Toys that have stood the test of time

I have four children, so a great volume of toys have come into my life over the years. I was hunting through some old ones when our neighbors with toddler twins visited this weekend, and it got me thinking about which ones have logged high mileage. Other than the Kindles and Xbox, here are a few that have stood the test of time in my house:

Thomas the Tank Engine trains, tracks, and play table. All of the kids went through a Thomas phrase (though my daughter slightly less; there’s only one major character that’s female. Emily “really knows her stuff” but a bit more diverse representation would have been welcome). I shudder to think how much capital has been invested in our collection of wooden toy trains but the kids have spent hours making trains, making track configurations, and lining up the whole cast of characters.

Blocks. We’ve had a wide variety of blocks, but my current favorites are Kevas, which are thin and stack well. This enables them to create cool designs (for older kids) and tall towers quickly, which is good for little kids who like to knock towers down as quickly as they can be built.

Fisher Price Little People. We have a farm, an airport, a manger scene, and the Disney Princess castle sets, with the associated characters. These are really good for small children who are just starting to do pretend play, but can’t quite cope with breakable (or small) pieces. Because they are good for pretend play, though, kids don’t age out of them quite as quickly as they do with more obviously baby-oriented toys.

Lego Duplos. I think the Duplos got more play than the big kid Legos, partly because the big kid Legos tend to be in sets that the kids put together individually (Star Wars, Lego Friends, Harry Potter, etc.) Trust me, we’ve put together a LOT of those sets. But a big bin of Duplos can work for multiple ages playing together. Big kids can put stuff together quickly just based on imagination, and there’s not the preciousness that requires them to keep them away from little kids.

Matchbox cars. We have run cars over every surface in our houses. My oldest child used to sleep with his cars when he was a preschooler (dropping his favorite taxi down the elevator shaft in our old apartment was a tragedy that it took a while to recover from). Unfortunately, a lot of the sets of tracks for toy cars are pretty flimsy. So the cars are often best combined with blocks and other building materials.

Marble runs. Not for little kids, but once my kids were past the oral phase they all loved building towers of tubes for marbles to run down.

Crocodile Creek puzzles. The puzzles are doable in an hour or so for a group of elementary school aged kids, and I have found that this brand is well constructed so the pieces don’t fall apart when you do the puzzle a second time (or twentieth time). Our favorites include the solar system, the world, and the US state map.

KidKraft wooden toy kitchen plus the Melissa and Doug food sets. All the kids have pretend-cooked on our cheery red kitchen set, and our pots and pans and slice-able fruit and pizza add a realistic element. We also bought a miniature metal shopping cart that the kids have pushed baby dolls around in as they shop for food.

Big boxes of crayons. Markers dry out. Paints are messy (so are chalk pastels). But a big box of crayons and a stack of paper can keep kids occupied for quite a while. Crayons are also portable, so trips often involve baggies of a dozen crayons and scratch paper. Indeed, I’m writing this on the train to New York and I noticed that my purse has a bunch of crayons in it already. Guess I’m ready to go!

Busytown (the game). Based on Richard Scarry’s Busytown book, this game is short (making it doable for parents) and cooperative, meaning no one screams when he/she loses. While not a toy, I’d also like to put in a plug for Scarry’s book Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which has provided hours of entertainment on trips

What toys have stood the test of time in your house?

26 thoughts on “Toys that have stood the test of time

  1. My kids are similar in age to yours and we have the same breakdown of 3 boys and 1 girl (though she is 2nd in birth order). Not surprisingly your list is very similar to mine. I am pretty sure we have the exact same play kitchen and while my husband used some pretty foul language while assembling it some 9 years ago it is still popular and has survived through HEAVY use.

    My kids are little lego fans and we have a giant pile of random bricks that get used to build original creations.

    To your list I would add Magnatiles, which all my children have loved. They are pricy, but never break or need to be replaced. And the piece-de-resistance the cardboard box–seriously, if there is one in our house (and with Amazon Prime there almost always is) all 4 want it and not one of them is interested in any of the other items listed above.

    1. Yes to magna tiles! We started collecting them when my oldest was three. She’s ten now and has three younger siblings and those suckers are still getting played with weekly. They are pricey- though I think now there are good knock-off brands- but a great ask from grandparents for birthdays/Christmas.

      We have passed on a ton of toys over the years but I think I will save our small play kitchen (my husband and I made it for my oldest and it has been played with by all four) and our magna tiles for when we have grandkids.

      1. Yes to Magnatiles! We have two large sets of them and they’re rarely ever put away. When friends come over to play everyone gravitates towards them and they can keep a group of kids busy for a long time.

  2. I have girls so I would add dolls! They each have one doll that easily gets played with daily – we have two different Melissa & Doug dolls (one for each kid) – Great because they are soft and easy to toss in the wash. We skipped buying any accessories and they just pretend other objects are ‘bottles’/etc. And definitely would add magnatiles. Magnatiles everyday.

    1. @Nikki- we definitely have dolls, and my sons have played with some of them. My 4-year-old’s special sleeping toy is a doll he calls Sweetie Face. My daughter has the standard assortment of American Girls (and Target’s Our Generation dolls) and a few Barbies.

  3. I love this list! My kids still play with Duplos, wooden blocks, Legos, magnetic stuff, and our trampoline. The trampoline keeps them busy for hours.

  4. Playmobil 1-2-3 … In theory of interest to little ones, but stayed of interest well in elementary school. And so we never moved to the ‘older’ playmobil sets.

