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My kids are pretty much the same as every other tiny humans new to the planet when it comes to how they pass their time. They’re professional dumpster divers; they’d rather play inside a diaper box or use grass clippings as a wig or pour pinto beans from cup to cup or wait in the driveway when it’s 102 degrees outside, just to watch the 12 seconds it takes for the arm of the garbage truck to pick up and dump our can into the back. We’ve never really encouraged list making for birthdays or holidays because most of it would inevitably end up in a yard sale. However, right here is a list of the tried and true, things they’ve played with until it fell apart, gifts and ideas for the tiny loves of your life.
1. Water table: My kids have played for H O U R S in this. They use all sorts of things such as buckets, shovels, rubber ducks, spoons & cups from the fro-yo place. You name it; it’s probably went swimming in the water table. Occasionally they turn the entire thing into a soup-making cauldron of sorts and just dump grass, leaves, and whatever they can find into the concoction.
2. Sand table: Now I have a confession. I’m kind of the Danny Tanner of our house when it comes to good, clean fun. Any sort of sand play kind of gives me anxiety, but the little people love it. We have pretty strict no-mixing-of-the-water-table-and-sand-table rules, and I don’t think my kids are not “well-adjusted”. You’re going to want to get one with a lid obviously, and the ones that are off the ground are way less messy. I have even had a couple friends that just put sand in a sterilite tub, and they can transport it wherever they want!
3. Wagon: We have a hard plastic, durable wagon that has endured years of tough play. We’ve loaded into the back of our suv, and toted it to outdoor events for them to ride in. We’ve pulled them + cargo to the park near our house. They’ve pulled each other and their baby dolls in it around the yard. Every kid and their mom needs a wagon.
4. Playhouse: Not everyone may have the room for this one, but for us, this one wins every time. For our first daughter’s second birthday, all the party attendees chipped in to our “playhouse fund” instead of bringing a present. She loved it, and we loved less clutter! Our house has a carport that we essentially treat like a giant porch during the summer months, and our playhouse sits in a little rock landscaping area right next to it. We use this every.single.day. My offspring have “sold” ice cream out of it, used it as a baby sitter’s house, played hide and seek around it, and played mailman with the little mail slot in it. The playhouse is definitely one of our favorites.
5. Blocks: There are so many different options for this! We own several. Our favorites for building and designing are bristle blocks, magnet tiles, legos, and oddly enough, Jenga blocks. A lot of the time, we have them ALL out and combine them into one giant structure. You can’t go wrong with some nature of building materials.
6. Web swing: We’ve had this swing for about 6 months, and they all love it. Even our one-year-old. We do own an outdoor baby swing, too, but the web swing is still the most popular. Multiple children can swing at one time, and I just hold the baby while I sit, too! Ours is a one piece (so no putting together when we ordered it), and it has a 600 lb weight limit. Swinging in our front yard tree brings back those nostalgic images, doesn’t it?
7. Musical Instruments: I understand that there will be some days that you just cannot handle a noise-inducing toy on top of your already loud toddler, but hear me out. Our xylophone, tambourine, kazoos, harmonica, and egg shakers have really turned into some fun jam sessions where the kids make up their own silly songs and rock out with each other, exploring free movement and crazy dance moves. Your kids will be begging you to get out the music bin from that strategically-placed, high-shelf location!
8. Pop-up tunnel: We take this everywhere. We’ve moved it from room to room. You can even venture outside with this! It really promotes movement and activity, and once our baby was a crawler, our 3 year old and 8 month old would peek in and out at each other, putting one end in a box or cleared out cabinet and giggling non-stop. We have the regular tunnel, but there are 4 tunnel connected options also. I love that it folds flat for easy storage!
9. Tent/Teepee: While we’re on the topic of pop-up structures, we also have a canvas teepee. This just looks so stinkin’ cute in their room, but a little pop-up tent would be a crowd pleaser also. Think of it as our indoor playhouse. Anything that they can hide in or pretend it’s some sort of fort is a plus!
10. Chalk & Bubbles: This may not really be a “toy” per say, but these two things have provided a ton of entertainment for my littles. We’ve had a bubble machine and bubble guns, bubble wands and bubble buckets. We’re currently using the chalk holders for less messy little fingers, and we’ve even used paint brushes to “paint” our sidewalk chalk creations using just water! We also carry the tiny tubes of bubbles in our diaper bag in case we run into a moment of desperation.
11. Doctor Kit: I’ve been doctored; the dog has been doctored. The baby dolls, stuffed animals, and Olaf. Ironically enough, for despising everything to do with an actual doctor’s visit, the kids play doctor at least once a day.
12. Dress Up Clothes: We recently created a designated dress-up corner in our daughter’s room using an adjustable garment rack and bins on the bottom to hold accessories. There are a variety of options from princess dresses we found at a local consignment shop to community worker vests that are easy to slip on and off. Of course the doctor vest is beloved!
13. Kick ball: Kind of self-explanatory, but all the kids love this. We tote it to the playground and playdates and even to the basketball gym. They roll it, kick it, play (friendly) dodgeball, throw it down the bleachers. It’s just a durable classic.
14. Play Kitchen & Food: I’ve been served quite a few hamburgers in our playroom cookery, and I must say, my toddler’s cuisines and hostess skills are improving. We have a lot of play food and pots & pans, a cash register , shopping cart, and a separate ice cream counter. The basics are all you really need, but adding accessories is an excellent and well-received gift idea.
15. Art Supplies: The possibilities are endless with this. It’s hard to get this one wrong. My kids liked the triangular crayons starting out (my one year old knows how to scribble!), and then they moved on to the Crayola Color Wonder line and painting with water. They’ve used string to thread beads and pipe cleaners to thread pasta. One kid went through a weird obsession with using a glue stick. I would go so far to even consider Play-doh an arts & craft (& you know I hate the mess, so we keep one paper plate per can that they create on). There are a million different play sets, but we just use cookie cutters, chop sticks, and whatever else we can find. My tiniest just plays with the accessories while the bigger kids mold. Creating art really gets the conversation flowing about colors, letters, and shapes!
Whew, that was quite the list. It may seem a little universal & all-encompassing, but you know as well as I do that every kid is different and has different preferences. One is really into baby dolls and the other just wants to join the neighborhood “bike gang”. I’ve nannied and taught school and had my own, and this list is everything that most kids revel in. Anything that sparks creative thinking and imagination is sure to be treasured by parents and kids alike. You’ll find yourself taking part, too!
With spirit & sass,