13 Classic Toys Upgraded for Today's Kids to Enjoy

Plastic frogs around lilypad
Photograph by Mark Mantegna
What makes a toy a classic? Sure signs: you see it in nearly every home with kids, and it's rarely put away. The following new versions of classics are destined for that same much-loved status. Each combines a proven pedigree with irresistible newness. Let's play!
enchanted_fairy/Shutterstock
enchanted_fairy/Shutterstock

Actual Barbie Dolls

Dr. Barbie in particular, because Glitter Beach Ken was cute and all, but he probably wasn’t going to be able to afford that Dreamhouse on his own.

Today's Tech Obsession: Barbie You Can Be Anything
Kids choose between two careers—pastry chef or veterinarian—and embark on these paths with a virtual Barbie character that never has to deal with the problem the IRL Barbies had, like losing a tiny shoe or needing an emergency haircut due to catastrophic tangles. Ages 6+, free.

Calico Critters/Sylvanian Families

The small, fuzzy animal families were dressed in classic (even for our era) clothes, but with the help of some at-the-toy-store purchases, we could create fancy environments for our animal compadres and use our imagination to act out what parenting baby bunny twins was like. 

Today's Tech Obsession: Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Nintendo’s app, spun off its popular franchise, allows kids to set up their own campsites with the help of adorable animal friends (and some in-app purchases, if you want to expedite the process). We miss the fuzz. Ages 4+, free.

Speak & Spell

When E.T. used a Speak & Spell to phone home in 1982, learning to spell hundreds of words with the help of this heavy, handheld, battery-powered prototablet became all the rage. We admit it: The mouse is cuter.

Today's Tech Obsession: ABCmouse.com
With more than 8,500 educational activities and games across all subjects, this program lets kids master school skills while earning Chuck E. Cheese’s– style virtual tickets for buying accessories for their avatar. Ages 2 to 8, $10/month.

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Building Bricks

Why They're a Classic: Legos and their kin endure thanks to a simple algorithm: Number of pieces you own x Age of child = Number of hours of happiness.

Current Fave: Lego Classics are open-ended throwback sets that encourage kids to build from their imaginations -- no instructions, no expectations. Ages 4 and up Starting at $16.99, shop.lego.com

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Sidewalk Chalk

Why It's a Classic: The crayon's outdoor cousin lets kids turn boring asphalt into works of art, hopscotch courts, and Matchbox freeways. Then it rains, and they get to do it again.

Current Fave: The Do Art Outdoor Chalk Art Set includes 12 sticks of vibrant chalk, two foam chalk holders, a kneeling pad (hello, parents!), and a blending brush, all in a handy case. Ages 4 and up $15, greatartstartshere.com

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Foam Balls

Why They're a Classic: Grandpa Nerf Ball allowed us to play sports indoors without getting yelled at. Today, safe, soft foam balls are everywhere, even flying from a unicorn's snout.

Current Fave: Poppers give foam balls an extra shot of fun. Squeeze the belly of the unicorn (or one of the more than 20 other beasts), and the ball bursts out with a satisfying pop! Ages 4 and up $9.99, fatbraintoys.com

Courtesy of Klutz
Courtesy of Klutz

Craft Kits

Why They're a Classic: Transforming a pile of simple materials into a wow-worthy item gives kids a real sense of accomplishment. That's something that never goes out of style.

Current Fave: The Mini Pom-pom Pets kit comes with all a kid needs (yarn, felt noses, bead eyes, and so on) to make more than 20 fuzzy friends. Wrap the yarn around a dinner fork to create pom-pom pandas, monkeys, owls, even a walrus. Ages 8 and up $19.99, klutz.com

Courtesy of Zing Toy Shop
Courtesy of Zing Toy Shop

Air-Powered Rockets

Why They're a Classic: When you're a toddler, stomping can get you a scolding. When you're older, it can send a foam rocket soaring above the treetops, which is way more fun.

Current Fave: With the X6 Zoom Rocketz, kids (and kidlike parents) get to launch a six-pack of rockets, one right after the other, up to 100 feet high. Ages 8 and up $28.99, zingtoyshop.com

Courtesy of Android
Courtesy of Android

Apps

Why They're a Classic: They're magical kid pleasers, cheap, and always at your fingertips.

Current Fave: We're hooked on Heads Up!, a hilarious game that makes our kids look up from their screens and interact with us. One player holds the mobile device against her forehead as it displays words or phrases. The others say or act out clues to get the phone holder to guess the phrase correctly. Bonus: They're all being filmed! 2 or more players. Ages 8 and up free for Android, $0.99 for iOS

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Balsa Wood Airplanes

Why They're a Classic: A step up from paper airplanes, these models are simple enough for a kid to assemble and attempt to repair after the inevitable air disaster.

Current Fave: While the Airplane Design Studio is a bit of an investment, it allows builders to create, customize, and assemble their own flying machines from more than 35 parts, including wings, tails, bodies, landing gears, and propellers. Ages 8 and up $27.99, guillow.com

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Blocks

Why They're a Classic: Often a kid's first toy, the versatile, colorful cubes that once entertained Baby become the stuff of teetering towers, then the sprawling castle of evil Lord Alphabet.

Current Fave: Classic ABC Blocks offer an extra educational aspect, presenting images and letters from 21 lands and cultures such as China (shown here), France, and Persia. Ages 3 and up $38, unclegoose.com

Courtesy of Little Kids Inc
Courtesy of Little Kids Inc

Soap Bubbles

Why They're a Classic: It takes a little bit of skill -- but not too much -- to create a delicate iridescent orb. Once kids master the art, the sky is truly the limit.

Current Fave: To make sure the mood doesn't pop, we like Fubbles No-Spill Big Bubble Bucket. The domed top keeps the solution inside should the tub go tumbling, and the three wands mean more kids can play at once. Ages 3 and up $12.99, littlekidsinc.com

Photograph by Mark Mantegna
Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Board Games

Why They're a Classic: Nothing brings a family together like ruthless competition over meaningless bragging rights -- all at the comfort of the kitchen table.

Current Fave: The frenzied action of Flingin' Frogs ensures there are lots of guffaws to go with the gamesmanship. Players flick their frogs in the air, trying to land them for points on the lily pads. 1 to 4 players. Ages 4 and up $8.99, patchproducts.com

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