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7 toys that pass the “hand-me-down” test

by Meagan Francis on December 2, 2013

toy guide, gifts,

When Jon and I celebrated our first Christmas as parents, we felt sort of like kids again. Though Jacob was barely more than a month old at the time, we used him as a perfect excuse to linger in toy stores and toy aisles, dazzled by the selection of playthings that shook and squeaked and beeped and rolled. 

Of course, all these years later, we now see that not all of the toys we purchased for those first few Christmases stood the test of time. Some got a big reaction, only to wind up at the bottom of the toy box within a week or two, forgotten. Others – a much smaller, more select number – went on to become family favorites, passed down from brother to brother to sister and sometimes, younger cousins. 

Since we know it’s a lot more satisfying to invest in toys that kids will love for years to come, Sarah and I thought we’d share a few of the gifts we’ve given that have gone on to become long-term hits in our homes. We’d love to hear your experiences with these toys and others in the comments!

7 Toys Your Kids Will Still Love Next Christmas

Note: All Amazon links are affiliates. If you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. 

Meagan’s Picks:

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

This was supposed to be Owen’s “wow” Christmas gift the year he turned two. But when we were putting gifts under the tree late on Christmas Eve, we discovered that the keyboard we’d bought William, who was 4, was broken.  We even had a backup “wow” gift – a toy motorcycle – but when we tried to assemble it, discovered that it was missing a wheel! In desperation, we decided to give the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe to both the boys as a joint gift. Luckily they were so thrilled that they didn’t even mind sharing the car (though cramming in together was a bit of a challenge) and that red-and-yellow coupe has seen a lot of action ever since.

Little Tikes, Cozy Coupe, car

Wire Rollercoaster (like this Original Supermaze by Educo)

Jacob got a wire “rollercoaster” when he was a year old, and that toy made the journey with our family through four more kids, many moves, and several younger cousins. I just gave it away last year when we finally moved the toys out of our living room, but made sure that our most frequent small guests had outgrown it first. Now that I have another baby niece in the family, I’m eyeballing this toy again! It’s classic in all the best ways, and a big draw for both kids and adults. (Ever tried to keep your hands off a toy rollercoaster when it’s on a coffee table in front of you?) 

Wire Roller Coaster, Supermaze

LEGO

Some toys make a big splash coming out of the wrapping paper, but soon fade into “meh” status, while others are received more cooly but go on to become lasting play staples. LEGO is one of the select few playthings that can do both. There are at least one or two LEGO sets under the tree almost every year, and a decade and a half worth of collected pieces mingle together on the wooden building table that used to house our Thomas train set (which, inexplicably, none of our kids ever cared much about!) When Owen and Will are having a screen-free day, the LEGO is almost always the first toy they turn to, and often their older brothers and little sister get in on the action, too. This year I’m eyeballing a LEGO Minecraft set, to bring together two of their deepest loves.

LEGO Minecraft

Stuffed Animals

It’s time I apologized to all the stuffed animals I maligned when my older boys were little. I believe I may even, at one point, have referred to them as “the world’s most useless gift.” It’s true that we were bestowed with an over-abundance of plush pets when Jacob and Isaac were still infants – and at the time, we had very little space to store them – but my younger three have given me a new view of stuffed animals. Owen and William had just a few plush favorites each, but Clara is an absolute stuffed animal aficionado. She talks to them, snuggles them, sleeps with them, and incorporates them into all of her imaginary play. Tops on Clara’s Christmas list? A stuffed family of flying squirrels. I’ve got this plush flying squirrel puppet in my online shopping cart.

Flying Squirrel

Sarah’s Picks:

Fisher Price Little People Animal Sounds Barn

I love the Little People line for older babies and young toddlers. We just got our barn out from storage for my 10-month-old, and both older kids (ages 3 and 5) wanted to play with it right away! We also love the Lil’ Movers School Bus.

Little People Barn

Magna-Tiles

I’ve never met a kid or adult who wasn’t drawn to Magna-Tiles. They are fairly expensive, and it helps to have a large set, so it’s a gift that you can build on year after year.

Magnatiles

 

Play Silks / Play Scarves

I’m a sucker for multi-use, gender-neutral, creative-play toys. These play silks are going on their third year and get used daily as dress-up wear, baby doll blankets, superhero capes, fort walls, and more. This particular brand makes them larger and sturdier than others I’ve seen – they’ve held up in the washing machine and through years of loving play.

