I was on Fark.com recently and saw a link for a study of 10 leading Christmas presents. The highest rated Christmas present, according to the study, was Monopoly. Ya gotta love the classics! Kids were tested on the time they spent playing the games and it was analyzed to see which toy they sampled offered the best "cost per play."
I was intrigued by the article and decided to review past presents from my now 8 and 6 year olds to see which toys and games our family still uses and add some insights. These toys have been battle tested! I'm including toys that get re-played long after Christmas and birthday parties and even some toys that trick kids into learning. This list is a nice mix of toys that have been around forever and perhaps some you've never heard of. I'm happy to see that some of our $20 or less board game purchases from 6 years ago are still being used. In many cases, it's the electronic "hot toys" of the season that get put away (for good) the fastest.
Fisher Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera We've had ours for years. The camera works fine and has held up to the rigors and beatings my kids dished out over the years. The problem with the camera is the picture quality. It's borderline awful. The kids loved the idea of snapping photos and deleting them but were often disappointed at how grainy their pictures come out. Click here for our full review of the camera and some samples of the picture quality.
Trouble: The old favorite is amazingly playable for anyone over 4. Our kids never tired of it and still use it often. The "trouble bubble" is still in great shape and the pieces are perfect for even small hands. Addicting, inexpensive fun. Click here for our full review.
Elefun: Elefun is a battery operated elephant that spews little ribbon butterflies out of its trunk. Kids run around underneath the elephant to catch the colorful butterflies in little plastic nets. Our kids really enjoyed Elefun and have only recently outgrown it. It was a game my kids frequently went to when they were bored and got them moving a bit. The fun isn't infinite but they certainly enjoyed it in small doses.
Marble Race: We got ours a couple of years ago when the price was way lower. Kids construct their own roller coasters for marbles to race down. The assembly and million pieces aspect of the game had me wondering if it was too much trouble for kids to occupy themselves (or to clean up) but they keep bringing this game out to play with. I highly recommend Marble Race but I think the price is a little high here. This is a fantastic "rainy day" toy. It's kind of daunting to bring out something that's in hundreds of pieces. Once the building starts kids become occupied for hours trying to build the best towers.
Flippin Frogs Game: Flip tiny rubber frogs onto a circling tree to see if you can get them to stick before time expires. It's a great novelty. I wish my kids would have used this one more. It gets brought out once and a while for 10 minutes or so and then it's back to shelf. Great price if you can get it under 10 bucks. But, be sure to tell the kids to reset the game by pushing down on the trunk of the tree, not the branches, which will weaken and break. Think of it as a more modern, but not necessarily better, version of Ants in the Pants.
Cranium Cariboo: Cranium Cariboo is designed for ages 3-8. It is "boardgame-like" in the sense that the child must choose different categories of questions to answer (shapes, colors, sizes, letters). If the child picks the right answer, they get to flip open that section of the board to see if they are awarded a colorful rubber ball. They then put the rubber ball into a hole in order to accumulate enough to open a treasure chest to win. It's a fabulous game that occupies both minds and tiny hands. The game even features two skill levels which will occupy them as they outgrow the easy category.
Cranium Hullabaloo: Another brilliant Cramium game. Kids place small plastic mats of varying colors, shapes and pictures around the room. They then press the button on a battery operated recorder and your entire room turns into a game of simon sez. Kids are instructed to dance, glide, shake and spin to various mats around the room. Hullabaloo gets kids on their feet and keeps them moving. The voice will say stop and say something like "Who is standing on the broccoli" and instruct the winner to do a "silly victory dance". This game keeps kids active and is even more fun with groups of 3 or more. My kids still love a Hullaballo and the fun lasts a long time too! Great price!
Uno: Another timeless classic. Our kids are hooked. We have such huge family marathon games of UNO that we bought 2 full decks just so we don't have to shuffle so often! The one game you won't mind spending literally hours playing with your children. Easy to teach, even to a 5 year old.
Animal Hospital (Parents): Parents' Animal Hospital is a handy carrying case (a little larger than a lunchbox) that houses tiny, beanie-like animals (bird, dog, cat). They each have their own little locked cages that can be opened with their color coordinated keys. It comes with various toy pet medic staples (stethoscope, thermometer, medicines, penlight). If you have a very young animal fan, your child will enjoy taking special care of these little pets. My daughter loves hers. I love it because everything is neatly locked up and put away when play time ends. No mess!
PlayMobil: Playmobil sets are very well-built and extremely popular action figure-type sets. There are literally hundreds of sets to choose from (zoos, castles, houses, RVs) that cost anywhere from $10 to over $200. Playmobil has a tremendous following of loyal customers who snatch up every set they can afford. I thought my kids would be like most others and love Playmobil sets. Unfortunately, my children didn't. Some sets contain dozens of tiny pieces which are tough to put together or easily lost. In addition to that, the action figures don't move very well. In fact, my kids are way more into playing with their father's old (really old) Fisher Price Adventure People from the 70's.
Qwirkle: Qwirkle is a game where you place rows of similar pieces together to form a "qwirkle". Sounds silly, but you have to play it to appreciate it. It's not necessarily a "learning" game as it is about teaching strategy. The reason for it's inclusion on this list is the re-playability. It's a new game every time and our kids are always up for a game despite owning this game for years. Under $20 games with this kind of replay value are rare. Qwirkle is a value!
Blokus: Blokus is a lot like Qwirkle in terms of replay. Another tremendous under $20 bargain. In Blokus, you have 4 colors that start at 1 of 4 corners of a board and you have to match varying block pieces to fit the board and "block off" opposing players. This is another great game that teaches strategy.
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