The 9 Best Toys of All Time Don’t Cost a Thing

2018-11-17T20:19:16+00:00Holidays, Parenting|

Best toys? Seriously? You know they’re wrong. The celebrities endorsing yet another “best toys” 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.

A puddle is one of the best toys

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.

Related: Gifts Kids: How to set gift expectations with your kids

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.

1. Best Toys: Box

A cardboard box is one of the best toys

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

2. Stick

A stick is the best toy. Gone fishing!

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 childโ€™s play

3. Rocks

A rock is the best toy

Always check the pockets โ€“ 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

4. Dirt

Mud is the best toy

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.

5. Water

Child playing in the splashpad

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.

6. Leaves

Child playing in the leaves

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.

7. Blanket

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.

8. Snow

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?

9. Sock

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.

Related: Gifts Kids: How to set gift expectations with your kids

Did I miss one of the best toys every? Tell us in the comments.

Love love love,


  1. Ruth December 7, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Great List Kerry. Another Best Toy? –String (of all sizes, strengths, and colours)
    for cat’s cradle and other string games; for dragging boxes behind bodies, wagons or bikes; for tug-o-war; for stringing beads; for making mazes; for hanging and eating apples or donuts; for weaving (branches, or anything); for making a string phone; for playing hunt the ring (doggy,doggy); string art (you’ll need wood and nails too); friendship bracelets; for knots; for tying stuff; for knitting and crocheting; or just for collecting …
    If I remember right, the kid’s book called “A Big Ball of String’ celebrates it’s potential too ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Ruth December 7, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    it’s = its oops

  3. Dianne December 8, 2017 at 5:27 am

    We had plastic condiment squeeze top bottles and I would fill them with water and a few drops of food daughter and her friends would paint the snow and snowmen. Looked like the The Cat in the Hat with the pink snow! One Christmas she asked for Scotch tape of her own,so she could use as much as she wanted!!

  4. Olive Jason December 8, 2017 at 5:40 am

    Yes. And they love tree houses.

  5. Olive Jason December 8, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Yes. And they love tree houses. good tips kerry.

  6. Lori December 8, 2017 at 6:43 am

    Your presence is the best present.

  7. Annette December 8, 2017 at 9:13 am

    My boys loved to secretly collect bottle caps and play with them. I would find their stash under their pillows!

  8. Marcia December 8, 2017 at 9:56 am

    For those of us who don’t love near snow, socks are great for sock fights, like snowball fights.

  9. Tom Drake December 8, 2017 at 10:46 am

    There’s a couple more that are in one of the pictures. Slides and swings. My kids love playing in the park next to our house, and it’s free!

  10. Alya Geras December 8, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    A dress-up box: my mom saved some her old skirts, dresses, hats, sparkly things. I spent hours dressing up, putting on fashion shows and plays.

  11. TwoYellowDogs.Terri December 8, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Love your post! Will forward to the grand kids parents.

  12. Dave Haley December 9, 2017 at 12:04 am

    My neighbor said ” Last year we thought you guys were terrible. Letting your grandson play out in the rain puddles! First he would shed his coat then his sweatshirt. Running around stomping the rain puddles. Now this year our daughter is out there chasing him and laughing out loud. Throwing her coat on top of his.

  13. William Corbett December 9, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Try an old suitcase with wheels. Kids put all kinds of stuff in it and lug it around, including each other or the dog. Break off the locks.

  14. PatriciaW December 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    Seashells. Broken or whole. Better than ricks at the beach – but wave smoothed rocks or beach glass are good, too.

  15. Betty Carter December 11, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Why do we bother buying so much stuff for kids when all of the things mentioned here are free?

