Here’s the deal, it is a bunch of hullabaloo over nothing. If you are using gender signs at Target (or elsewhere for that matter) you are buying a loser toy anyhow. Let’s all get beyond the basic idea that the best toys are pink, blue or plastic. The landfills are screaming at you fools! Families don’t need any more shit around their house than the shit their kid actually values enough to play with, and to that end our landfills don’t need any more crap either.
— Cactus Howl (@CactusHowl) August 8, 2015
Here is a list of the 12 best toys for any child:
1. Water, Sand, Dirt.
Yes, our natural resources happen to not only bring hours of contented play, but many children need the sensory experience this type of play brings. Sensory play materials support regulation. So how can you “buy” gifts along this line, you ask? Aha, it is not rocket science. Put together a basket of anything which can be safely used to fill and dump. I suggest old pots, pans and utensils, buckets, shovels, sponges, squirters, spray bottles, turkey basters, earthworms, soaps, bubbles, paint brushes, messy mat, bath tub paints. If you want to go for store bought stuff then knock yourself out with some of the new fangled magic sand or slime. If you want to stick to basics, fill a dishpan with beans and rice. A coat tail idea to this; store bought or homemade play dough, clay or other gooey or easily manipulated concoctions.
Treasure hunting and collecting is one of the biggest interests of almost all children. From jewels to sticks, all ages have collections. Some very specific, some just stuff. So help your favorite kid fill a treasure box, bag, basket or display shelf with their favorite things… shells, glass beads, sticks, dried wildflowers, mini cars, miniature lego figures, sports cards, stickers, coins, stamps, post cards, trinkets, pez dispensers. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is a kid still, so just ask for fuck’s sake, give something they can add to a beloved collection. Pack rats and scavengers unite!
Heard of the big push towards STEM education? Yes, the foundation of much Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics can be traced back to basic hands on play with blocks. Ever wondered why every preschool has a block area? To really allow a child to immerse themselves in elaborate block play it is recommended that they have over 150 blocks to work with. Parents and educators can extend this idea with all different size building blocks including large outdoor hollow block sets, magnatiles, marble runs, legos (which come in differing theme sets), play mobil, wooden trains and my personal favorite mobilio cage blocks. If you are worried about flying objects, have no fear, blocks even come in materials like cardboard and foam. Plain blocks allow for most any theme to come alive.
Combining idea #2 and #3 above, a collection of miniatures of any type are a must for block play. “Guys” is the term I use to encompass anything from dinosaurs to super heroes. Farm animals, doll house people, Disney characters, pet rocks, McDonald happy meal toys. Anything can work to help kids elaborate on their block play or give them pocket pals to take along on trips.
5. Art materials.
Give an older preschooler their own shoe box full of sharpees, colored pencils, thick drawing paper, scissors and tape and you’ll open them up to a world of practicing important hand eye skills and developing creativity without them knowing they are doing something educational. As children get older look for higher level sketch materials and artist materials, like watercolor pencils, gel pens, adult coloring books for relaxation. Who knows you might help a child develop their inner artist. Need an artistic kid to get outdoors a bit more? Try sidewalk chalk, bike decorating materials or outside easel. WARNING: I do not recommend kits, although they look inviting, they are a parents’ worst nightmare. When gifting toys make them for kids to engage in not for parents, okay?
6. Stuffed Animals.
I hate to even say this as I am forever trying to rid my home of ‘stuffies’ or ‘lovies’ as we affectionately call them, but some kids find comfort in a bed full of stuffed animals at night (you might not be able to find your kid under all the shit but they’ll feel safer with their cuddle items). Other children use collections of stuffed animals for pretend play. Elaborate games of school, zoo keeper, animal hospital or family ensue. Stuffed animals are extra friends and comfort for many kids. And if we are promoting traditional family values; let’s face it, families have both Mommies and Daddies or any mix there of, which means throw a few babies into the mix… caregiving is a natural dramatic play medium for any child.
No gender delineation needed. I’ve never seen boys or girls section delineated at the library. There are also lots of derivations of the idea of books if you are still not sure about what genre the kid likes… word searches, I- Spy, cross word puzzle books, Mad Libs, diaries or journals for reflection, art or poetry books, Guinness book of world records, scrapbooks, joke books and so on. If you are looking to spend money, give a electronic reader like a Kindle and let a kiddo choose their own reading materials.
I’m all for dress ups of any kind, but just hats alone can help a child integrate information about their world into their play. Pretending about different roles helps kids think outside of themselves developing the fundamental stepping stones to empathic thought. Takes putting yourself in someone else shoes to a whole new level.
9. Play Kitchen or Play Office Supplies
Along with providing children a wide range of dress ups it is important for children to be able to integrate thoughts about their day to day world through hands-on dramatic play. Play cash registers, play food, kitchen sets, old telephones, key boards etc… all allow a child to explore their ideas about the world without playing in your real world and dropping the infant sibling, deleting your hard drive or burning themselves on the stove.
10. Sports equipment or Regalia.
Sports’ fans come in all genders and all kids need to get outside and move these days. Need more specifics? Frisbees, pogo sticks, hula hoops, paddle balls, darts, balance beams, scooters, skates, bike equipment, any type of ball, bouncey or swingy thing. Exercise toys and equipment almost always end up being used eventually.
11. Gift cards.
Honestly, as kids get older they want to pick their own gift or better yet learn to save for a rainy day or for something their family might otherwise not be able to afford. If you want to be more involved ask your favorite kid to let you know what they are saving for, or plan to use it for because you want to get to know them better.
Ultimately, a gift of a loved one’s or friend’s time is sometimes the most special thing you can give a child in your life. Homemade certificates or coupons for a sleepover, a play date, movie or an excursion always give a child something to look forward to after a birthday or holiday is over. My only caution is as an adult it is important to follow through or your gift becomes a disappointment in the end.
Open your minds people! There really is nothing gender specific about toys or colors beyond societal fiction of pink and blue. Want to give a truly fabulous gift for a child you love? How about this; don’t follow the gender signs. Buy a toy that grows a child’s mind, not limits it.