I'm looking at new toys for our holiday issues. On Friday I had about three dozen kids helping me and in the next few weeks I'll have dozens more. It gets me thinking about the (many) toys I've bought my own kids, and what they love and what gets ignored. A few truths I've learned:
Classics stick around for a reason. A pair of roller skates was a huge hit on Friday, and a train set. Almost no child will turn down a toy car. And maybe the most successful birthday party favor I ever gave out was the year we gave each little guest a playground ball, which many of them still had years later. When in doubt about what to buy, go back to basics.
Toys that kids can play together are awesome. That's why every preschool has a play kitchen. We tried out a toy vet center that got a lot of love, in part because the 2- and 3-year-olds could swarm it together. Many kids also cooperated with Lego kits. And there is always Barbie...many times my daughter would disappear into her room with a friend and a crowd of Barbies and only resurface hours later for a snack.
Crafting and building kits are tricky. They are all the rage, because anything that requires building calls itself STEM-worthy. But every year I have only a few kids who are focused enough to get through a building kit, and the rest start and then abandon such toys. If you're buying a present for someone else's kid, I would say avoid toys that require construction unless you know the kid is really into it. Same with puzzles.
Remote-control toys get a big wow but can die out fast. We'll have several on our list because kids love them. But why must so many batteries quit on day one? And I've noticed that these aren't the toys kids reach for when bored. The RCs come out to impress playdates. But maybe that's enough.
If your kid has a favorite character, anything with that face will be a winner. But toy companies know it, so for every legit great Frozen-themed toy there are some that are just cheap. Out of toy-testing I realize I need some great Paw Patrol toys this year...the little testers wanted anything with those pups on it!
But step away from the plush aisle. My kids are crazy in love with their stuffed animals but like most kids, they have too many. While there will surely be some talking plush among our year's best toys, for the most part, kids don't need more soft friends.
My final advice if you are out shopping for toys: Don't overthink it. Does it look like something you enjoyed as a kid, or would enjoy now? Then it will probably be a safe bet. My little toy-testers are invaluable, but I also get a kick out of watching what the staff plays with. Fun is fun, no matter what your age.
Jessica Hartshorn, as the Entertainment Editor for Parents magazine and a mother of two, is surrounded by toys both at work and at home. Literally surrounded.