Earlier this year, I read the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This has completely changed how I make decisions about what toys have stayed in our home as well as what new toys come into the house. A main tenant of Kondo's book is surrounding yourself with only the possessions which truly spark JOY for you!
As a result of this great, little book- I have done some MAJOR toy purging over the past year. Holiday worked alongside me for much of it and we cleaned/donated/organized/sold our way down to the toys that she loves and plays with constantly. Toys that spark real JOY for her! So you will definitely see some repeats from previous years on this list. However, these are toys I believe are worth repeating. Toys that are well-loved and played with on a continual basis.
I've found there are a few characteristics that all of the best toys have: 1- they look beautiful, 2- they are made of superior quality with superior products, 3- they are open-ended, meaning they can be played with in a large variety of ways, limited only by the imagination!
Something magical happens when you pare down the toys in your home to what your children truly love-- THEY PLAY MORE! There are items which Holiday played with on occasion and liked, but weren't the most beloved. What I found is that by clearing away the "Liked Toys" or "Rarely Played With Toys" and making more room for the "Well Loved Toys" results in MORE enjoyment, more fun and more hours spent playing.
I will have a 2nd list debuting on the blog in the next week or two! It will be comprised of learning toys and resources I have found tremendously useful in the classroom! Stay tuned for that as well my annual list of Top Mama Gift Picks as well!
1. If You Elevate It, They Will Play
If there were a Top Secret Play Book for Parenting, this play would top this list! Wave a magic wand over toys that see only occasional play and they will take center stage when you elevate toys to a more kid-friendly play height. I'm so obsessed with this table, we currently have two (one in the playroom and a second in the doll room) and I'm about to purchase a third to use as a coffee table in our Homeschool Room. Pottery Barn Kids has several versions of this Carolina Play Table. My favorite is the regular Activity Table which has a raised lip all the way around it- perfect for catching rolling crayons and keeping tiny Legos contained. There is also the Extra Large Activity table (top right, gray) as well as the Grow With Me Carolina Play Table. This one does not have the lip (think more regular play table), has drawers and also has extendable legs to start out low to the ground and eventually elevate to a kid-sized table with chairs. If those aren't enough options for you, there is also a craft option with an attachable paper roll! This table is perfect for train play, doll houses, American Girl themed play, crafts, Legos, puzzles and more! TIP: If you think a table might not be a hit under the Christmas tree, think of creative ways to stage it-- as an arts and crafts table with paper roll and new art supplies in the bin. Or maybe stage it with existing Lego set, train set or puzzles!
2. Camp Holiday Teepee
Through our many toy purges, I have re-staged Holiday's Play Room around the toys that she loves most and quite a few camping theme toys won top honors for "Most Played With!"
FIRST, you'll need a teepee. This specific one in Holiday's Play Room is from StudioOFWhimsy on Etsy. It is still available for purchase, however, it does not come with any poles. I'm including a list of current favorites below, all of them come with all of the pieces and poles. Several of these distributors are international, but once you factor in shipping costs, the prices are comparable high-quality versions made here in the states. All toys are not created equally-- you can definitely get an inexpensive teepee at many "big box" stores these days, but higher quality, heavier weight fabrics really do make a difference.
3. Day Trip Plush Canoe
When I first spotted this plush canoe in the Land of Nod catalog, I knew we HAD to have it! Fortunately, Holiday is in the thing at some point nearly everyday. It's become one of her favorite spots to curl up with a book or to enjoy ipad time. It couldn't be more adorable and young and old children, alike, love playing in it anytime they come to visit!
4. S'more the Merrier Campfire Set
Still an absolute favorite, always played with toy set- worth every penny! This one generally sells out well before Christmas, so don't wait too long to order! The Land of Nod S'more the Merrier Campfire Set
6. Super Comfy Bean Bag Chair
Of course we all love the Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chairs, but truth be told, Holiday uses her PBK Bean Bag WAY more often. It is her chair of choice for cuddling, watching TV, iPad time or quite reading. This Faux Fur Bean Bag Chair is available here from Pottery Barn Kids.
Holiday received the Pottery Barn Kids Westport Dollhouse for her first Christmas. I slowly bought furniture sets for it so by the time she was able to really play with it, she had all the makings of a lovely, petite home. The challenge with the PBK dollhouses is that while the houses themselves are GORGEOUS, the doll options aren't that spectacular, the furniture is so-so. While Holiday does like the doll set from PBK, more often than not, her dollhouse is full of Calico Critter families. The 1:12 dollhouse furniture PBK sells is a decent size for Calico Critters. You can use the PBK dollhouse furniture or chose from a great selection of Hape or Plan Toys dollhouse furniture on Amazon. OR incorporate the Calico Critter furniture sets.
