Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the best presents ever

One of the best presents that we've ever bought our children, were the solid wooden blocks from Community Playthings. While they were a bit on the pricey side, these blocks are used by our children every single day and I fully expect will be passed down to our grandchildren.

(Community Plaything Blocks = Money Well Spent.)


As Charlie and I embark on our Christmas shopping adventure, I wonder, what are some of the gifts that you've bought for children that you would highly recommend? More specifically, what are gifts that are used frequently and are durable enough to withstand the test of time?

It always makes me feel better to know that I'm spending money on "real toys" that we'll still be using a year from now and not junked in the trash in less than a week.

(I'm looking at you, Breyer Stablebates Red Stable Set.)

It would have only been slightly more efficient to flush my $21.99 right down the toilet.


  1. I love Community Playthings! I am a toddler teacher. The childcare center that I work at is filled with many of their products, from furniture to toys. One thing that instantly came to mind (that isn't made by Community Playthings) are Magna Tiles. These magnetic tiles are awesome! We actually had to put ours away for a little bit so our other toys could get some use too.

  2. My grandchildren have something similar, but they are called planks, I think. They are all the same size and shape - plank like if you know what I mean. The kids are 13, 9, and 6 and can really get quite creative with them. There are so many neat things to build.

  3. Magna Tiles have been the best gift ever.

  4. Hardcover classic picture books such as Frog and Toad, Curious George etc. have been great, as well as Lego, Playmobil, and art supplies.

  5. My 6-yr-old just opened an early Christmas present (long story) and it was great! Jenga blocks. Do you know them? I didn't. You build a tower with them, and then take a block from below and place it on top (using only one hand). It gets harder and harder to do without causing the whole thing to topple. We had a blast playing it tonight. It says 6 and up, and I'd agree that 5 and under might be frustrated with it. My daughter loves it though, and it's one I will enjoy too. I can see us getting a lot of enjoyment from it, dragging it out to play when we have people over, etc.


  6. Definitely get a few big sets of Magnatiles! We have the colored translucent ones, they get played with every single day!! Kids who come over gravitate to them, too! Even adults like them! Other than that, we're going to try the Twig blocks this Christmas!

  7. My parents have a wooden block set similar to yours that all my siblings and I played with growing up and now ALL the grandkids play with them everytime they are at their house...Legos are a great building toy that withstand...the kids can build and build and build...that and lincoln logs, and tinker toys...good luck shopping!

  8. I've been following you for awhile now and never commented. We recently had a drama filled move, and while we only moved locally, we changed schools and left lots of playmates behind. We are now facing reading challenges and testing/diagnosis with our first grader...but the thing that brought me out of my lurking was that comment about the Red Breyer Stable. OMG - that is the biggest piece of trash ever produced. In fact, this year I bought the Melissa & Doug wooden barn to replace it (even though it is recommended for ages 3+ and I have a 7 year old). Hope it goes over well. There is still a love of horses, but things get dicey when the walls of the barn keep collapsing - even after attempts at glue. And we second your thoughts on wooden blocks.

  9. Oh the stablemates barn, that thing was a heap of JUNK!!! Literally useless, I think I got ours on sale for 17.99 so I flushed slightly less down the can... Have you considered one of the wooden breyer stables (very nice) I am hoping that this one withstands the test of time as it is 150.00 and that would totally clog the toiet during the flush :-)

    Ann L.

  10. This is a great and timely questiion! My three children children will just finish with Christmas and then they all have birthdays about 6 wks later. I am looking forward to the responses!

    I vote for Mag Formers. They are a spin on plain ol' building blocks, but my children have been creating things like rocket ships and carnival rides. Mag Formers are sturdy, and they allow their building to be more elaborate. The downside is that you have to purchase a big set and then i purchased two smaller packs so there is enough to go around.

    I also vote for plasma cars depending on what your driveway is like. Every day after school my children ride these cars all around our driveway, garage, and walkway. They are very durable and I dont find them to be tippy or dangerous. We got our money's worth out of these, but again, it totally depends on if your driveway is flat and big.

    Lastly, I vote for the Leapfrog Tag. I only have one for my three children, and they fight over it. I think it's been a nice addition to our household to give each one some downtime, especially when I dont have a minute to read to that particular child at that moment. Our wand stays in my daughter's room on her dresser. The wand would be easy to lose, so I have to be strict about it getting put back.

    I also cannot believe how much my children have used those cardboard brick blocks. Again, its just a building toy, but those blocks get incorporated into their play all the time. The children always have figurines on them, they line them up and jump over them, make obstacle courses out of them, and the boys crash cars into them.

    Happy Shopping!

  11. Someone just bought my kids this set of Blocks and Marbles by Tedco. The goal is to design a path for the marble to follow (almost in the same vein as the game Mousetrap but you can redesign it in so many different ways). I thought my 4 year old might not be quite ready for it but he was ALL OVER IT in minutes. Both my 4 year old and my 7 year old have just loved this set. It even comes with a large canvas bag to keep all the pieces in which is really handy. Here's the link: http://tedcotoys.com/dyn_prod.php?p=20400&k=2157

  12. Well I don't know how you feel about fisher price but when our son was about six(he's 19 now) we bought him the Fisher Price Pirate ship and accessories. He loved it so much we bought him the Fisher Price castle for his birthday in July. Both of those toys are still in our basement and we pull them out for our little visitors. He played with them more than most of his toys for a couple of years.

