Top 10 toys for preschool children

I recently read a great article in the NY Times about encouraging the Art of Play for kids. In comparison to our own childhoods, or those of our parents or grandparents, kids these days have MUCH more stuff littering the floors of their bedrooms or playrooms but generally don’t seem to play any more. (Raising non-materialistic children is another good read which I came across on one of my favourite local websites for parents – Child Mag.) These articles prompted me to think about what are the top 10 toys for preschool children – ones that are affordable, last longest and encourage imaginative play.

I have made a decision recently to avoid cheap plastic stuff from China as well as rather choose battery-free toys to avoid the cost of replacing batteries and limit the excess noise in my home! We have a few battery operated favourites which we will keep around such as a music center but generally I am loving simple toys such as those made from wood as they are the best quality and last for ages as well as being kinder to the environment in general.

With that in mind here is a list of my recommended toys for kids. (This list mainly centers on ideas for pre-school kids (age 1 – 6) as this is the age group my 2 kids fall into)

1. A doll’s house with little people – a family or various small figures to “pretend” play. A few animals are also great in order to build a farm or zoo! Open ended toys that allow some imaginative play. Often kids need a little bit of a kick start in setting up the scene but after a few minutes of play I find I can leave them to it. Duplo, Fisher Price Little People, Playmobil or WOW all make great people figures. Another option are the lovely wooden dolls houses that come with furniture and wooden people such as Eichhorn or KidCraft.

2. Toy cars and vehicles such as “dinky” cars. If you have a train mad boy a train set is also a classic. WOW toys make a wonderful range of friction powered vehicles and have options for both boys and girls. We have recently started a small collection of these lovely toys and they have been a big hit. We can’t wait to add a few more…

3. A play kitchen, cooking utensils and pretend food can lead to many games including tea parties, a restaurant or shop as well as making “supper”. We have these items in plastic but there are great wooden versions from Melissa and Doug as well as online tutorials on how to make felt food if you are feeling creative!

4. Dress up clothes, hats and accessories. As they get older you can add jewellery and high heels. We try to avoid weapons but with little boys most sticks turn to some sort of gun or sword! We currently have a small collection of hats (fireman, builder, pirate etc) but this is definitely something that is always popular so we could use a few more outfits. I’m sure as my daughter gets bigger there will be requests for princess, fairy and bridal outfits…. I am planning to ask our grannies, aunties and great gran too if any of them have bags or outfits which lend themselves to dress up clothes!

5. A variety of musical instruments to encourage the muso in your midst! These should include a drum, triangle, tamborine, xylophone, cymbals, and a few homemade shakers too….

6. Wooden blocks – colourful basic blocks are a must for the very young but even older children will have hours of imaginative play with them. Some come in a little push trolley which is also really useful for toddlers learning to to toddle!

7. Art supplies – crayons, paints, scissors, koki pens, pencils, stamps and an ink pad, lots of paper and card. Keep an area aside for kids to get creative and try to ignore the mess (especially the little paper snippets) Cutting with scissors is one of the best fine motor skills a child can do as it uses all the correct muscles need to write. One of my sons favourite activities is painting but I limit this to occasional as he does get to participate at school and I find it quite stressful…. I try to encourage him to paint on large sheets so we can reuse these for wrapping paper. Art supplies of all sorts are great gifts as they always need replenishing and crafts are especially useful in winter to while away rainy days.

8. Construction toys such as Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks, Meccano, Zoob – the list goes on. Try to find one or two which your child enjoys and build a collection over time.

9. Dolls – a rag doll or baby doll in a pram is always a hit with a little girl of any age but I have tried to have one on hand even when I only had a boy Not that he paid it any attention!! Soft toys were more his thing. Speaking of which a few to have a tea party with is probably enough – we need to do a serious purge in this department.

10. Age appropriate puzzles and games such as Snakes and Ladders, Dominos, Playdough and cutters, Uno, Zingo, Hi Ho Cherry O, Snap – there are literally hundreds of options and kids often master one quite quickly. These always make good gifts. If you have friends or family with kids of similar ages why not see if they would be open to swopping these resources occasionally to save some money!

Other essentials which I have not included on this list of mostly indoor toys are a variety of outdoor toys such as balls, bats, sandpit and water play toys, a swing, a tent (or playhouse), trampoline and/or jungle gym (if space and budget allows!) Also a push bike and bicycle as they get older are essentials. We recently bought a second hand bike for our son as he had outgrown his first little bike and his birthday is only in October. In 2 days we have more than recovered our spent cash as he has literally spent all his time on it. (Remember a helmet too!)

And of course what can a list of toys for kids be with the biggest, best gift of all – an enjoyment of BOOKS. I am of the opinion that you can never have enough books so they are my favourite gift to give to kids of all ages…My best spot for kids books at reasonable prices is Readers Warehouse in Tokai.

A huge array of toys is not necessary to keep kids entertained, really if you leave kids to their own devices they are usually happy to play with whatever is on offer (you might just have to ignore the whining to watch a dvd or tv for a short while in order for them to feel bored enough to discover something new to do….) Child Mag recently covered this topic with a similar story – read it here.

Here is a checklist from the article above which helps you to choose toys which have enhanced play value:

Toys have enhanced play value when they:
* Can be used in many ways.
* Allow children to be in charge of the play.
* Appeal to children at more than one age or level of development.
* Are not linked to video games, TV or movies.
* Can be used with other toys for new and more complex play.
* Will stand the test of time and continue to be part of play as children develop new interests and skills.
* Promote respectful, non-stereotyped, non-violent interactions among children.
* Help children develop skills important for further learning and a sense of mastery.

For further reading visit the Truce Teachers website – they have brilliant downloadable action guides.

I love spending time in toy shops but am always partial to the smaller more intimate, owner run shops where you can get exceptional input and advice from well trained staff. These stores also tend to stock the type of toys I have mentioned above. Some of my personal favourites include Hi Ho Cherry O in Meadowridge, Nucleus Toys in Westlake, Kidz-A-Peal in Plumstead, Timeless Toys in Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof and Claremont and Kiddiewinks for Lego and Duplo in Rondebosch.

Some of the bigger toy shops which I do visit occasionally are Toy Kingdom in Canal Walk and V&A Waterfront, Reggies in Cavendish Square, Toys R Us in Tokai.

Instead of buying all these toys another alternative is to rather join a toy library where for a monthly fee you have access to a variety of good quality toys each week.

If you have any other suggestions please leave a comment!

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. Totally agree with this list. You can have a wonderful space and program with just these materials. Sometimes we get so tied up in having tons of stuff. It can actually become overwhelming for children.
    The only area I have really downsized is the dress-up. I am very careful here, as another ECE program in my area had a problem with head lice that was traced to the dress-up clothing.

  2. What a great list! As a preschool teacher this is basically how I fill my classroom. Parents can help their children learn to play by providing simple toys.

  3. I have been browsing on-line more than three hours today, yet I never found any fascinating article like yours. It’s lovely value sufficient for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will probably be much more helpful than ever before.

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