There are literally thousands of early childhood toys and games. Most of them are not worth the money, but a few are fabulous and well worth the money.
As I stated in my earlier article on 10 Family Games that are Worth the Money, “I determine whether a family game is worth the money by seeing how many hours it is used.”
Let’s face it – everyone (including me) wants a Minion this year, but soon they will be on the shelves of the dollar stores. Branded toys are not usually worth the money. They might bring a smile on Christmas day, but will be quickly tossed aside for the next new-and-improved Disney sidekick.
Here are 10 early childhood toys that I recommend because I feel they are worth the money.
(By the way, these are NOT digital toys or apps. Real live physical universe (not virtual universe) abilities are extremely important for young children. I also think that constant and close up exposure to wireless technology is not healthy for children – especially to small growing bodies.)
- Counting Bears – ($7.99) I bought our box of counting bears at the drug store 18 years ago. My 19 year old daughter and I sorted them into their cups a few weeks ago and we’ve only lost one bear. We mourn its loss. This is a keeper toy. Teaches so many early childhood educational basics with such a simple toy. And yes, you can set up all 50 of them in rows and they make a great audience for a puppet show.
- Sew ‘n Sew – ($9.99) A smooth cylinder of wood with slanted holes. A piece of rope. And a wooden “needle.” I’m not sure who got more pleasure from this toy – my kids or me. You “sew” through the holes til there is no more “thread” and then you “unsew.” Teaches dexterity and the basics of sewing. This toy is NOT for the wild child who throws everything since it could be used as a flying object.
- Bead Maze – ($9.99 – $80) You’ve seen this bead maze in every daycare, nursery school and pediatrician office you’ve ever been in. Why? Because kids (and adults) are fascinated by it and they are extremely sturdy. There is lots of moving parts but none of them can get lost or swallowed. I suggest getting one that is more expensive than a cheap version, but because they are so sturdy you can always find them used. If buying a used version, make sure that you clean and sanitize it well.
- Latches Board – ($22.36) Talk about dexterity learning skills. A wooden puzzle format that has latches and locks. When my son was little, he could spend hours just opening and closing the kitchen cabinet including when we were at the simply incredible Indianapolis Children’s Museum. This is a wonderful toy that can travel in and out of the car.
- Red Lace, Yellow Lace (learn to tie your shoes) – ($11.69) Talk about value! This is the most brilliant activity book. You just read the book with your child and have them follow along with the color coded laces and ta-da, they learn to tie their shoes. It’s simple and it works and I love it!! Teaching your kid to tie their shoes – priceless.
- Lucky Ducky Wooden Push Toy – ($28) I’m not sure exactly what it is about this toy, but when my daughter saw it at the Boston Museum of Science store, she just HAD to have it. I simply was NOT going to buy it. So, she went out and earned the money (she was 5 years old) and bought it the next week. It currently resides in her bedroom. It really is fun to push around and it makes the most satisfying “slap slap” sound each time the webbed foot smacks the floor.
- Wooden Pound-a-peg – ($7.99) Great toy for girls or boys. Take the hammer, pound the peg til you can’t pound it anymore, turn over the toy and pound from the other side. Great for dexterity and general confidence builder. Not a bad way for mom to take out a bit of frustration when the going gets rough.
- Brio Wooden Trains – ($48.29) It would be impossible for me to calculate the number of hours that my son played with his Brio trains. Of course, the counting isn’t done because we still have the set and intend to keep it forever. We started with the basic figure 8 kit and then grew the set from there. One year we had a Brio birthday and only asked for a piece of Brio track. I also was able to find track, trains and bridges at yard sales (a great savings). Brio trains and Thomas trains are compatible. I used to have a zipper gym bag filled with track and trains that I took with me when we went visiting. We’d find a clear space and dump out the pieces. I got to have some lovely long coffee chats with my girlfriends while the kids played with the trains.
- Mastermind for Kids – ($12.74) I picked this game up at a yard sale 18 years ago. I paid 50 cents for it. Yep, I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth. A great game to teach deductive reasoning to your kids. A nice challenge for you as well. CHOKING HAZARD — Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.
- Gertie Ball – ($8) A ball, any ball is the best and most versatile toy. I remember sitting on the floor with my son gently rolling a ball back and forth to him when he was barely even able to sit up. Perhaps this is why his first word was “ball.” The Gertie Ball is especially nice because it is very soft and extremely catchable. You blow it up like a balloon so it can be different sizes. It’s collapsability makes it a good travel ball since it can easily fit into a diaper bag or stroller without taking up too much space.
- Bonus – TOMY Tick Tock Teacher – This is a vintage toy. It is not made any more. My daughter and I just pulled her’s down from the shelf to look at it. This is a wonderful toy. It teaches kids to read an analog clock (something many kids don’t know how to do anymore) and also to see the time move digitally by 5 minute increments. It also helps to teach about the complicated place values of time. They are different than regular counting. OK, maybe you don’t want to pay vintage prices for one of these, but I’m telling you that if you see one at Goodwill or a yard sale, snatch it up. Warning: This wonderful toy makes a cuckoo sound which is probably why they made a later version that was silent, but also hard to find.
I have added retail prices for each of these items, but of course, you can also look for them 2nd hand. These are (mostly) sturdy toys that will stand the test of time.