Most fun kid's toys for grownups
March 3, 2012 7:10 AM   Subscribe

What games and toys for your kids do you as a parent enjoy playing with the most? I am not really looking for your kids' faves, but yours.

Of course I want my son to enjoy the games/toys as well, however if we don't have another child, my husband and I will be his only playmates at home. To be honest, sometimes I find playing a bit tedious, so I am looking for suggestions that he will love, that I will have fun playing too. I am not interested in video game suggestions at this time. He is turning one in a few weeks, and infant toys are no longer interesting to him. He is already walking, and has really good motor skills in general. I think most 18 month+ toys would be ok for him. But I am also interested in hearing your favourites for any age of child, I realize it will probably get more fun and interesting to play at older ages. So suggestions for any age group are welcome. What games and toys did you have a blast playing with?
posted by Chick Pea to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I think our son was a little older than yours when we bought him this Little Tykes basketball net. It's adjustable so it can get taller as he does. Parent's role is mainly ball fetcher and cheerleader.

We never got the tricycle with the pole on the back so the parent can steer, but it seems like a good idea for something that can grow and adapt with age.

Playsets (my kids are old now, but do they still make Little People stuff? The barn, store, airport?) are good for both solo play and accompanied.

And musical instruments - simple stuff now like baby harmonicas, maracas, drums - may drive you crazy at times but are super-fun when you're in the right mood.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:21 AM on March 3, 2012

posted by shortyJBot at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Not useful yet but I remember being younger (6ish) and my dad teaching me how to play poker (very simple edition) - which was fun because it seemed really grown up, and I won pennies. I'd say a lot of card games can be fun for both kids and adults.

There's plenty of children's books that i genuinely enjoy, either because they're humorous or because the story is good. Buy books that are fun for you to read out-loud to him.

Coloring books - if you like coloring these can be fun - they make more complex coloring books (Dover is one brand), you could each have your own set.

Legos, or Duplos for now, or really any building blocks.
posted by abitha! at 7:27 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very soon your son will get a lot more fun to play with.

Things that I enjoy doing with my 3.5 year old:

- Legos (Duplos) -- And more recently we went from merely building "towers" to building zoos and airports and stuff. We talk about what goes in these places.

- Trains -- We have a ton of the wooden tracks and trains (Ikea, Brio, Thomas) and it is actually fun for me to build a really cool track. (And this has been fun since he was about 2.)

- Art projects -- I enjoy coloring and cutting and doing this stuff. It only got fun sort of recently though.

- Dress-up/pretend -- This isn't my *favorite* thing to do, but the pretend side of things is okay. This morning we were pirates and we looked for treasure.

- Puzzles -- I actually don't mind doing puzzles together. It is cool to see him get better with them. You can probably buy a few of the age appropriate Melissa and Doug puzzles at about a year.

I looked back in our photos for what my son was doing when he was 1... it was a boring time for toys because he wasn't old enough to really play with bigger toys but was too old for most infant toys

- toy vacuum
- walker
- we bought a trike that we could strap him into at that point and we had a Step2 pushcar
- busy ball popper - although I think that he was more into it at the 2nd half of being 1
- but mostly stuff around the house -- "stirring in a pot" or tossing balls around
posted by k8t at 7:29 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Legos are always fun, but a little too advanced for a 1 year old. We really enjoyed blocks, but the game was that I tried to stack them as high as I could before he knocked them down, which made it a game for me as well as him. Crayons were also fun, since we could both draw at the same time, and he would let me do whatever I wanted as long as he could then scribble all over what I just drew.
posted by markblasco at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2012

All the Playmobil sets.

Good art supplies--especially clay and other tactile stuff. Also scratch sheets are fun (where the paper is colored with black wax over). We like low-stakes art where the process is more fun than whatever you end up with.

Science kits--science kits often occupy their own aisle at toy places nowadays. You can also purchase stuff like owl pellets to soak and get the skeleton out of, order larvae to grow different insects. We also love polymer kits where you can experiment with different add-water polymers like balls, crystals, snow (polymers are forbidden for kids who will put things in their mouth. No exceptions).

Magnet sets with strong rare earth magnets, magnet balls, magnet rings, etc. (magnets are forbidden for kids who will put things in their mouth. No exceptions).

Lego sets--for the more satisfying and complex sets you can use your kid for sub-contracting. Figure out one section, give the kid the blocks and basic instruction, have kiddo put it together for you while you're figuring out the next part.

Basic life science stuff--growing beans in wet paper towels to see them sprout, planting "pizza gardens" in containers, making terrariums.

We buy memberships to whatever we can and head to those places together to the extent that they aren't "special" which is awesome by us.

Kites and pond boats.