    A doll house is always a good idea for girls too.

  13. I'm not sure why Community Playthings' blocks are so expensive? We purchased ours through Amazon I believe. They are Melissa and Doug's brand and are solid wood. We purchased the standard blocks plus the architectural variety as well and our kids' ability to build w/ imagination has really blossomed over the past year. Have thought about buying more.

    I'm not a fan of toys that require batteries, especially the "teaching" types (Leap Frog, etc) because I feel like they just are supposed to replace an adult who can easily teach the same thing (I don't mind noisy play but I really dislike noisy toys).

    The ones that have stood the test of time are the blocks, tinker toys, leggos, and Lincoln Logs, books puzzles, and art supplies. I'm a big fan of Melissa and Doug puzzles and purchased four of their floor puzzles this Christmas.

    I do buy some toys that have no educational value whatsoever, but are just fun because afterall, they are kids! (This year it was a $50 Fur Real Cat and a $60 Stinky the Garbage Truck which got great reviews). The Zoomo is fun! Ellen Degeneres had a kid who was demonstrating toys, one of which was the vectron wave, which looked like a ton of fun!

    Our twins just turned five and the thing they are into is games, games, games! Try Feed the Kitty (cute dice game) and What Did I Step In? I want to make board games our family "thing" because as they grow, it's something we can always do together. So I'm stocking up on all the classics. BTW, Toys R Us is having a huge sale on them as we speak! Like $2.99 after rebate. I love this topic, as you can tell.

  14. I'll add this to my already lengthy post...it's not very original but for pennies you we've gotten hours worth of entertainment with playdoh and nearly every playset they make. I hope it paves the way for future art endeavors (like pottery) for at least one of my kids. Sure it can be a little messy but so worth it. Now moonsand, that's a different story (stuff should be outlawed for the mess!) -Karen

  15. that is so funny! I had a similar breyer set for the girl (grandma gift). hardly touched! I still have it tho.

    legos and playmobil are pretty much the thing here.

    and books.

    I'm not much help!

  16. We love Automoblox!


  17. legos, legos, legos, legos.
    Also slightly less sturdy (ends occasionally snap, but the company has a full replacement policy) but one of my favorites because I'm a math geek, is Zome. Have you seen it?
    It's a building set that uses a lot of real geometry.
    For Henry's age, my kids have loved the Trio building blocks. And also the Kid K'nex... those got used nearly daily for a couple of years when I had 3 year olds.

  18. My son is younger than your kids so all of our favorites are probably too young, but did you see the list the Laundry for Six put together? It was great, I am keeping a lot of them in mind for as my son gets older.

  19. Magna Tiles? I have never heard of those... But since so many people recommended them, I'll definitely go see what I can find. Oh, how I love the Internet!!

  20. Legos - my boys can't get enough of them! Plus, so many different themed sets, something for everyone. Duplos for Henry would be a good introduction (we just gave a bucket to my 3yo son - he a few days younger than Henry).

    Ryan's Room doll house (if your girls are into dolls). My 6yo niece has one & plays with it all the time. Great thing is you can start w/ a basic house & add on if they really like it (lower level, garage, patio, etc).

    Have you hear of Nova Naturals? LOVE LOVE LOVE their stuff! It's a bit pricy, but I know we will hang onto these toys for grandkids. My 5yo has been asking for the castle & I can't wait until my daughter is old enough for one of their kitchens!

    I also second games! We do a family game night every week & the kids love it (can't lie, so do I!!) Pictureka is one of our favorites - we play in a way that even our 3yo can participate & we don't play to win, just for fun!

    Good luck!

  21. Hi there. Our son will be 7 months old and this will be his first Christmas....so I don't have any advice to share with you.

    BUT, when I was a kid (eons ago), two of my very favorite gifts were a pair of wooden stilts and a pogo stick. Those things were used for years...and years...and years.

    --Laura in Indiana

  22. As a teacher and as a mom to four, one of our favourite toys has been Discovery Toys Marbleworks. It does get put away now, but when we have company, out it comes and the kids, all four, play with it and we leave it out for a few weeks every time. I had it in my Gr. 1 and 2 classroom and both boys and girls loved it.

    Lego, Duplo, wooden train tracks (Thomas), babies (with cribs, bottles, clothes, etc), Barbies, and Match Box cars are always staples at our house--the toys we'll keep and our grandkids will probably play with eventually!

  23. Magna Tiles are in my kids' play area at preschool and all of the kids seem to love them!
    Did you find sleds yet? You might want to try these out from LLBean:
    The tube and saucer type sleds go too fast and are tough for little ones to control or stop.

    I hope your back is feeling better!