  16. Kerry K. Taylor December 11, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Betty: FANTASTIC QUESTION. We have a fear of missing out. We don’t want our kids to miss out. We also want to fit in. Imagine the feeling when the neighbours get together and The Joneses all have Playmobile and American Girl dolls. Your kid has a box. “How was your holiday? What did you get? Did Santa bring you a new iPhone?” We don’t want to be the parents saying, “No.” We don’t want our kids being the kids missing out. (This is a whole post on human behaviour and psychology.) For me, I just don’t care to play the game. I wear second-hand clothing, I shop at thrift stores for toys, and I don’t own a car. If someone wants to collect all the American Girl dolls or Lego for their kids — I’m not competing. My daughter gets an allowance and if she wants something she can spend her money and buy it. It’s her choice, plus she gets the feel for saving and spending and buyer’s remorse. Again, this is a whole other post. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m cool with saying “No” and finding ways to enjoy life without consumerism blowing up my money. One can never keep up with the Joneses anyways — they always have the new stuff, right? Love, Kerry

  17. Accidental FIRE December 12, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Ha, awesome post. I think you missed “Tree”.

    I know a lot of parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids climb trees, but we all did it as kids and survived. A good tree is all a kid needs to escape and feel like they have their own little studio condo.

  18. Dave December 12, 2017 at 7:39 am

    This post took me back to my childhood. I remember combining 1 and 2 and having a blast. I donโ€™t remember what the gift was, but I remember having fun hitting the box with the stick at a party . Donโ€™t judge, it was the 1980โ€™s and the parents were just happy we were having fun.

  19. Joe Gerardi December 12, 2017 at 9:36 am

    It’s not quite FREE but sidewalk chalk can generate tons of fun.

  20. Adam @ Minafi December 12, 2017 at 9:48 am

    I completely forgot how much fun it was to build blanket forts in my room. Grab a few dozen clothespins, bring in some chairs from the dining room for support and you have yourself the making of an awesome tunnel system. That was the goto thing to do when I had friends sleeping over.

  21. Jim December 12, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Our kids have had more lasting fun with the box something comes in than the thing itself – our son loves messing with boxes so much that last year he wanted to be a robot made out of boxes. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And blanket forts are a MUST!

  22. Zach @ Four Pillar Freedom December 12, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Haha boxes were always my go-to toy of choice. They can be turned into literally anything. Thanks for sharing this list ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Louise December 12, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Great list forming here!

    Catalogs or magazines, to cut out paper dolls and all the stuff to make their homes.

    Also, dress-up boxes aren’t just for girls, nor do they need only fashion clothing. Try some work hats, capes, gloves, ties, lace curtains, vests, medallion, chain necklace, rings, pouches….

  24. Sonja Ellis December 13, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Awesome list! My kids would criss cross the whole living room with some of my left over yarn, wrapping it around the legs of furniture and then play in the resulting maze. Hours of fun. One summer they painted twigs (after stripping off the bark) they found laying around and then gave the “art work” away to neighbours…some of whom were kind enough to give them a nickle or two for it. The dress up box was also a source of imaginative play. Such fun, thanks for reminding us about the best things in life.

  25. Jim @ AcceleratedFI December 18, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Ah this is so true. With a 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter it seems they just end up playing with the boxes more than any toy they’ve ever gotten.

  26. Tricia January 8, 2018 at 3:51 am

    Not totally free, but I remember an old used blackboard on an easel-type stand my mother bought us. Its gray paint was chipped but we didn’t care. We used plain white chalk and had it for years. Before I went to school, my sister (less than 2 years my senior) taught me how to read intentionally with that blackboard. Kind of like playing school, with her as the teacher of course.(I already knew some basic phonics from cheap workbooks my mother bought at the grocery store.) It was the nicest thing she ever did for me, as I was dying to learn to read.

  27. Dee (the Story Girl) February 22, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Kerry, I’ve missed your posts. It’s nice to see anther one from you!
    Also, this isn’t an outside toy or something you can take home, but library!! Canada has such excellent public libraries I basically grew up in my neighborhood library. My mom would go grocery shopping and drop me off there so I could read and then check out half of the books. Also they have a great play area! Also, reading clubs, storytime and a bazillion great programs. (i’m a big fan of the library even though I don’t have any kids! so many great resources!)
    Thanks again for your blog, I first heard about cutting the cable from this blog and I love all your posts.
    Hope you’re well.

  28. Mike March 16, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I definitely concur on boxes. It’s hilarious to see kids get some elaborate new toy (perhaps from grandparents) and be more interested in the box than the toy :).

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