You know they’re wrong. The celebrities endorsing yet another “favorite things” list for kids, the magazine editors touting the best toys ever (so don’t miss out), and the television shows hosting gadget gurus with the next flashy iThings that are supposed to do iSomething after getting unwrapped and then forgotten under a bed forever.
They are all wrong.
The best toys of all time have nothing to do with trends, brands, limited editions, or special holiday pricing. The best toys of all time never sell out, can’t be bought or sold, or regifted. These best toys never go out of style, and kids of all generations across all countries and from all backgrounds have enjoyed hours of imaginative play and creative wonder with them.
All kids know about the best toys ever. As adults we often forget the magic and adventure of childhood, but thanks to my 5-year-old I now remember. I want you to remember too.
Here are the nine best toys of all time. “For reals,” says my daughter, Chloe.
It never fails — you buy a child something cool and after removing it from the packaging all the kid wants is the box.
Big boxes, little boxes, folding cartons, rigid boxes, corrugated cardboard, and those flat-box containers used to ship IKEA home furnishings from Sweden — all boxes of all sizes are game for hours of child’s play.
Younger kids often put the box topper on their head, older kids prefer to shelter themselves in paper box houses, while some build fleets of sailing ships out of multiple corrugated four-sided vessels. There all no rules, but the first one to jump out of the box gets to be called Jack. Thinking outside of the box isn’t what this game is about — only those squished in the coziest of four corners get to put a lid on it.
Stacking boxes while running amok with a balloon tethered to your belt is also allowed.
The best Christmas (for me) ever was the year my parents refrigerator died. The cost of a kaput fridge over the holidays must have been horrible (for them), but the box the appliance came in was magnificent (for me). With paint brushes and Crayola in hand, my family crafted the most fantastic house-thing with roof, cable TV, and a VCR ready for movie night. The Jiffy Pop was a nice touch too, Thanks, Dad.
Related: How to survive a trip to IKEA
Tapping into “The Force” with a glowing Star Wars Lightsaber is cool, sure. But if you’re short an official galactic weapon and are being overrun by Storm Troopers, just use a stick to protect your cardboard box fort. Choose your organic tree-based matter wisely, as a stick can become a sword, an arrow, a walking device, or even a magic wand if you’re hanging out at Hogwarts.
Back in my wonder years, a broken branch proved the perfect cylinder for a homemade fishing rod. I didn’t angle with the fanciest tackle on the dock that day, but I brought home the biggest bass. Go fish.
Related: Being resourceful is child’s play
Always check the pockets – in coats, jeans, backpacks, and other gear. If you’ve got a toddler in tow, chances are your kid is storing a pile of rocks in a garment somewhere, probably everywhere. If you value the integrity of your washing machine, you MUST check your kid’s pockets before your laundry gets stoned. Heck, check your pockets too ’cause sometimes your kid finds the perfect rock while bumbling about (not sure what makes it perfect) but it’s the stone that can’t be left behind. If parental pockets are the only game in town, your kid will want to “save” that rock for later.
After emptying pockets at home, place all stones, rocks, and other solid mineral material in a plastic container for later. Brushing paint onto a few shiny stones is a fun rainy day activity, or load them up in a dump truck for experiments with gravity. But leave no stone unturned by always checking the pockets. Kudos.
Related: How to save money on laundry
I know what my kid did last summer — she came home from day camp wearing a huge smile and covered in mud. From head to toe and in every crack and crevice, dirt was everywhere. She was beaming and my heart exploded into a million pieces, but when I hugged her I got covered in the muck too. Love is messy.
It’s a dirty job, but kids at play always dig up the dirt. They put a stick in it, they jump through it, they make mud pies and cakes out of it, and they turn former clean clothes into earth-laden fashion pieces. Just add a little moisture to loam, silt, or clay and throw in a side of sand, and you’ll know what “true grit” is all about. Just don’t let them eat it. Yeah, good luck with that.
Rubber Ducky may be the one, but the real star of the show is water. It falls from the sky, it fills the bathtub, it spouts from the sprinkler, and it makes every splash pad cool. If you get enough of the wet stuff together you can also swim in it, but you’ll need a lake, quarry, or pool to take a proper dip.
Sure, water guns and H2O filled balloons are fun for a spontaneous soaking battle, but adding it to a water bottle and taking a sip wins the war on dehydration. Turning on the tap and topping it on a toothbrush may not be the tastiest of treats, but avoiding the dentist is worth a smile.
Adults may have to rake them every fall, but kids know that taking a leap in a pile of leaves makes for a soft landing. It’s hard to decide between deciduous and coniferous trees for the best art project material, and choosing from an array of autumn colors and pine cone sizes is hard too. Might as well just collect the whole set and stuff it all in a pocket. Watch out for bugs.
Is it a fort? A tent? A cape? A snugly? I dunno, but if you’ve ever played Hide-and-Seek you can bet your blankey there’s a kid hiding under it.
If you own a few bungee cords you’ve got the hanging power to drape a few bed sheets and blankets around the house — perfect for indoor camping when it’s pouring rain outside. A solid blanket can also provide the perfect foundation for Yoga.
What’s the matter? Winter is just a phase, kinda like water. Whether it’s solid, liquid, or gas I’m bringing back the wet stuff ’cause I’m Canadian and there’s so much fun to be had with fresh snow.
Arrange the frozen molecules into a snowball and launch it over a snow fort and knock your snow-person off their bottom sphere. If you’re feeling at peace with the world then lay down in a some fresh stuff, fan your arms and legs around, and make the perfect snow angel. If big fat snowflakes are falling from the sky go ahead and catch them on your tongue or on top of your nose. Doesn’t matter, they always seem to melt down into water.
Warning: Watch out for the yellow stuff, ok?
They always get separated in the laundry, or maybe the dryer eats one of them. Regardless if they’re striped, dotted, or need a new sole, a stranded single or pair of socks is a roaring good time. Sure, you can add buttons for eyes and crafty things for faces, but a simple unadorned sock is a burgeoning puppeteer’s snugly animal, favorite friend, or tickle monster. When imagination fails, pair up two singles as a pair of mittens, or just use one as a bag for carrying rocks.
Did I miss one of the best toys every? Tell us in the comments.
Love love love,