As a follow-up post to our playroom, I thought I'd highlight some of our favorite toys (beyond our sensory play items, which you can read about here). I try to find toys that encourage open-ended play, that apply to a wide age-range, and if possible, are socially and/or eco-conscious. It really bothers me when toy companies limit children, particularly young children, by gender. So I do attempt to avoid companies that do that (it doesn't always happen, but I try!). At our house toys are for children - there are no such things as "boy" toys or "girl" toys.
I realize that not all of our favorite toys are budget-friendly - but those that aren't are expensive because of their incredible heirloom-toy quality. They make great wishlist items! Oh, and one last note - I wasn't compensated for any of these reviews (though that would have been awesome, right?). These are just toys and companies that we really enjoy.
These blocks are beautiful, so fun, safe for all ages, and socially and eco-conscious. What more could you want, right? :) S is very into building and magnets, but magnets make me SO nervous with a little guy around. Tegu blocks are the perfect solution. All the magnets are encased inside the wooden blocks! X loves "building" with big sister, and it's a great way to introduce him to the idea of magnets. I know once he's a bit older and beginning to start building, it will be so helpful that these blocks "stick" together, as falling towers were so frustrating to S when she was a young toddler. Tegu recently started an online builder's gallery that is open to anyone and we've gotten so many lovely ideas from it. Tegu sustainably forests all of the wood used for the blocks; they also focus on getting Honduran kids out of the trash dumps (where they work alongside their parents to earn money) and into the classroom. For every toy you buy, a portion of Tegu's proceeds are directed towards either planting 12 trees or funding a day of school for a Honduran child. Their factory is also located in the Honduras, so your purchase is additionally providing jobs for Honduran people. You can find Tegu Blocks here.
Exploring magnetism with all sort of different metal objects - like an upside down muffin tin. S built this little city all by herself!
Here she's using the blocks to tell a story! Her fingers were people traveling over all sorts of different obstacles - a tall building, a hill, a slide, a bridge, etc. The design, again, is all hers.
It's a terrible photo, but this is what happens when you try to take a picture of two children playing before the sun comes up! X loves that he can play alongside sis while she's building with her Tegu blocks.
HABA Swinging Ship
This is seriously the coolest thing ever. We love our ship. It's incredibly well constructed and more fun than I'd even anticipated. We use it at least daily, if not several times a day. It can hold up to 170 pounds - and we've had four small kids in there at once. It's a great combination of gross motor, sensory, and imaginative play. S loves to pretend to be a pirate or a variety of animals setting sail. X is just recently getting old enough to enjoy it as well and I can't wait for all the adventures they'll have in it. HABA is a German toy company with a stellar reputation for making safe, non-toxic, heirloom quality baby and child toys. You can find the HABA Swinging Ship here.
X would probably never forgive me if I didn't mention his favorite drum! Remo drums are so durable! S has had this drum since she was a baby. It makes a fabulous sound and comes with drumsticks (not pictured) that you can use if you don't want to tap out the beat with your hands. In addition to making music, S has used it to create houses and playscenes for her plastic "guys", so it's very versatile. ;) You can find various sizes of Remo Kids Drums here.
Plastic Figurines AKA "Guys"
We just can't get enough of our plastic animal figurines! I've added to S's collection over time and now we've got all sorts of habitats (and time periods!) represented. These are so much fun for inspiring imaginative play. They are plastic, too, so they can join in a bath or hop in a sensory bin without being damaged. We use these guys EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. S has a stash in the Art Room for using in her sensory table, a stash downstairs, and a smaller stash upstairs. I found tons of these at garage sales and consignment stores - they sometimes sell packs at the Dollar Store or other party supply stores - so they don't have to be expensive. If you do have the money, Safari Ltd makes really nice versions of the plastic miniature in their Toob line (with the added bonus that they are already pre-sorted into logical groups).
Here's S at 20 months old playing with her very first miniature plastic guys. I think she's played with some every day since!
In addition to the miniatures, we have a few larger models as well. I found the two giant dinosaurs for 50 cents each at a garage sale; the butterfly and the crab are Safari Ltd figurines. S enjoys playing with both the large and small "guys" in different situations, but if you are on a tight budget and/or have a small house, go for the miniatures! You can find Safari Ltd figurines, both miniature and larger here.
We just love Playmobil sets! Right now we only have one Playmobil house that I found at a garage sale because I generally prefer to have S construct the houses/scenes for her miniature play out of blocks or Legos. Playmobil can get costly, but again, they are very high quality and have great lasting power. I know several 8-9 year olds who still play with their Playmobil sets! Additionally, I've found that if you aren't buying the buildings, you can buy smaller sets of people and animals for less. You can find Playmobil sets here.
We don't have many stuffed animals, but of those we do have - the majority are Blablas. This is another socially conscious company - the founders were on vacation in Peru and learned within the small communities there the practice of knitting and weaving was dying out. They brought their company to Peru and each of these animals is knit by hand there. They have won several awards for their unique line of knitted dolls. We just can't get enough of them! X has a knit animal mobile that he's adored since birth, and that friendly looking guy on the left there is S's constant bedtime companion. You can find Blablas here.
Little S having a pizza party with her Blabla Dog.
Blablas are the most snuggly stuffed animals we've ever met. :)
Brilliant Builders - Straw Building Kit
These things are just so cool - and the possibilities for what to build are nearly endless. We've built a car, a bed, a house, a kitchen, some rolling balls, and a hot air balloon to name a few. These are our go-to present for preschool aged friends and our friends have had fun making things like boats and even a replica of the Eiffel Tower! For those of you with smaller houses, these are great. They don't take up much space when they are broken down, but you have the ability to construct large play structures when you're so inclined. You can buy different sized sets - the larger the set, the more flexibility you'll have with what you can construct. You can find Brilliant Builder sets here.
An old phone picture of little S driving her Dada-made car. :)
Battat Take Apart Toys
S has two of these - one here and one at her grandparents' house. We just love them. Once assembled, they are great for free play. The crane's grabber (I'm sure there's a more technical term) snaps open and closed with a spring, so many a plastic "guy" has taken a ride in there. In addition to just being a fun vehicle, the whole thing is able to be assembled and disassembled with a (provided) drill. And the drill has two directions! And several drill bits! S was so very excited to have her own drill (as you can probably glean from our playroom post, we use a lot of tools around her!). She also talks about being a mechanic quite frequently, so being able to disassemble and "repair" vehicles really appealed to her. I enjoy the problem solving involved with both the taking apart and the putting back together. The Take Apart Car is a bit more straightforward, and S can completely take that one apart and reassemble it solo. The Take Apart Crane has more pieces, so she still needs a little help in spots, but she's getting closer to completing the task herself. Such a great multi-use toy! You can find Battat Take Apart Toys here.
Ball Pit with Slide
We had a smaller version of this when S was little, but last Christmas as her big gift, we upgraded to a GIANT ball pit with a HUGE slide. I think we've played in it nearly every day since.
We made this giant pall pit using this Inflatable Pool, this Step2 Big Folding Slide, and these Phthalate-free balls.
If you have littler ones (under 3) - our previous smaller ball pit was composed of this small inflatable pool, this slide, and Phthalate-free balls.
Though X and S are very lucky to have many toys to play with, these stand out in the crowd as our favorites!
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All activities here are activities I feel are safe for my own children. As your child's parents/guardians, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your family. I always encourage contacting your child's pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities on this blog are intended to be performed with adult supervision. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful, such as scissors, or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies). Observe caution and safety at all times. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any of these activities on this blog.