Recycle cardboard (cereal boxes, oatmeal cans) and tape. You can do cutting. Add in some markers.

Water play--toys and household items in the bath tub. Bath paints in there, too. Once they are stable sitting in shallow tubs with toys, you can sit in the bathroom for supervision and read for awhile. This was my go to when the old baby/toddler fussiness would not stop.

So obviously, our kid is older (he'll be a kindergartner soon), but if you OK with messiness and it's obvious that you're asking for things to do where you'll be directly supervising because you're playing together--then some of this is still doable in briefer and more limited ways. Even if your kid is too young to take in the whole scope of what you're doing, if YOU'RE entertained then you're engaged and present, and that's all young kids really want from their parents.

We got a lot of eye rolls when we did stuff like this with our toddler because "what will they care or remember?" but we're not parents who can tolerate hours of toddler toys and games (and we still did some of that, too), or who can sustain quality engagement by just "being there" for long periods of time. So we dyed fabric scraps with onion peels (letting our toddler help by dipping and making a mess), and took pond water samples, and dissected sunflowers, went to concerts, etc. Interestingly, though there are lots of different factors and different kids, our kid is very close to us without (at this point) really needing to have us be right there with him all the time. He's curious and very independent and can entertain himself for longer and longer periods. And the things we're all interested in doing together get more and more interesting and awesome.

We also did A LOT outside. A LOT. We ignore weather completely. You have to really not care about having a dirty baby/kid. Or a wet one. Or one that's a little cold or sweaty. But kids just can't be inside for very long without needing to be run off, or at least to mess with stick and grass while you catch up on reading.
posted by rumposinc at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

We all much preferred the plastic Tinker Toy set over the traditional wooden one. Not sure why, except maybe that the pieces are chunkier and easier to handle. You also get bigger structures than you can with the more spindly wooden pieces.
I also really liked the giant cardboard blocks that you fold and assemble. They were fun to build up into tall walls or into enclosures for the boy, who had to exhibit extreeeme patience, before he could hulk smash his way out. There is something really satisfying about how big they are and yet they stacked up neatly in one corner of our living room. Those aren't the exact ones we had, but seem close enough.

Scotch tape was a favorite item. Actually tape of all kinds. He enjoyed it and we enjoyed seeing what he would do with it. He liked to incorporate it into drawings and paintings and to make patterns w/ colored tape. Also, scissors. He was a cutting master pretty early on.
posted by jvilter at 8:23 AM on March 3, 2012

The card game Spot It. I read about it here and it's utterly brilliant. I'd say the three year olds can play it with a tiny bit of support.... and it engages adults equally. Most of my adult friends and my kids friends beg me to play it. We formed a Game Society after I bought Spot It. We play regularly and a few other games. Love, love, love it. There is no competitive advantage in age or experience. It's brilliant.

Made by Blue Orange, available on Amazon.

I also like Zingo...word bingo. But Spot It wins hands down.
posted by taff at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Making sewn or stapled books of drawings is fun. I transcribe the captions to my son's drawings. We have a nice library of these. None of them make sense, but we still read them occasionally. On the back is the publisher's name, whatever he decides it ought to be. Some have bar codes.

Lego are the best, of course. We used to make wobblingly tall robots out of Duplo blocks and they would battle each other (by hitting each other, and coming apart). That was great.

I, too, like Zingo, which has a little card dispenser that adds to the game.
posted by Francolin at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2012

+1 Zingo. I also love Qwirkle. It's got chunky pieces that a toddler could handle, and you can play lots of different pattern games with it until he gets old enough to play by the actual rules.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:31 AM on March 3, 2012

My family has always been really into playing games. When we were little we used to play card games like Steal the Pile and Pig. For when he gets older, a really fun one is Tripoley. I can't remember how old we were when we started playing but Board Game Geek says ages 8+. We would gather up all the pennies we could find and play for hours on a Friday or Saturday night. Our family also really likes puzzles.
posted by Nolechick11 at 9:48 AM on March 3, 2012

posted by mosk at 10:06 AM on March 3, 2012

The toys I enjoy playing with along side my nephews are the construction related ones (lego, lincoln logs and the like). Lots of fun times building things that inevitably spins into some sort of story telling. Plus it easy to build things for them to interact with their other toys (think a race course for their cars or a garage for their cars...they love cars if you haven't gotten the point yet).