8. Heirloom Red Play Barn
Holiday received this barn for her 4th Birthday and it is a favorite toy in our home. Granted, she is very into horseback riding and loves to be on the farm or in the stables. I love this barn because it is something I envision keeping for my own grandchildren one day. I purchased this from Jacob's Wooden Toys on Etsy. Look around his shop, he has some other awesome doll houses, furniture sets and accessories including an adorable campfire set! Holiday has collected quite a few of the Schleich play animals that she uses in her barn.
TOP RIGHT Schleich Icelandic Pony Mare
BOTTOM LEFT Schleich Feed Set
BOTTOM RIGHT Schleich My First Farm Set of Babies
9. Play Kitchen
Holiday received the Pottery Barn Kids Retro Play Kitchen for her first birthday. I feel this PBK set is superior to any of the all-in-one sets or the character plastic ones because of its size. If you have the space for a big set, the scale of this set can accommodate a child up to age 10. Older children play with this set all the time at our house! Of course, I keep it well stocked with a lot of fun play foods too. I highlighted a lot of my favorite play foods on this list here.
As with all of the items on this list, the Pottery Barn Kids Retro Kitchen remains on this list because it's one of those toys that is played with regularly! There are several other large-scale play kitchen styles to choose from at PBK as well as two other color options for the Retro Kitchen.
10. Kitchen Table & Chairs
Of course if you're cooking up lots of yummy food in the kitchen, you'll need a place to eat all of your plastic, felt and wooden goodies! If you've been around The Well Styled Child blog for awhile, you may have seen pictures of Holiday's vintage bistro table and chairs set that's in her bedroom. My mom salvaged the vintage set from a yard sale and re-finished the set for Holiday's nursery. I love the small scale, round table so I'm including purchasing information for this Finley Play Table from Pottery Barn Kids. There are matching chair options or check out the Bistro Chairs as well!
11. Grocery Stand
Of course if you're going to cook all of this food, you're also going to need to make regular trips to the market for ingredients. This Play Shop and Theater from The Great Little Trading Company is the #1 Favorite Toy of every child who comes to visit our home. Just in the past week, an 11 year old boy and 10 year old girl both told me it was their favorite and both asked for it for Christmas! A few years back while I was on the search for the best Grocery Stand, I stumbled across this one from The Great Little Trading Company, London. There is a flat rate shipping charge that is right around $100. However, when I ordered, my Play Shop arrived in just 2 days via DHL in-home delivery. They have so many other cute toys and accessories, the shipping charge is the same no matter how much you order. Be sure to convert pounds to dollars when configuring price. This Play Shop/ Theater is ON SALE right now! Even with shipping, the price works out to be comparable to other grocery stands available in the US (and not nearly as cute or fun, in my opinion!) Also, this grocery stand is on casters (which can lock), but you can turn the grocery stand around to transform it into a very fun puppet theater!
Here's a picture (above) of Holiday's Grocery Stand. The sign is from Hobby Lobby. Links to by favorite foods to stock your Grocery Stand with are below! I recommend getting two sets of the eggs and milk. The fruits and vegetables on my pic above are all from Melissa and Doug, find them here.
As stated above, we have the Play Shop Theater from The Great Little Trading Company. However, BigJigs is a toy company that I love for great quality toys and they have this new Village Shop recently made available in the US! Another great option for a fun grocery store.
12. Sing Along CD Player
I'm not sure why this Sing Along CD Player doesn't get more stars/ better reviews on Amazon?! It is in constant use at our house and has been so for the past 4 years without any issues! It also comes in a red version!
13. Sing Star Microphone in Pink
Another toy that is in constant rotation in our home is this Sing Star Microphone. You can connect your phone or MP3 player to it to play music through the microphone. There are are also buttons that you can push with your foot for crowd cheers and other fun sound effects!
PonyCycle first debuted my Christmas Top Picks List in 2013. It still remains a beloved toy in our home and well worth the investment. Children from 3-9 (up to 90 lbs) can safely ride the size Medium Pony Cycle! No batteries or electricity needed. Super smooth rollerblade wheels glide across surfaces surfaces (without scratching), while children gently bounce to keep it moving! Pony Cycle is available in a variety of colors/ animals.
TOP LEFT Pony Cycle Dark Horse, Size Medium
TOP RIGHT Pony Cycle Zebra, Size Medium
BOTTOM LEFT Pony Cycle Unicorn, Size Medium
BOTTOM RIGHT Pony Cycle Light Horse, Size Medium
15. iPad Mini 4
I asked my husband David if I was missing any of the toys that get played with constantly at our home and he thought I would be remiss to not mention the iPad Mini 4!!! Holiday had inherited my first generation iPad but we upgraded her to the Mini 4 for our many travels and it was been a truly worthwhile purchase. We have it stocked full of fun learning games/apps as well as links to Disney Jr and Nick Jr. Of course I'm always working overtime to budget her screen time! I will also link our favorite, kid-friendly, shock-proof case below!