Still buying Christmas gifts? These classic toys will never get old
Tried and true gifts have staying power year after year
This is not the hot toy list of 2017. This is the forever toy list, full of playthings you'll put away when the kids grow up, knowing they'll be loved again when another generation comes along.
As a bonus, you won't have to arm-wrestle some crazed mom at Walmart buying last-minute Christmas gifts.
Experts say avoiding the tech aisle is key. Instead, return to the basics.
Classic toys like Lego, wooden blocks and train sets "have been around forever and never seem to go out of fashion," says early childhood educator Brigitte Insull.
"Children are always drawn to them," Insull says. "These things are all open-ended, which means that children can use them in a multitude of ways and there's no end to their creativity."
Here's our list of classic toys that keep kids entertained long after the latest toy trend is a forgotten memory at the back of the closet.
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Old-fashioned wooden blocks, Lego, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs — these are there for the long haul and you can keep buying them year after year.
Insull likes open-ended toys that allow kids to do many things with them, and building toys fit that description perfectly.
"Children can use them in a multitude of ways and there's no end to their creativity, which is what drives what they will build with these toys," says Insull, a former daycare director who now does work for Red River College's early childhood educator department and the Manitoba Child Care Association.
If you want to go more new school, there are magnetic toys like Magformers or Clickformers; if you like natural materials, kids can do a lot with tree cookies — round slices of tree that you can buy but could also make on your own.
Marble Run or Marbleworks also provide building opportunities, or you could go with a fort-building kit like Crazy Forts, a new take on the time-honoured tradition of making forts out of kitchen chairs, couch cushions and blankets.
Balls (and other active toys)
"Balls are incredible," says Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, a school psychologist and University of Winnipeg professor. "They keep kids physically fit, and we know that kids who are engaged in sport, that expertise that develops about strategy and problem-solving, that affects them academically in school."
Skwarchuk's son loves soccer and she's fed that interest with an endless supply of soccer balls, she says — and he never tires of getting them.
Toys that help get kids outdoors in winter — such as snowshoes and building tools for snow forts — are also great, says Insull.
Figurines and dolls
Whatever captures your kid's imagination, feed it, says Skwarchuk.
Her oldest child loved Calico Critters; her young nephew likes Littlest Pet Shop and action figures.
"Those kinds of things promote a lot of pretend play, which has been associated with creativity and social problem-solving skills, and also is getting kids to practice scenarios for real life," she says.
You don't have to get an expensive play set for your kids, says Insull. One of her favourite toys for daycares is a doll or figurine play area built out of tree branches and boards.
A couple of new dolls or other figurines accompanied by building materials and a photo of a finished homemade play house could be perfect for some children.
"It's also something that draws the parent and the child together because they can build this and create it together," Insull says.
Arts and crafts supplies
Pencil crayons, crayons, markers, brushes, different types of paper, popsicle sticks, different types of tape, scissors — the possibilities are almost endless when it comes to craft supplies.
You can get a fancy art set at a specialty store or just hit up Dollarama and create your own, Insull says.
Lots of paper, lots of different colours and big containers of paint that can be sealed and used again are a few things to look for.
Long rolls of paper — you can get them for a good price at Ikea, Skwarchuk says — can provide hours of fun.
"There's so much potential for learning," Skwarchuk says about Playdoh and other play clays.
They foster fine motor skills and offer all sorts of pretend play opportunities, she says.
Play kits can be fun but look for the ones that spark the imagination.
This category encompasses a huge range of toys and lots of opportunity. It includes science kits, tools or simply a magnifying glass.
And they don't have to be from a toy store.
"I went to Canadian Tire and I bought a little tool belt," Insull says.
She outfitted it with a clamp, a flashlight and other tools for a little guy on her list.
Decks of playing cards
"Every parent should have a deck of playing cards in their purse," Skwarchuk says.
They're great for games that cross every age and promote numeracy and social skills.
A research paper was done that showed dozens of math benefits of playing cribbage alone, Skwarchuk says.
Even little ones can play basic memory or matching games with a deck of cards.
Skwarchuk advises looking for a deck with clear numbers on it and the matching number of symbols, which means avoiding the cards taken over by cartoon characters.
Puzzles come for almost every age, starting with toddler-friendly wooden or foam puzzles right up to difficult 1,000-piece puzzles.
They promote patterning, visual perception and fine motor development, Skwarchuk says — and they bring families together to work to accomplish something.
And again, keep your child's interests in mind. The dog-crazy kid will want something different from the sports fanatic, for example.
Classic games that bring families and friends together are always a great gift.
Playing board games forces kids to roll the die themselves and count out the spaces, Skwarchuk says.
Digital games often do those simple steps for children, which means they're losing out on learning opportunities.
Games also teach social skills such as taking turns and competitiveness, Skwarchuk says.
Both Skwarchuk and Insull love having instruments around for kids to play with.
"We used to pay for expensive music lessons for our children when they were babies," Skwarchuk says. "There was nothing in those classes that you couldn't do on your own."
Insull also points out that recorded music offers great benefits and an opportunity to get up and dance.
While not strictly a toy, Insull wanted to add this bonus item to the list.
Books for every age are more than a physical presence, she says, calling them "the gift of time that we spend with children."
And that could be the greatest gift you give your child this Christmas, Insull says.
"In our busy schedules, that is sort of harder to come by."