It starts with a tchotchke from the pedi’s post-shot treasure chest.  Then Aunt Karen visits and unloads her giganto bag of little plastic goodies.  A hideous roadtrip impulse buy (you know, to get them to be quiet long enough to listen to 3 minutes of a podcast) becomes a beloved heirloom that can *never* be thrown out.  

Then, it’s a holiday or birthday, and you’re contemplating what to buy for your kids that won’t be old news by the end of the week, inch you closer to a Hoarders intervention, or both.  

We have a no-present policy for birthday parties (we collect items for the food pantry instead), and buy only a few things for each kid on Christmas and birthdays (because what they get from everyone else is already too much to begin with).  

I *try* to focus more on giving my kids great experiences over tons of stuff.  So zoo and museum memberships, books we can read together, and art supplies are no-brainers.

That said, I’m not some jerk depriving my kids of fun from her high horse.  Play, and the things that support it, are important for  their development.  But I also don’t want toys taking over the house, or overwhelming the kids.  First world problem, I know.

So, one of the main criteria for what we invite into the house is staying power. 

Will the toy get months or even years of playtime, or will it be tossed aside after a few days?

If you’re in the same toy-panic boat, this hindsight list may come in handy.  It’s all stuff that my kids have consistently played with for a long time.  

You might notice they all happen to be things your kids can pretend with.  So, yes, this type of play being good for them, but more importantly, you’ll get to finish your breakfast a.k.a. the kids’ leftovers.  When they’re prompted to use their imagination, your kids will be less easily bored.

Eight of the toys are in this post, and the other eight are in the download that goes with it.

BTW: none of these links below are affiliate links.  It’s all just stuff that I personally like very much, and I figured I could save you some time.

1. Play Kitchen:

This has by far been one of my kids’ favorite things to play with.  I got Sweetpea her kitchen from IKEA when she was around 18 months.  She’s in preschool, and she still loves to play with it.  Monkey has been obsessed with it since he was old enough to walk.  They particularly enjoy some of the real, grown-up accessories I’ve added, like a sponge, dish towel, egg cartons, and maple syrup bottle.

If you don’t have room for a full-on kitchen, this little table-top one from Hape is adorable.  And this super minimalist one from Haba is great, too.

I also noticed this little felt one in the latest Land of Nod catalog, which would be great for travel or for tiny spaces.

2. Prince Lionheart Wheelybug:

I really debated whether or not to get this.  It was large, and it wasn’t on the cheap side.  

I’m glad I did.  I got it when Sweetpea was around 18 months, and she still uses it, as does Monkey.

Since my kids are tall, I got the bigger model - which has been key to their being interested in it for so long, I think.  Otherwise, Sweetpea would have outgrown it a few years ago, and Monkey would be close to doing the same.

Plus, it’s so CUTE.  It comes in other animals if Ladybugs aren’t your thing.

3. Blocks:

Wooden blocks are one of the best thing your kids can play with (NPR says so). After slobbering over the gorgeous, hand-made ones on Land of Nod, I opted not to drop hundreds of dollars and bought this $16 set from Hape, the German toy company.  Now that the kids are getting older and more daring with what they build, I might get those expensive beauties from LON.  But the small and inexpensive set from Hape is a great place to start.

4. Child-Sized Table & Chairs

We actually have two.  The wooden one is in Sweetpea’s room, and the plastic one floats around our home and is totally okay being left outside, drenched in bubble solution, or having milk spilled on it.  As you can imagine, the tables end up being the center of all kinds of things: art projects & meals, as well as pretend desks, restaurant tables, a school prop, and on and on.  A table that’s sized for your kids will end up being one of the hardest working things in your house.

Our wooden table is IKEA’s cheapest model (but has held up well), and the plastic table came from Amazon (as a bonus, it’s super light and easy to put away somewhere when you need a break from it).

5. Playmobil Dollhouse

My kids LOVE this thing and yours probably will, too.  I bought it 5 months ago and my littles have been playing with it almost daily.  This particular model is perfect for a toddler, but still fun for a preschooler.  Its open design, larger-sized dolls and furniture, and stick-in-place grid for furniture and accessories make it easy for both kids to play without frustration.  I got it on Amazon for around $50 - an amazing deal considering the amount of play it gets, and that most other dollhouses start around $100.  

6. Jellycat Animals

Sweetpea has a bunny and Monkey has a puppy from Jellycat of London.  These stuffed animals have become their best friends and go everywhere with them.  Which means they get extremely dirty (and pukey, and stinky), and get washed a lot.  They are really well made and seem to get even cuter with each wash.  I actually have two of each animal - that way if one gets lost or puked on, there’s always a backup.

Let’s just be totally honest: I want one for myself.

7. Scarves

Another one of those things that are so simple, yet dominate play time.  I originally bought them to play with while listening to music (uh, for the kids, not for myself…), but Sweetpea took them and ran.  Now they’re ice skates, capes, band-aids, blankets for her bunny, food, etc.

I bought ours on Amazon.

8. Cars

A little set from IKEA is another thing that’s pulled out almost daily at our house.  They’re really sturdy and have taken a lot of abuse.  We also have a little wooden race car from Land of Nod that my son loves.  Aside from being nicer in design, I’ve found that the wooden cars hold up way better than anything plastic.

Is there some well-loved toy at your house that isn’t on the list?  Hook us mamas up in the comments.

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