Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Hottest Gifts for Toddlers are still the “Old-Fashioned” Ones

Can you remember your first big gift? The first time you either reeeaaaallly wanted something badly, or the first time you got something so great you were just beside yourself with joy? I can’t.

I don’t mean this in a negative way at all. In fact, I actually think it’s really cool that my parents had the foresight to choose gifts for me that were not only age appropriate, but that I learned to grow into. Let’s face it, most 2 year olds can’t really articulate exactly what kind of toy they want for Christmas, let alone recall this wish for several weeks, building up anticipation. Besides my nephew of course, but he’s a genius.

I can remember 3 toys I had as a kid: a big baby doll, a Fisherprice dollhouse thingie and a push-along shoe that I could ride on. I have no idea when I got these toys, don’t remember opening them or even if they were for my birthday or for Christmas, but I do know that these are toys that I kept for a very long time, and played with for several years.

When I look back at pictures of myself as a little kid, I see these toys show up more than a few times. And since this was way (waaay) before the digital age when 250 pictures are taken for every life event, I know that these toys show up often because I played with them often, and for several years. I can’t help but wonder if these are still truly the best types of toys to keep buying children, the kind that are simply modern replicas of traditional toys. After a bit of research, I’m pretty impressed that the same genre of toy pops up again and again as not only the highest rated, but voted the most fun and educational!

The test of time.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is a pretty good attitude to have towards toy-types. It’s also good advice about not taking a toy apart just to fix it, unless you’re better at that then me (I remember ruining quite a few toys that way. Mostly my brother’s though, so whatever.)

When viewing lists of the most popular toys of 2011, I realized that the majority are similar to toys that have been enjoyed for decades. For example blocks of different sizes and shapes that fit into corresponding cut-outs, big ride-on trucks that are very reminiscent of my beloved shoe, remote-control and pull-along toys on wheels and of course, classic dolls for boys and girls. These are all versions of toys that I enjoyed in the ‘80s and my parents had in the ‘50s (except my dad would say that he had to build his own toys at the age of 3 out of an old  spare tire and a rusty spoon, before driving his brother to work, of course). There’s also a pattern of animals that kids can pretend to nurture and take care of, models of smaller-scale cars, trains, planes and homes, as well as play-sets that imitate a job or skill-set, such as a tool kit or a collection of chef and artist’s ephemera.

Imitating grown-ups
So it is interesting to note that the best toys seem to be 1. The simplest (as in the blocks) and, 2. The ones that help recreate or develop an adult-like skill set or behaviour. Toys that have withstood the test of time, that are easy for children to engage in, and help them develop the motor-skills required to develop adult-like mannerisms and skills. It almost sounds a little unnerving, that child’s play seems to deeply rooted in imitating adults, but it must be something deeply rooted in the human psyche as survival instinct, like a gazelle being born and learning to run. This is simply the human way of passing along good life skills, and that makes a darned good gift for a little one.

Wow, didn’t mean to get so philosophical here!

Jessica Lee is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time honing her online shopping skills (even if it’s just window shopping, so to speak), and considers herself to be an online-auction ninja. Most recent note-worthy online purchase? A lovely (umm, manly) pair of Timberland Pro work boots to help inspire her husband to build a front deck next summer.