Giving the Aunti Seal of Approval

I go down to visit Little E and Baby C once a week. I anticipate these weekly visits with much joy! I love playing with Little E and Baby C! We always play with whatever toys or games they feel like – Aunti just goes with the flow (and makes sure no one falls head-first off the rocking horse or dumps puzzle pieces in the toilet).

After 4+ years of weekly play dates, I feel informed enough to share my opinion on the best and worst of children’s toys. [Sidenote: to provide context for my list…The Brother, SIL Ana, and I all share similar philosophies of “what maketh a ‘good’ children’s toy; to some extent, my preferences and dislikes are founded on the toys that I have played with at their home. I also am basing my choices on toys and ways of playing that I grew up with].

So, let’s get on with the awards and the raspberries!!


1. Melissa and Doug – Where was this company when I was little?! (Insert Snookie WAHHH here!). I have yet to meet a M&D product that I didn’t love. Everything I have come across promotes creative play, contains no toxic substances, and is unique in design…and just super cute.


2. Crayola – This brand of arts ‘n’ crafts products rocks: non-toxic and washable markers are the way to go with small kids and toddlers! There sure are a lot more products than when I was little – but I do have fond memories of they joy a brand new box of 64 crayons brought me!


3. Fisher-Price – Talk about durability: Little E and Baby C are playing with the farm, the airport, the school bus, and the schoolhouse that The Brother and I enjoyed back in the ’70’s! We spent thousands of hours creating scenarios with our F-P toys! I loved our collection of F-P people the best: they would inhabit lego houses, jump in Barbie’s swimming pool, hide out in empty cereal box apartments…simple toys provide multiple play opportunities.




[I don’t feel comfortable outright slamming any specific brand, so I’ll go with generic types of toys, here].

1. Battery-operated toys – Parents who feel driven crazy by beeping, flashing, careening toys, please raise your hands!! Thought so! Besides being aurally annoying, toys that need batteries have short life spans. Parents who have burnt-out toys that need new double-A’s, please raise your hands!! Thought so!

2. Toys popularized by movies, TV shows, Disney money-grabbing movie producers – This category of toy is all about moderation. Personally, I would not want my child to start school and not know who Dora is, or be ignorant of the Sesame Street gang. Conversely, I don’t think it healthy to have a panapoly of bedroom decor, backpack, toys, books, clothing that is solely comprised of Disney princesses. A few carefully-chosen books/toys/games featuring mass-market characters is a healthy balance.

3. Single-purpose (as opposed to multi-opportunity) toys – Any toy that only does one thing will quickly bore a child. And will clutter up the toy cupboard.

To celebrate birthdays and Christmas, I enjoy a three-pronged approach to gift giving: a toy; a book; an item of clothing (often hand-knit, yes!). Please note that these don’t have to be expensive purchases. I like giving the gift triumvirate because 1) children always get most excited about opening a toy 2) I firmly believe a personal library of books is essential to developing reading skills and stimulating imagination 3) I like to choose and give clothes – yup, this category is purely selfish…and nothing wrong with that! The kids gotta be clothed, right!?!

If you need some guidance for choosing toys, the Canadian Toy Testing Council may be a helpful resource [athough I just clicked on the website and see the Energizer Bunny front and centre…so much for my diss of battery-operated toys!].

I’d love to hear your thoughts, parents, fellow aunties, grandparents, friends. Can you suggest some of your favourites and also brands/types of toys you refuse to purchase?

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  • Holly  On February 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

    I’m an Auntie too 🙂 My sister’s kids love Melissa and Doug stuff — building blocks, puzzles, etc. My sister likes them because the kids have to be creative with them and they use non toxic paints. My brother in law’s child is a Disney Princess/Dora/Sesame Street lover. She has so many toys, so usually we give her something handmade or a membership to the science museum, etc.

    • 1970kikiproject  On February 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

      Great idea re the museum membership! The Brother and Sil Ana have put that type of thing, or tickets to a special event for the family on their xmas lists, before.
      Interesting to hear how different your sister is from your BIL in terms of toy choices-to each their own!

  • Gina Unger  On February 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    WOW! I felt like I was reading my own notes from when I taught my high school Family Studies classes! I was vigorously nodding my head in agreement throughout the entire blog!
    We’ve got your TOP 3 name brand picks in our household and don’t regret them for a minute. They really ARE great! 🙂
    Our biggest winners so far have been the Melissa and Doug 65-piece wooden building blocks and our train table set. The blocks are plain-coloured wood and STURDY. Our kids have played with them most every day for the past 2 years – especially during winter. The train table with lots of Thomas the Train items is also a huge hit and played with regularly. Both promote imagination. 🙂
    For the past four years I’ve gone to an Annual Neighbourhood Garage Sale near us and gotten ridiculous deals on awesome kids’ items. I love the recycling concept (and the price!) when buying used items. (We also try our best to get rid of the same amount of items we bring in so our house doesn’t explode!)
    I’m a sucker for any good kids’ books, too, but nearly despise battery-operated toys. A few make the exception… Leap Frog toys actually help with learning and don’t bore easily.

    • 1970kikiproject  On February 25, 2011 at 5:05 am

      phew! if i can get a “mom seal of approval” from you, mom of three, then i know i am not out in left field! i can IMAGINE (!) how your boys love those building blocks and train table set – awesome combination there. and i love your philosophy of toys in, toys out. thanks for the tip on leap frog toys – not familiar with them (i don’t think!) – will investigate for next round of gift buying! 🙂

  • Lisa  On February 24, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I’m in total agreement with absolutely everything you said. Toys freak me out—including their price tags. Since my nephew was born, my mom and I have made a habit of buying quality toys at yard sales and thrift shops (and cleaning them before he inevitably stuffed them in his mouth). I get scared thinking about the consumerism and wastefulness of toys…when most of them do not really get played with.
    I love toys that make kids actually “play”….toys that play for the kids are just pointless. Learning is good…I’m all about the fun learning toys 🙂

    • 1970kikiproject  On February 24, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      i totally agree about the high prices of toys. and that they can accumulate so fast!! great idea to pick them up at yard sales…i’m thinking esp for items like puzzles and blocks that can be washed. love your line: “toys that make kids play vs toys that play for the kids” – great way to phrase your philosophy! and yes – learning CAN be fun!! esp with melissa and doug! 🙂

  • Zo  On February 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I bought my nephews some Melissa and Doug when they were younger and also felt like I missed out. They also went through a major Thomas the Tank Engine phase, but I wouldn’t call those toys “fun.”

    • 1970kikiproject  On February 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      yea, with two nieces, i am *missing out* on thomas the tank! i think they have one book?? or it was a sticker book?! i think my parents are lucky we did not have melissa and doug when we were little – i would have been begging for quite a few things!!

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