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  • Toddler Gifts

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    Looking for a unique gift for children?

    As the mother of 3, I have to say that basic toys are the absolute best. In my book, a toy needs to be something that kids can make noise with, dress up with, and role-play with long after the package has been opened. Electronic toys are fun, but they’re just not the same. Toys that let kids do “grown-up” things, like cooking and housekeeping, are great. Who knew it could be so much fun to do all those things we parents do everyday?

    I also want to say that a toy is no fun if it’s broken. I’d rather have one really nice toy that will hold up than 20 cheaply built toys that will fall apart.

    Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago I bought a highchair for my girls to use with their dolls. Now, what is the first thing any girl would do with a highchair? That’s right, she’d see if her baby sister would fit into it. After a couple of tries, the $14 highchair was broken in more places than I can remember. It left the house immediately in disgrace.

    Knowing this, I spent a few more bucks and bought a more expensive wooden version of a highchair. (I also made sure the dimensions of the chair made it physically impossible for the baby sister to be put into it, but that’s just between you and me.) You know what? The chair is still with us. We’ve gone through the same story with baby doll strollers and a whole range of other toys. So spending a little more to get one solid item is, in my book, a much better bargain than buying a whole bunch of stuff that’s poorly made. It also helps reduce clutter, but that’s a topic for a different day!

    Here, in no particular order, are the toys that have been the biggest hits over the years with my own kids:

    Rocks. That’s right, my kids seem to love rocks. We’re always bringing them home from the park, from school (we even brought some back from vacation). Knowing this, I’ve found a local store that sells beautiful, polished rocks. My older girl can have smaller rocks, but we can also get palm-sized rocks that are alright for our little ones to look at. It’s not glamorous or expensive, but a really cool rock is a big hit.

    Dress ups.  As far as I’m concerned you can’t have too many dress up costumes. We keep old ballerina and skating costumes, Halloween costumes, capes, hats… you name it. One of my favorite places for finding these is at our local park district where they do regular skating performances. About once a year, they have a big sale in which any unclaimed costumes are sold really cheap. I also love  as a resource for toddler costumes. They have a great selection, and you can find the specific item you need rather than having to settle. After all, when you need to be Sleeping Beauty it’s really, really important that you not to settle for Barbie instead.

    Play food. My kids love to play in their play kitchen, and the coolest-ever toy food is the . Seriously, put away all the other play food and just get this. The food chunks are held together by Velcro. It comes with a little wooden tool for cutting, and when you cut the pieces apart it actually feels like you are cutting something. The pieces also become an interesting puzzle, making putting things away a little more fun, and knowing all the carrot parts go together helps with learning colors, counting, etc. Forget all the other play food and get this — you’ll love it.

    Music. Another great gift from the same company is the . Yes, it’s noisy, but since your kids are going to make lots of noise anyway, why not make it with toys that will last and that are real instruments. We’ve owned this set for several years. Miraculously we can still find almost all of the pieces and it still gets played with on a regular basis. No band is complete, by the way, unless you have a play guitar. You can pick one up at your local Target or Wal-Mart for about $15 (it’s pointless to spend much more, since they’ll naturally be doing Jimi Hendrix moves like banging it on things). The one I bought (on sale at Marshall’s a few years ago) is still going strong. Yes, it makes our living room sound like the lounge at some bad Holiday Inn, but the kids absolutely love it.

    You also can’t go wrong with Legos — like our current fave, the . The great thing about Legos is they are completely interchangeable, so everything goes along with everything else. Your zoo animals can go into space… no problem. And it’s also no problem if you get a duplicate set, you just have twice the number of circus animals (which is too cool, especially if you’ve lost your elephant under the couch anyway!).

    Do you have a favorite imaginative toy or gift for toddlers and preschoolers? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at liz@HealthNutMom.com. I’m always looking for great birthday and holiday presents… so I’m eager to hear what you have to recommend!