As a mom of three boys (6, 4,and 2), I’ve seen a lot of books, toys and trinkets come into the house over the last few years. I’ve sold or donated action figures galore. I’ve tossed broken bits of plastic toys and recycled dozens of plot-less, pointless books.
Some items, though, have withstood the test of time and earned their place of honor in the playroom closet. Here, I present to you my (unsponsored and unbiased) list of favorites that inspire creativity, imagination and/or problem solving in kids — the picky mom’s guide to gift giving, if you will.
1) Giant Building Bricks – These giant blocks are great for building castles, walls, roads, and mazes. They’re pretty awesome to hide beneath too, then jump out and scare the pants off your mom when she walks around the corner (I’ve been told).
2) Squigz – These little suction toys are colorful, durable, and crazy fun on windows, tables, foreheads — you get the idea. My kids have played with these EVERY SINGLE DAY since last December. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. This Christmas, they’re all getting the mini version.
3) Hot Wheels – Whenever I see that orange track, I flash right back to the awesome eighties when my brother Mark used to build loop-de-loops on the living room floor. You might think Hot Wheels are old news, but it takes a fair amount of physics smarts and engineering wherewithal to construct a working track complete with loops and curves. That, my friends, makes this one smart toy.
4) Tom Pease Music – This man speaks little boy. We own several of Tom’s albums, and they are all fabulous and fun. One of my boys’ favorite songs is “Hey, Little Ant” on the Everybody Started Out Small album. It’s a discussion unfolding between a child and an ant as the ant tries convincing the boy not to step on him.
I’m Gonna Reach has the perfect mix of silly songs (like the “Belly Button” song) and meaningful melodies that promote goodness (“Love Grows One by One”) and excitement about learning (“Read a Book to Me” is gold). Tom Pease gets an A+ from this picky English-teacher-mama.
5) Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint and No-Mess Paint Cups – This seems a no-brainer, but when it comes to art supplies, it’s important that kids can be creative without completely destroying their environments. The Colorations brand of paint REALLY does wash out of clothes (and hair and ears). And the paint cups with clever lids can tip over without spilling everywhere, then be capped for future use. One of our best purchases yet!
6) Folkmanis Puppets– Yes, I’ve mentioned Folkmanis before, but I can’t get enough of these well-made, realistic puppets. Some favorites at our house are the turkey, dragon, yellow lab, and the elephant that even raises his trunk. I’ve got my eye on the gorgeous, colorful peacock. These puppets are such a wonderful addition to story time, and the finger puppets are great for go-bags (and keeping littles quiet at church or restaurants). I think they should make my family product testers and send us all the new 2015 puppets, don’t you?
7) Marble Run – If you ask me, marble runs are one of the smartest toys out there. Figuring out how to build a functional run takes foresight, imagination, and a whole lot of trouble shooting. There is a fair amount of frustration involved in the mechanics of setting this thing up, but when my boys create a successful run with drops, slides, and spins, they beam with pride.
8) Jack Prelutsky Poetry – I know, I know, here she goes again with the poetry stuff. But trust me, poetry IS for boys, especially when Jack Prelutsky has entered the building! He’s wacky and witty and a little bit gross — another one who totally knows how to speak boy. We’re currently diggin’ on A Pizza the Size of the Sun.
9) Crystal Connectors– These translucent discs have eight different notches that interlock to build cool structures. You get LOTS in the kit, which equates to more building fun and less fighting. These things are awesome on a light panel, and they come in “giant size” too.
10) Water Beads– This one requires a lot of adult supervision and a few disclaimers. Obviously, do NOT use this with young children or kids who feel the need to taste their sensory experiences. And do NOT use this if you can’t handle a fair amount of chaos. (A younger version of me would have lost my marbles with these things. Sorry about that pun.)
That being said, water beads are one of our absolute FAVORITE “toys.” I love them as much as my kids do. They require several hours of pre-soaking to grow from tiny hard balls to marble-sized bouncy, jiggly, gel balls — but watching them grow is part of the fun. Once they’re hydrated, they are the ultimate sensory experience –an absolute blast to handle and bounce (and bounce they will). You can store them hydrated for days in a closed container, then leave them exposed to air and they’ll shrink right back to their original size. So cool! Did I mention I love them? Like, secretly, I want to fill a bathtub with these things and tell my kids to get lost.
There you have it, folks — the picky mom’s guide to smart gifts for curious boys. And I’m sure a certain type of little girl would enjoy these items too. This girl sure does!
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