  5. Baby dolls, an IKEA tent, puzzles, board games (current favorites are Eye Found It Disney, The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game, and Outfoxed). Also dress up clothes and accessories.

    For babies- textured/sensory balls, shaker eggs, crinkly paper.

  6. My spouse is an Adult Fan Of LEGO (AFOL) therefore there are literally tons of LEGO bricks in our house with no children to speak of. One that note, if you wish to get rid of any LEGO bricks please notify me. I know someone who will gladly take them off your hands.

  7. Yes to all of these and I’m glad my husband is not the only one who lost his temper about setting up that kitchen! I have six kids ages 4-12, and would also really recommend both an indoor bounce house (perfect for Midwest winters) and an outside trampoline. I have been pleasantly surprised at the creativity of games my kids come up with on the trampoline.

    1. This year we got a Gym One system that fits over a standard door frame. It is the best purchase we have made in ages. the kids can do all kinds of swinging and climbing inside on cold wet winter days.

  8. Our kids range in age now from 16-21, so the toys I still have are the ones that my nieces and nephews play with now, and that someday my grandchildren might play with. I kept the train tracks and what we call “blocks and marbles” – the marble runs you referenced. I also kept the regular wooden blocks and a huge Lego bin. The farm and wild animals and “castle guys” and dragons for pretend play are also keepers, plus a whole bunch of little Batmans. A few soft toys and dolls for babies who visit, and a few wooden toddler puzzles round out the collection. Oh, and plenty of board books!

    All of these toys live in a dresser in our family room, and when children come over, I just ask which drawer they want me to pull out and put on the floor.

    My kids graduated from pool noodles to nerf swords to bamboo sparring swords, which they still use, but sword play is tough on the swords so none of the early incarnations have survived to be kept. They made shields out of snow sleds and duct tape. Combine the swords, shields, and a trampoline and the result is years and years of fun times in our backyard…

    We got the trampoline from a friend of my mom’s for $30 after her kids were grown, and our cost per use is too minuscule to calculate – even after the time that 5 teenagers jumped so hard that they literally collapsed the metal frame, necessitating a new frame and a few hours of family fun assembling it.

  9. Have you seen the new series of Thomas (mum to a 2.5 year old boy so we are ALL about it at our place)? 2 new girl engines- Nia and Rebecca 🙂

    1. @Megan – I did not know about Nia and Rebecca! That might have made the series more appealing for my daughter 3-4 years ago.

  10. Homemade Play-Doh. Can teach so many things and provide hours of imaginative play for children of all ages (and adults…).

  11. Such a good list. I only have the one so have been hesitant to invest in some of the big stuff so it’s good to know what stands the test of time. Duplo, Brio and those stacking boxes are the current hits.

  12. Great list! I would echo everything on your list with the exception of 1) Crocodile Creek puzzles which are new to me! and 2) Train table. We have one and it is in pristine condition because my kids never got into it. Much to my chagrin, I would add play-doh to that list. Card games have also been big with my kids since about age 3 starting with go fish, old maid, uno.

    1. @Amy – since this is my list, I refuse to put Play-doh on it, because I hate that stuff with a fiery passion. Also the kinetic sand stuff or whatever it’s called. Perfectly designed to grind itself into one’s carpet.

  13. Laura would be so proud of me. We outsourced the assembly of the toy kitchen to our handyman and it still, 5 years later, remains possibly the best bit of outsourcing I’ve ever managed. For the record, the professional swore a lot too.

    1. @Louise – that is a good thing to outsource! We hired a handyman to make our swings outside and that was money well spent.

  14. My two daughters had a vinyl fabric house that was the size of a dining room table. They would often play inside it. After two houses ripped, they would drag the four dining room chairs to the middle of the living room and drape a queen-sized fitted sheet over the backs, creating a shelter. Apartment life precludes an outdoor house, like the one I had that later became a tool shed.

  15. Omg Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, aka the goldbug book. I’m glad you like it – I’ve had to hide it bc I can’t stand looking AGAIN for that bug!!! And somehow A and C managed to fight over it – who found it first , who really found it , etc. ha!

  16. Hah, just last night my husband said that if he never had to play Busytown again he’d be a happy guy 🙂

    Our solution for Play-doh is to 1) make them work on a tray a la Montessori classroom, which helps contain it and 2) make them take it outside, which works REALLY well now that we live in California. In fact, we have jars of play doh that have lasted 4+ years (!) so I’m impressed. I banned the kinetic sand, though – probably the worst birthday gift my kids ever got. I thought I also remembered reading it is toxic to pets if they eat it, so that’s even worse 😛

    We have Magformers (the other brand of magnetic building toys) and they have been popular from 18 months onward, and when adults come over for parties they love playing with them too 🙂 Definitely a good investment.

    I was very sad when we gave away the Kidcraft kitchen right before we moved 2 years ago. It was still getting some use but it didn’t make sense to move it as we didn’t have a playroom in the new house and the girls were 4&7. But that was 100% worth the money!

    Another thing that’s been great from about age 5 on is a set of nice-ish colored pencils on Amazon. I think I bought the 48 color set by Raffine, and it was maybe $11. But there is a HUGE variety of colors, they feel more “grown up” to little kids, and you can keep sharpening them unlike crayons. This particular set is very vibrant and nice to work with too (unlike the Crayola kids’ ones). I have a pack of white cardstock on Subscribe and Save so we always have nice white paper on hand. As a kid I was always frustrated by the low quality dingy paper in coloring books and construction paper so I try to buy my girls better stuff now that I’m kind of a paper snob 🙂

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