The essence of good toys

Every year we have the same challenge, trying to identify what toys and games we can purchase for our children that aren’t junky, horribly, ugly, plastic trash (obviously, that’s a value judgment. 🙂 One place I thought I’d start this year was with, since they have a huge range of toys and games, and with partners like Toys R Us, I figured they’d have a good organization too.

But here’s what I found weird. I searched for “vintage toys” and was surprised to find the matches were Star Wars, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon and Neopets.. Why does Amazon categorize these modern, valueless toys as “vintage” in the first place?

To me, a vintage toy is dominoes, Monopoly or Checkers. A toy that I might have played with when I was a child, and that my Dad might have played when he was a child. Instead, these so-called vintage toys are much more ephemeral and I bet that outside of obsessed collectors, no-one will have a clue who Pokemon or Yu Gi Oh were twenty years from now. There’s some irony that these are described thusly “The timeless appeal of vintage toys makes them great gift choices for ‘particular’ owners and collectors of memorabilia.”

Here’s the key thing, and this relates to the toys we buy our children: do they foster the imagination, teach them some useful skill like cooperation, and help them recognize that life is about a lot more than just the acquisition of material goods? That’s a lot to ask of a toy, but I’m always impressed how my kids can integrate rocks they’ve found in the garden and similar materials into a train setup, a barn made of wooden blocks, and similar. With something like a “Yu Gi Oh Booster Pack”, though, I can’t see how there’s anything positive, and indeed isn’t the entire idea of trading cards the acquisition of stuff?

There are some really nice toys available on Amazon, don’t get me wrong. I particularly liked the Butterfly Garden Kitchen Center, Wood Unit Block Cart, Cutting Birthday Cake (from a great wooden toy manufacturer, Melissa & Doug), the Logging Adventure Train Set and Grandpa’s Wood Stilts.

For any toy purchase, I keep asking myself: how are they going to bear up to repeated play, how interested your children will be in them six months hence, and whether the toys are really reinforcing the values and style of play you want to nurture in your children.

6 comments on “The essence of good toys

  1. two of my favorites:
    Schoenhut Toy Pianos – made to be as realistic as possible but still retaining the classic toy piano sound.
    Radio Flyer (spring horses, wagons, toy cars)

  2. I agree – but I have found a great site for toys that foster imagination – all kid powered – natural and non-toxic.
    The items I really like are the tin games – they fit into my purse and can be used anywhere for a quick interaction while waiting at the bank or playing at the beach. We actually play a quick game every night. It hasn’t lost its appeal. They are great.
    The site is
    Great stocking stuffers!

  3. It can be difficult finding affordable, natural toys. On more than one occassion, we’ve been disappointed by a natural toy; however, there are many great eco-friendly toys out there.
    Check out my blog:
    “Play is the highest form of research.” -Albert Einstein
    Natural toys that inspire your child’s imagination! A review of developmentally appropriate, ecologically friendly toys for young children.

  4. I just stumbled onto this site and found this post. I realize this is an older post, so I may not be putting this information in the appropriate place to be read, but it sounds like you’re looking for great learning tools for your kids rather than cheap playthings.
    I had found a site put together by a WAHM that posts FREE weekly craft projects you can do with your kids that she and other moms have created. My 4-year-old son loves it. It’s at:
    She posts pics of the harder projects so you can see how they should look and you can subscribe to a weekly newsletter. I have found my son loves these little crafty things much more than store bought toys (although we do buy educational toys from time to time).
    Two sites I’ve found for educational toys are: and
    It’s good to know there are other moms out there looking for ways other than TV and video games to entertain and educate their children!

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