Magic Cabin Play Silks

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

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Victoria December 2, 2013 at 8:54 am

My children loved their wooden train set when they were little, and with each child the set just got a bit bigger each Christmas. Another good one were zoob toys. Zoob toys are not as well known as I think they should be. I found them at Children museum gift shops although I see they now sell them on Amazon. My son’s built robots and guns with them, and my daughter made animals and stick people.

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Christian toto December 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

My son, a portrait of the Terrible Twos, becomes a different child when he plays with LEGO blocks. He’s calm and focused, and he creates beautiful structures with those timeless blocks. As a parent I’m distressed by the LEGO sets featuring tiny pieces that only go a certain way to create The Hulk or some other pre-ordained figure. The best LEGO sets spark the imagination in a much more complete way.

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Meagan Francis December 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Christian, we have a mix of the two kinds of sets – we have a big basic set that is very open-ended and can be used in endless ways, but often we will get the kids a smaller character-specific set for Christmas because they really get the kids excited. Even though they are only supposed to be used a certain way, the kids have gotten really creative in making mashups of different Lego sets and figures!

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Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) December 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Wooden unit blocks (pricey, but last for years and well worth the investment!) and Tonka dump trucks.

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Erin December 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Our balance bike probably got the single most use for my two kids (a boy and a girl with VERY different personalities). MagnaTiles, too. At age seven my daughter still uses them, and we’ve had them for seven years!

How about classic toys that you WISH your kids had gotten into, but they just never did? For me it’s wooden trains and Playmobil. (Which segues to: You can lead a horse to water, but not make him drink! No toy is a sure-fire hit for every kid.)

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Meagan Francis December 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Erin, we had SO MANY train pieces and the table, and my kids just never cared for it. I don’t know why! The irony is that if we went someplace else that had a train table, like the bookstore, they’d play with the trains the whole time, but then they completely ignored them at home :) I love Playmobil, but it’s only been a hit with a couple of my kids.

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Hillary December 2, 2013 at 6:14 pm

If you do go for the LEGO set, buy from the real LEGO site, not Amazon. Prices are twice that of LEGO.

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Meagan Francis December 2, 2013 at 6:28 pm

That’s good to know, Hillary! I usually direct people to Amazon because so many use it and the prices tend to be low, but I’ll definitely check the LEGO site this year.

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Jewlz December 3, 2013 at 1:28 am

I’ve had the opposite. lol I’ve found the best prices at either Amazon or Target. Lego, for us, was by far the highest. But then again, we’re shopping on a ‘sale’ weekend. Not sure how they would compare during the regular shopping season!

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erica @ expatria, baby December 2, 2013 at 10:54 pm

I second your endorsement of magna-tiles (we have something similar – magformers). In fact, they were a joint gift from my auntie to my daughter AND me. I’m not sure who loves them more!
Other great long-loved gifts have included a wooden kitchen which I scored at a garage sale for super cheep. A year out, that thing gets played with every single day. And, strangely, a suitcase, which is perhaps particular to my expat kid who spends more time on airplanes than the average. She plays airport-airport daily, and a suitcase is totally necessary!

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Jewlz December 3, 2013 at 1:30 am

Lego’s, dress up play clothes (leftovers from Halloween), play tunnels, Play-doh… all of those have been staples for us. Our coupe was pretty much ignored as well as our rollercoaster! :(

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Kat December 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I totally agree with this list! My girls are 10 and 7 and we still have all of our silkies and they just keep finding new uses for them. They sort of like Legos, but much prefer Magna tiles. One of my kids is way more spatial than the other so it wasn’t until she started playing with them that I saw how great they were. And while they don’t play with it anymore, the wire rollercoaster (we have something similar) is practically art so I keep it out for when little ones visit us.

I would also add–and this was a shock to me–Polly Pockets. My girls adore them and never get tired of them. They’re very portable, non-annoying, and they lose themselves in them for hours, sometimes because that’s what it takes to change all the outfits!

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Lorri December 7, 2013 at 9:17 pm

With regards to presents, keep clear of just presenting them money.
Delivering money pretty much sends out the feeling,
“I could hardly be irritated to think much about you, here you are, that’s effectively all you really are worth to me.”

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