Brush Up on the Basics: Simple Toys for Open-Ended Play

August 19, 2009

As parents of preschoolers, we have amazing creative forces on our hands. These kids make music, draw and paint, build towers and castles, invent stories and act them out, all in a day's work. Their inspirations come a mile a minute, and all they really need from us are the right materials. That is to say: toys that inspire, but don't constrain. Toys that can adapt to whatever odd brainwave should happen to strike their little masters at a moment's notice. Toys that are so cleverly designed and well-made that they just call out to be played with. Toys that can stand those tests, year after year, decade after decade, are what we call classic toys. Every kid should have a couple on hand for playtime -- who knows what they'll make with them!

The Original Colorforms

This toy is so cool (there's no better word) that is has acquired an almost cult-like following not just among kids but also among grown-up artists and designers. The set includes 350 brightly colored shapes that stick when pressed to the black shiny surfaces in this spiral bound book, and can be rearranged in different patterns and images to your little one's heart's content. Your young designer can compose images as abstract or literal as she chooses, fitting the pieces together like blocks, or overlapping them for texture and depth. The possibilities are endless and so is the play. You'll want to take a turn yourself, and will soon see why this set is so addictively satisfying to play with. (It also makes a particularly great travel toy - plenty of artistic gratification with zero mess in a light, compact set? It may actually be the only travel toy you'll ever need for the four and older crowd.) Colorforms first appeared in 1951, and this set was recently given the Parents Choice award for Top Classic Toy.

Tinkertoy Classic Jumbo Set 

Ah, tinkertoys. The very mention of tinkertoys brings on a flood of nostalgic memories, doesn't it? Can't you recall almost exactly the feeling of fitting the rods and wheels together? Don't you remember the wacky structures you used to create and proudly display? One of the best things about these classic toys is precisely the store of memories that makes us want to get down on the floor and relive a piece of childhood with our own kids. So let's see if we can help them create something even wilder and wackier than what we did way back when.

Lincoln Logs 

There are lots of reasons to give a nod to Lincoln Logs, not the least of which is that we celebrate President's Day this week and the birthday of Honest Abe himself. Another reason is that this building set provides a particular kind of satisfaction unlike any other comparable toy. Yes, you can build houses with good old wooden unit blocks which are, of course, another classic, essential toy. But they will never have the same solidity and, well, log-like quality that the ones you build with Lincoln Logs do. There's something irresistible about the way the logs and roof slats fit together - so even if our kids can never claim to have lived in a log cabin in their political bios, they'll darn well know how to build one.

Jumbo Blocks 

There are blocks and there are blocks and there are blocks - and there are none more fun than these. Why? Because they're jumbo-sized, of course! If they have enough of them, kids can build towers that are taller than they are! They are light enough, yet sturdy enough to serve almost any building purpose, and the bold colors are inspiring too. Now to find somewhere to store them.... Never mind, they'll always be out for play!



From the Parents

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