When I was younger, my mom and aunts always had go-to toys to keep my cousins and me busy for hours — Tupperware and wooden spoons. We had other toys, of course, but when all else failed, or got boring, we always made the most of these kitchen basics. With these items in-hand, we were everything we wanted to be — from a band, to bakers and even builders.
When I became a parent, I first gravitated to all of the toys with bells, whistles and blinking lights, marveling at how far toys have come. The more I learned, however, the more I valued the imaginative-play toys that I grew up with and wanted my boys to experience play at that level of active imagination. As I shopped for toys each holiday season, I was pleasantly surprised to find that so many of my childhood favorites still existed. You might be surprised, too!
This 24-piece classic tool set (Melissa & Doug, $15) includes everything from a hammer, wrench and screwdriver to wooden nails, screws and bolts for the little builder in your family! This all-wood throwback toy is ideal for preschool-aged children.
Few things bring back childhood memories for me like Lincoln Logs (Toys R Us, $30 to $55). While the packaging may have changed — and they’ve added a set with pink accents to cater to girls — these K’NEX real wood logs are very much like the Lincoln Logs I remember spending hours playing with.
If you’re looking for value and have kids that are old enough to take care of lots of pieces, this 102-piece Tinkertoy set (Walmart, $30) is a great deal. It comes bundled with rods, spools, string, connectors and more. Plus, your kids can create on their own or model after designs that are included. It’s fun and your kids can develop their spatial as well as hand-eye coordination skills.
There’s a reason why you still see these mazes in pediatrician's offices and dentist waiting rooms. Even in the age of iPhones and tablets, they still capture a kid’s imagination. It’s amazing how long kids can sit and play, taking the beads from end to end and watching them slide through the maze. Plus, classic bead mazes (Melissa & Doug, $30) like this one help children recognize shapes and colors.
While your little one might see this as just pure fun, these wooden train sets actually help them develop color recognition, problem solving, fine motor skills and more. This Disney wood block stacking train set (Disney Store, $25) comes with 18 pieces and is perfect for little ones ages 2 and up.
If you’re a Type A neat freak this might not be your first choice, but Pick Up Sticks are alive and well! These FAO Schwarz Pick Up Sticks (Toys R Us, $7) come in a fun tin with classic FAO characters and test your child’s hand-eye coordination and their ability to patiently pick their sticks up without moving the others.
While it might be hard to remember as an adult why we thought spinning until we couldn’t see straight was entertainment when we were kids, kids still love it. This Playskool Sit' N Spin (Target, $25) is just a tad more modern than the original, but the premise is the same — spin until you giggle uncontrollably.
If you’re old enough to remember rotary phones, then you might appreciate this bit of nostalgia. Originally introduced in 1961, Fisher-Price actually still sells this pull-and-play rotary-dial telephone (Young Explorers, $22). Ring, ring!
This colorful collection of classic wooden blocks (Melissa & Doug, $20) comes with 100 pieces that will keep children entertained for hours. With four colors, nine shapes and endless possibilities, little ones through a range of ages can build, create and even take joy in seeing how high they can stack them before they all fall down.
Originally introduced in 1971, this Fisher Price Record Player (Young Explorers, $40) wind-up record player is kid-friendly with its chunky plastic records, classic children’s songs and case that doubles as storage and includes a handle for fun on the go!
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