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What Gives

February 19, 2013 - Jen Zbozny
Choosing good gifts for our children can be puzzling. We want to give them things that are appropriate, enjoyable, and lasting. In my mind when we are choosing gifts for Eve, I try to think about whether this will be something she will have fond memories of playing with, or whether it will just be a temporary amusement. I want to get the first, but sometimes our kids really want the second kind. It's a balancing act for sure.

Can you tell Eve's birthday is approaching?

Since we're pondering birthday gift ideas, I thought I'd share a list of gifts that have had real staying power in our house. These are the gifts we are most pleased with, because they continue to provide fun for Eve and they haven't broken, fallen apart, or become quickly ignored and discarded like fads.

Here goes:

Wooden kitchen with lots of wooden produce and foods. The wooden kitchen just seems to have kept up better than plastic ones I've seen. It allows for all sorts of imaginative play, and it looks nice. It was a huge hit for Eve's second Christmas and it still gets played with daily. As a nice add-on option, it made a great way for us to ask family members to get her sets of wooden fruits and vegetables, and sturdy little metal pots and pans, and utensils. It made it easy for all of us and has provided us with excellent "meals" cooked by Eve.

An important note about the choice of materials. We chose the wooden ones because they were safer than plastics and they feel really nice in your hands. Also, if you accidentally step on them, they don't squash!

Easel and art supplies. For Eve's third Christmas we got her an easel. Again, it made it easy for others to round out the gift by purchasing paints, brushes, chalk, paper, paint smocks, and markers. We use this ALOT. It's wildly popular with Eve and her friends and because it has two sides, two children can create at once.

Child-size table and chairs. Eve got this for her second Christmas too. It was really thoughtfully picked out. We wanted something that would be easy to move around the house (into the kitchen or out on the porch even) and with separate chairs that could become a train or a fort or a castle as needed. Eve's has slots under the table too, so coloring books and extra paper for craft projects is easily accessible. It gets used every day still.

Collection of costumes. This is one that we've accumulated over time but we give special credits to Granny for her work in this area. Granny is an extraordinary seamstress and production wizard of all trades. She has made stone cold amazing costumes including The Bumble (Abominable Snowman), knight (complete with chain mail and boot gauntlets), king, sparkly twirly medieval princess, and duckie. When I see a particularly good one on sale for a low price ($5 or under), it comes home. Since we have costumes that appeal to both boys and girls (the soft alligator with the bumpy tail is a huge hit) and I found an inexpensive child-sized rack at the Family Dollar, the costumes are easy to see and they get worn a great deal. Sometimes to church!

Big box of wooden blocks. A good friend taught me that with a thing like blocks or constructing-type toys, you need a bunch of one kind. Instead of having a few of the connecting kind, and a few of the plastic kind, and a few wooden ones, we settled on a mixture of colorful and plain wood building blocks. We have about 100 or so. These blocks come out all the time and serve as all sorts of exciting things. They are mazes for animals to traverse or supports for our train tracks. They are colorful dessert treats or game pieces in stacking contests. Again, these are popular with kids of both genders and all ages. We chose wooden ones for the same reason we have wooden food. They hurt less when you step on them! They do make a nice satisfying sound when you chuck them back in their tin box too.

Trains and track. We have a wooden set because it's easiest for Eve to set up. The children still love to get out the pieces and arrange elaborate routes with interesting features along the way. They love to make all the train cars fit together in different combinations and see how they do getting around the layout. This has provided many a lovely hour for grownups (especially Grandpa) too. I can't quite work out what the allure of a toy train is, but it's potent and completely worth it.

A tent. Just like the rest of us, kids need a little private space to retreat into. They love the idea of their own little club house or secret home. We got Eve a little castle tent for her third birthday. It can go outside or stay in the playroom. She has taken a beloved bean bag chair and tucked it inside. Just about every day I find her curled up on her lady bug bean bag, reading a book in her tent. Even older children are intrigued by the lure of that little space just because it seems like the perfect hidey hole.

In addition to these, we have your standard items like books, stuffed creatures, games, cars, trucks, and many little dolls and animals. We love those too, but the things above have provided great "staging areas" for play that includes the little figures, books, things that go, or animals.

The thing that stymies me now though, is since we've done such a nice job of picking enduring things, what can we possibly find for her birthday this year?

I know small handheld gaming devices are always popular, but I guess I think Eve has her whole life ahead of her to ignore us while she stares at her phone or iPad. While she's still little enough to enjoy active play with toys, I'd love to keep engaging her imagination.

Any suggestions? What things have staying power at your house?


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