Another toy that I particularly love but we'll have to wait for you until they are a bit older is a "Marble Run". Fantastic fun because it tweaks the need for building but it is also a physics challenge as well as a form of kinetic sculpture.
posted by mmascolino at 10:08 AM on March 3, 2012

When they were little, wooden train sets (I built a gazillion) and drawing/craft stuff. A bit older, Lego. As soon as they could count, board games. By 2-2.5 they can play Candyland. By 3 you've got Snakes and Ladders, Blockus and simple card games. By 4 you can start checkers and then chess. At 5 you can do most games, maybe slightly modified. I play Settlers of Catan with my 3.5 yo and my 5.5 yo now (often without the robber, to speed things up). So fun! And they always want to play with me!
posted by Cuke at 10:14 AM on March 3, 2012

My favourite toy is by far our big wooden train set (most of our stuff is Thomas The Tank branded but there's loads of generic stuff that is compatible). Hours of fun to build track, set up villages, etc. Start collecting now.
posted by Go Banana at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2012

We went through that as mini-batmonkey grew out of the infant toys, too.

The up-to-2yrs things she has that we enjoy, as well*, are:
Melissa & Doug 3-prong stacking toy (same experience if you just have two different stacking toys)
Blocks (we can build while she figures stuff out and make structures for weeGojira to destroy)
Musical toys where you can make your own tunes (keyboards and drums, especially)
Balls - throwing, rolling, fetching
Reading with funny voices and major over-dramatisation

I would like to get more of the B. toys, like the big activity center and the architectural blocks.

* Full disclosure: seeing her glee and active learning are endlessly fascinating for me, personally, so I'm mostly sharing the things that also got the male-parent's interest beyond tolerant supportiveness.

Here's an idea: go to a store like Buy Buy Baby or a non-Toys/Babies 'R' Us toy store and check out the toys on your own. See what catches your interest and makes you curious about how your sproglet will respond. Those are generally good bets.
posted by batmonkey at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2012

Legos. Train sets. Anything to do with painting, arts or crafts. I got a kit and made a tebuchet with my nephew one time I am not sure who had more fun flinging PlayDoh balls around after that him or me. Does going into the kitchen and cooking with them count?

Considering the age group though you might have to wait a bit for that. Building blocks, are fun. Water play, finger painting is a hoot if you roll up your sleves and get involved.

In warmer weather painting with water is fun you get a bucket of water and a bit brush and wet the brush and draw on the side of the house or a wall somewhere with water. It makes no mess and is lots of fun and usually ends in a water fight. Large chalks and drawing on some concrete somewhere is fun. For years my front path was multi coloured as my niece and nephew would sit out in the sun and decorate it for me when they visited and I used to love sitting out with them and talking and drawing too. I still rather like making roads and things in sand pits with tonka trucks.
posted by wwax at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2012

Well, for a start he's 1 - there is very little you can put in the box that he will find more interesting than the box it came in, so this is kind of a tough age and it's okay to be bored by repetition. If you're crafty, it may actually increase your engagement if your son is playing with toys you've made. Fabric books are really easy to sew up with 12 or 16 different animal panels off fat eighths, for example. You can tape a box closed and cut slots in the top for blocks he already has to make sorting games. You can make drums out of round boxes, elastic band Kleenex box violins, and other instruments, as well as simple forts from larger boxes. Rotating toys may keep both of you more interested, too. My personal feeling about 12 to 18 mos is "thank god, now you're so much more robust" and the playground may really become more interesting than swing, slide, swing, slide this spring and summer. Failing that, floating, dropping, pouring and splashing things in the kitchen sink is always entertaining.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2012

The thing about play with a 1 yr old is that YOU have to enjoy the joy that your child is experiencing, not the toy/game itself. play with things that your child gets a kick out of. for some kids it's balls and squeezy toys, for other kids its blocks (most kids at this age will have more fun knocking them over than building them up, so be prepared to rebuild many times over).
My son loved our trampoline that we had gotten for an older sib. he would love just being bounced (not high) in the air or playing break the egg (have your child hold his knees with his arms and try to stay that way as we bounced until the egg (his arms) is cracked.
experiment and enjoy, that's the key.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:49 AM on March 3, 2012

posted by taff at 2:20 PM on March 3, 2012

We bought child-sized tools and had our kids work along with us, keeping up a running conversation about what/why/how we were doing.

In the kitchen, we bought tiny rolling pins, mixing bowls, baking pans and spatulas. Pampered Chef has a knife that won't cut fingers. For a very little kid, we put the her in the high chair, put a bit of flour or sugar in a bowl and let her "help" while we were baking. If you don't mind the mess, we gave her some water or some chocolate powder or jam to stir up. A bit older and she could stand on a chair or a stool and help with the real meal.

We also bought small broom and mop, and sponges with wild pink flowers on them. My girls loved playing Cinderella and kept asking which chore they had to do next. They loved washing the floor and "doing the dishes" at the kitchen sink (more bubbles, less actual cleaning). Heck, for a very short little while, my oldest LOVED to clean the toilet. That didn't last long.

