When I was a little girl, I remember thinking our local boutique toy store was magical. There were toys I’d never seen in commercials, and I could touch and experience them all before deciding what I wanted. Now, as a mom, I love that my kids are able to enjoy that same experience at our local favorite, Cheeky Monkey. We know every time we step foot inside we can count on having some hands-on fun, getting great ideas from the insightful staff and leaving with a lovely gift-wrapped (for free!) goodie. Our time there is all about the kids…not just a stop in an overcrowded toy aisle as we’re trying to check things off our to-do list.
Not long after falling in love with the store, I discovered the owner is my neighbor and friend, Anna. This year I was lucky enough to talk to her about holiday shopping ideas for kids and I absolutely love her take on the subject. While we were chatting, she pointed out a couple trends that I know I’m guilty of. The first is that parents these days look at toys as stuff that’s cluttering the house. That’s a sign that we’re buying just to buy, and not thinking about toys as tools for learning and development. Second, a lot of people will go into brick and mortar stores to get great ideas from the staff and see items in person, but then buy from big online retailers to save a few dollars. If we aren’t willing to pay a bit more for the value of the in-store experience and personal service, these shops won’t be able to stay in business. After talking to Anna, I made a commitment to myself to do as much independently owned store shopping this season as possible. (And since I haven’t started said shopping, I’ve still got time to do it.)
Here’s Anna’s expert take on the best toys this holiday season. And the best news is, this list will never be “so 2011”.
You know those “Top Ten Hot Toys” lists? Ignore them! Each child is different, and, while those lists are a tempting short cut, with a little more thought you can find the perfect gift that will last. Here are some qualities to help you create your own Top Ten Toy list:
#1- Longevity: How many different ways can a child play with the toy?
#2- Scalability: How will a child play with the toy as he/she gets older? What ways can a caregiver add play value to the toy?
#3- Quality: How well is the toy made? How will it stand up to normal play?
#4- Creativity: How much imaginative input does the toy encourage?
#5- Peer Interaction: For school-aged kids, especially in the “trendy” category, stick to toys that have a social component with peers—whether it’s trading, collecting or sharing.
#6- Educational Value: What developmental milestones does the toy address? This is much more than ABCs and 123s. It comprises of things like cause/effect, sensory exploration, negotiation with peers/siblings, fine and gross motor skill development, spatial relationships, etc.
#7- Expandability: Are there additional pieces or items that can be added on for additional play value?
#8- Play Patterns: Watch the child play and see what he/she is drawn to. Does the child have an affinity towards building things; is he/she obsessed with things with wheels; does he/she love to paint or draw?
#9- Consult Knowledgeable Sales People: Visit your local, independent toy store to help clarify the toy’s qualities and discover unique alternatives.
#10- Now go out and make your own top ten toy list!