  24. Okay...so we have the same set of community playthings blocks that you have. We have built many structures similar to the ones in your pictures. Is it just me, or don't you just cringe when something like that crashes down on your hardwood floors?

    How are your floors holding up?

    We just moved to a new house and my husband is wondering if we should confine block activities to a room with carpet. I thought I'd ask someone with some experience :)

  25. Michelle M in TX12/15/10, 1:59 PM

    I like Rush Hour by ThinkFun. It's a thinking game and fun for parents and kids (even my 4 yr old likes it and can do a few of the easiest cards). It's a puzzle game w/cute little cars.


  26. Schleich plastic animals!

    When my daughter was into Bambi, I got her a bunch of deer and other woodland animals. When she got into Lion King, I bought her some lions and other savannah animals (including a warthog and a meerkat). All the kids play with them so imaginatively all the time, and they're sturdy and stand up well. They go very well with other playthings too, from blocks to Barbies!

  27. We have Magformers. They are similar to Magna Tiles but the center is hollow. My girl likes to build doll houses and use it with her dolls. We love them, they are super sturdy and they keep even adults entertained. They have stood to my wild 2 year old as well, and he finds them super fun too.

  28. I teach preschool and I was going to recommend Magnatiles as well. They are pricey, but fantastic. Young 3s can use them, but even 10 year olds will enjoy building with them. Start with the 100 piece set, but you'll probably want a second set (unless your kids are willing to build together all the time).

  29. I was going to say Magnatiles too!

  30. Brio wood train set. My parents bought one for my brother when we were young children. He played with it for years! I enjoyed playing to so I imagine your girls and boys would happily together with it. It's fun because you can build different track designs. Plus you can gradually add on to it everyone in a while. It's very durable too. They are also paired with Thomas the Tank Engine. The Thomas videos are great and often time have an ending with a moral to learn from.



    My mom still has the big box of it in the attic. I imagine it will reappear when one of us has the first grandkid.

  31. I just read the comment from the person who suggested plasma cars. OMG they are so fun! A family I babysat for had them. It will be hard for your husband and you not to want to try.

  32. Marble works! again a little pricier but long lasting.

  33. Magnatiles (magformers are similar)
    Marble Run ( a nice wooden set)
    Games -- I spy Eagle Eye, Uno, Card games
    Puzzles -- world map puzzle, US map puzzle etc..

  34. Marble runs (i.e., marble works) have been a big hit at our house. Now that my kids are 5, we've switched to more intricate ones. The latest is one in which they have to build the run themselves..takes some planning but they are so excited when they come up w/ a good run. Just my opinion but the marble works is better for the 3-4 and under kids. There are lots of marble runs with all different levels of complexity. We found ours at hearthsong.com.

  35. I've never commented before but this I had to jump in on!

    Discovery Toys Marbleworks are definitely a must-have. Anything by DT is sturdy, backed by a great warranty (we've never had an issue getting replacements, even on toys that were played with hard by multiple children over 5+ years).

    I HIGHLY recommend sticky mosaic crafts by Orb Factory. These will keep all the kids happy for hours and hours with very little mess. My kids (ages 3 - 9) will sit for hours.

    Fisher Price Imaginext sets - we have the castle and the pirate ship. They get played with nearly every day also (by the girls and the boys).

    I'm not a fan of electronic/talking toys but our LeapFrog talking globe is another toy that gets played with constantly.

    Happy shopping!

  36. My son's been wanting a set like he plays with at daycare-I think this may be it! Thanks!

  37. A second recommendation for the sticky mosaic crafts by Orb Factory. My daughter had done the two jewelery boxes and the fairies. She loves them.

    I got the magna tiles for my kids for xmas this year after good reviews on another sight. So glad to see more good review here. Can't wait for them to open it!

  38. I will echo some others: I teach preschoolers one morning a week-the cardboard bldg. blocks are a big hit and the wooden train tricks,I know my kids had Brio. Marbleworks another good one. I just bought a couple of the balls they sit on and bounce with. My kids are all young adults so haven't heard of a couple of things mentioned.

  39. If your looking for games, Zingo is a great one. We've had it for a year and the kids still love it.

  40. ooh, I third the magformers suggestion. I guess magnatiles are similar.. we never looked at that set. Expensive but they hold up really well and are so irrestistibly tactile. The larger sets have hexagons and/or pentagons as well as the squares and triangles.

  41. I see some recommend the cardboard blocks. I want to point out, these things take up SPACE. I actually sold mine after having them just a few months, because I was tired of them consuming my carpet. Fine if you have a big space though!

  42. I'm late to this, but will suggest Tegu blocks. Similar to Magna tiles, but smooth wooden blocks with magnets imbedded. When you purchase, money goes to help educate children of Honduras. www.tegu.com

  43. I got my son a Tonka remote control car. It was $35 at Target and I was afraid it was going to be a piece of junk. But I was wrong. He is very hard on that toy and it just keeps giving. It's easy to use front and back controls only and very durable. The only bad thing is that it takes 9 batteries. I invested in rechargeable batteries once that came home.