven. Beads and sculptures emerge looking pretty close to kiln-fired. Blend colors to create your own spot on the rainbow or paint out of the oven for a different finish.
Soccer is the most popular and widely played sport in the world. Millions of kids play soccer all over the planet, in jungle and desert, from the Amazon to the Arctic. In short, every family should have a soccer ball in the house. This size 4 soccer ball from Franklin Sports is regulation size and ready for competition — but also great for kids interested in kicking it around casually in the yard. It's slightly cushioned to protect young feet, and stays fully inflated longer than most.
Lincoln Logs just celebrated its 100th birthday — any toy that survives a century, basically unchanged, is a clear classic. This commemorative set comes in a retro-inspired tin, has 111 pieces made from maple wood, and instructions for building a tower, two little houses, and a roomy cabin — but kids are also encouraged to go way off-script and construct whatever they can imagine. Includes everything needed for the roof, roof facade, wall logs, chimney, porch, fences, bonfire, and bonfire seats.
Still going strong after two decades on the American market, Magna-Tiles were inspired by a ’90s-era Japanese toy. The modern and wildly ubiquitous Magna-Tile is made of food-grade BPA-free plastics, with ceramic magnets thoroughly encased — so they're safe for kids 3 and up. Colorful and translucent, Magna-Tiles are like stained-glass for the toddler master-builder set. The tiles click together easily and are super-durable. This set includes 32 squares and triangles in a range of sizes.
A truly timeless toy, Colorforms were invented in New Jersey, in 1951. And while new licensed characters and scenarios have come and gone, the basic concept is unchanged: Using colorful geometric shapes that cling to surfaces without any glue or other adhesive, kids can make designs and endlessly rearrange them. Colorforms are sort of like two-dimensional building blocks, offering infinite possibilities to imaginative kids. Perfect for toddlers (age 3 and up), and really ever after. They're fun precisely because they're so simple. This pet-centric set comes with 145 pieces, two scenes to build upon, an idea guide, and storage box.
This wood-and-magnet human anatomy puzzle from Melissa & Doug includes scientifically accurate body parts, for boys and girls, including, the skeleton, circulatory system, internal organs, muscles, and more, and comes with a sturdy wooden stand and wooden storage box. Kids can piece together the complexity of the human body in an approachable way, helping them to visualize and understand how everything in the body works together.
Introduce a new generation of kids to the beautiful mystery of the Spirograph. Spirograph was successfully relaunched in 2012; this deluxe set replicates the classic 1965 design and comes with more than four-dozen parts and pens, with the perfect range of precision tools: 19 wheels, two rings, and one elliptical Spirograph rack. Plus a detailed guidebook to the Spirograph universe — a colorful, infinitely variable place. Elementary-age kids can make cool, intricate designs with the Spirograph tools, and older kids can continue to grow with it as they understand the concepts that make Spirograph designs work.
While action-oriented dangerous ‘classics’ like the lawn dart sink into notoriety, the pogo stick endures, striking the perfect active-toy balance between dexterity and risk, letting kids safely enjoy the thrill of skill-building. Flybar has been making pogo sticks since 1918, so they've had a century or so to fine-tune the already near-perfect concept: bouncing high on your personal spring. Safety improvements include foam grips, nonslip foot pegs, and a wider bounce tip. Pogo sticks burn away kid energy at an amazing rate, and help children develop balance, strength, and confidence (while always wearing a helmet). For kids 9 and up, max weight 160 pounds.
An ant farm is the ultimate screen time. While kids will happily watch ants emerge from cracks in the driveway for hours, an ant farm offers a controlled environment in which to watch ants build a colony from scratch, working cooperatively to dig tunnels, clean their homes, take care of the young, and solve engineering problems as they arise. This kit from Fat Brain Toys comes with detailed instructions for creating a happy ant home, with the right kind of soil, food, and moisture level, along with guidance on how to find and collect the right ants with which to build your farm. Then sit back and watch a tiny civilization take shape.
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