Outside, we bought kid-sized shovel, rake, hoe, and gloves so they helped us garden. Make sure to get the tools with wooden poles and metal heads; the all-plastic ones don't really work as tools.

Even though I kept saying that the kids loved it, the truth is that having them alongside while we did chores or activities that we liked to do was very satisfying for the adults, too.
posted by CathyG at 3:04 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Games with balls going through chutes are fun - he likes the repetition but you can try for speed or getting all the balls in at once. Marble runs are similar fun to build.

There's nothing better than a basic wooden block set.
posted by Sukey Says at 4:59 PM on March 3, 2012

This fun tangram puzzle is for older kids, but when it's on our coffee table, *nobody* can resist. A whole deck of cards (in the drawer underneath) gives you lots of designs to replicate, and each card has the answer on the back, for desperate times.
posted by fish tick at 5:46 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tents. We got a set of tents and tunnels from Playhut when my son was one. At the time, the big fun was just crawling through, or sitting in the tent for an exciting new location to read a story. Six years later, its still in the toy rotation. It's been part of many forts, been a time machine to the dinosaur era, and a place to store tiny person treasures. Kind of like this.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:49 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions so far, thanks so much! I definitely tend to prefer nerdy and crafty pursuits, hope my kid will enjoy those things too. We read many books every day, and thankfully he loves being read to. I love the idea of making books out of our own drawings, I really enjoy all crafts really, so looking forward to when we can do those things. Anyone have any idea about when I can start introducing basic crafts to him? He still puts most things in his mouth, but when can I try some finger painting for example? I love card and board games too, one of my faves is Memory, but we still have to wait a few years for that one. I also like puzzles/games/toys where there is some kind of challenge (try to get a ball into a hole or whatever), that is tricky and addictive - any suggestions there?
I was in a consignment store yesterday, and I picked up this toy for 10 bucks. What I like about it is that there is some cause and effect going on there (drop the balls down the spiral, put the frog down the tube) - I think this is a good one for my kid right now, and I enjoy it too. Anyone have anymore suggestions that are like this, but on a larger scale for when he is older?
posted by Chick Pea at 5:14 AM on March 4, 2012

You could try fingerpaints now as long as you don't mind some going in the mouth - staining is going to be a bigger problem than toxicity. Maybe strip down to a diaper and put a little bit of paint on his highchair tray or a low, easily cleaned table.

Some craft projects for older toddlers, maybe 2 and up:

Paper stained glass was a big hit with the preschool and elementary kids at our church. Right now Oriental Trading only has religious kits, but they sell others at different times of the year, or you could cut out whatever shape you like from regular construction paper.

The Little Hands line by Alex has some great craft kits for younguns.

Kool-Aid makes really nice watercolor paint. One packet to one or two tablespoons of water, depending on how dark you want the color. When your paper dries the picture is scratch-and-sniff.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:14 AM on March 4, 2012

You can finger-paint whenever you're ready for the mess :D There's this great supersafe stuff out there, already mixed and ready to go.

Crayons are trickier, because they have to be supervision-only until ~3yrs. But you can certainly get crayons that are safer than others for sitting together and creating, like these, these, these, or these. The rock-shaped ones are ideal for learning grip, but require close monitoring. These are very popular.

Things like that cool toy include this, this, this, and this - fairly wide variety, I think.

And don't be so sure that you can't play Memory for a few years - mini-batmonkey has invented her own version already, where she sees something in a book and then goes to find the thing like it amongst her toys or in another book. If your little person is already well into reading, you can play that game, too, and it's a perfect lead-in to Memory-type play!
posted by batmonkey at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2012

oh, wait...dangit...didn't parse the "when older" part of the drop-toy and nap just ended! argh. hopefully there'll be plenty of other ideas soon!
posted by batmonkey at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2012

Geotrax train sets. Holy hell, I love playing with Geotrax. My best friend's kid, who is 8, has had Geotrax since he was about 2 and a half, and I have logged more hours on that thing than I can even describe. I have, and I am not kidding here, played with his Geotrax after he's gone to bed.
Building the train sets is satisfying in a way that few things are in the adult world. It soothes my OCD on a variety of levels - like, I have a rule where I have to use every single piece of train track, no leftovers, no dead ends. It tweaks my troubleshooting skills - it's easy to accidentally set up a loop on the track where switching to one of the paths locks the train in that section of the track and cannot return to the previous section because there isn't a corresponding track switch in that section. It encourages my creativity - instead of just relying on the default risers that support inclines, I've built hills on the raised fireplace mantel, atop yoga blocks, through cubbies in a coffee table.

I'm not the only adult who is insane about Geotrax. There is no way that these designs were done by 3 year olds.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:43 AM on March 5, 2012

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