Their house has all the best toys!
May 7, 2017 10:52 PM   Subscribe

We don't have kids yet, but many of our friends do - and bring them to various BBQs and parties at our house. What quality toys can I invest in that will have broad appeal? Specific desired characteristics inside.

My mother had a bag of bendable foam rods that were always quite popular with kids of many ages, and lasted several decades.

I'm sure there are some awesome toys out there that I don't know about -- hit me with your best recommendations for toys that:
1) Appeal to a broad age range (currently, the kids are on the younger side) - please include the recommended age range in your post, I'm willing to get a few toys to cover different age ranges
2) Can be played with alone AND/OR easily shared
3) Can be used inside or outside
4) Don't require a lot of explanation or set up, and are easy to cleanup
5) Are durable and last a long time - and don't become unusable if one piece is lost
6) Don't need significant adult supervision
7) Have a bit of a cool or wow factor
8) Ideally don't have a screen or need a battery

I'm thinking something with a building component might be ideal, but open to many suggestions. Links to specific products greatly appreciated. I don't have a specific budget in mind, but willing to spend a bit for something awesome as long as it's likely to last a long time.
posted by purplevelvet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My nephews (2 and 6) both love wooden blocks and these magnetic tiles. But seriously, the wooden blocks keep them occupied for hours. And Legos. Get a big tub of Legos.
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 11:06 PM on May 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Outdoors...jumpropes, balls, sidewalk chalk, hula hoops. Indoors, drawing supplies, kid books, blocks, kid games and puzzles. Dressup stuff is fun. Giant cardboard box. Toy cars. All of which come in little or big kid styles.
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 PM on May 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Those magnetic tiles look really fun, and the bright colors make them appealing. In that vein, Tinker Toys are another fun building toy, they skew towards the younger age, but are fun even for older kids. K'nex makes a lot of great building products for a range of interests, for example, Mighty Makers and Imagine .
posted by photoelectric at 11:43 PM on May 7, 2017

+1 for drawing supplies. Buy a dozen coloring books and two mega packs of Crayola and stash them in a drawer.

My mom has coloring books and one of those "band in a bucket" things (maracas, tambourine, etc.). Those keep the great-nieces and nephews well entertained during parties.
posted by tippy at 11:43 PM on May 7, 2017

Play silks!
posted by oceano at 12:06 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Marbleworks was one of the sexy toys that I had as a kid that other kids seemed pretty into when they came over. Not for kids young enough that they'll put the marbles in their mouth, but from Kinder age or so up to maybe even middles school. Needs a flat surface to work on.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:46 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Brio or Brio-compatible wooden train sets. Last for ages, fine for small kids (assuming you take out any particularly tiny accessories), and train sets appeal to a broad age range.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:46 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

MagnaTiles or Magformers hit all your requirements.
posted by amro at 2:09 AM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

MagnaTiles are expensive but worth it! My kids loved them from ages 2-8. One caveat is that unless you have a ton of them, a set will occupy only 1 or 2 kids at a time. Also giving a +1 to the Marbleworks or Marblerun sets, they are fun and satisfying and are often a draw at our house.
posted by dreamphone at 2:30 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

LEGO, bubbles, art supplies, play doh, musical instruments, wooden blocks, matching card games, blackboard/whiteboard easel, water pistols and nerf guns, water and sand tables with bucket, spades and funnels.
posted by Jubey at 2:34 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Play silks seconded. But amazing dress up clothes are also great. We regularly host an open house with kids of all ages attending. Over the years I've grabbed all sorts of weird and wonderful clothes and actual costumes, wigs and shoes, handbags and capes, large swathes of stretchy and translucent cloth (also good for the blanket forts they like to make in the spare room we hand over to them).

Torches are also fun for night events. And if you're looking for an activity that's not a toy, we toast tiny marshmallows, threaded on to uncooked hard spaghetti sticks, on tea light candles. It's great fun and not too hot in summer.
posted by taff at 2:43 AM on May 8, 2017

Just buy a couple of balls. A basketball, a football, maybe a soccer ball or a volleyball, and one of those playground balls to play foursquare with. Balls are good because you can make up your own games if you don't want to play an existing game.

For inside, Lego is the classic.

You could also keep a box stocked with art supplies: construction paper, crayons, etc.

Incidentally, this is exactly my grandparents' house circa my own childhood.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:29 AM on May 8, 2017

Cardboard bricks. Ages 2 and up. Get several sets. They have the wow factor, especially if you have a lot of them. Ours have lasted a long time. They can't be easily eaten, choked on, or used as weapons.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:52 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wooden architectural blocks. Another version. Or maybe Duplo (Lego for little ones).
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:07 AM on May 8, 2017

Sidewalk chalk! I had so much fun with that growing up - not just scribbling but also playing hopscotch, Four Corners, and other games.

Also play silks and a chest full of dress-up stuff, the more outlandish the better.
posted by Tamanna at 4:14 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

We are in a similar place. We have some train stuff and some Little People Zoo figures (think one animal for each letter of the alphabet) that we original bought for our nephews. The friend's kids that come to our house love that stuff.
posted by mmascolino at 4:26 AM on May 8, 2017

You really don't need to make your stash fancy: my grandmother used to have a box with checkers, chess pieces, and a bunch of dominos --- you could play checkers or whatever, or just build towers and things. Kept a large crowd of grandkids and an even larger crowd of great-grandkids entertained for years.
posted by easily confused at 4:35 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Foxtail softie. apparently there is a new light up version available also. age range - 4 or 5 to adult. probably not indoor/outdoor though.
posted by domino at 6:25 AM on May 8, 2017

In terms of both inside/outside, large bricks (I'd say 3 and up) or a play tent (1 to 7 years).

If you go with duplos (better for inside/outside), I'd recommend the train as one to get and other vehicles as they double as cars.
posted by typecloud at 6:38 AM on May 8, 2017

Cornhole! It's great for gatherings and even toddlers can play along by walking bean bags over and dropping them in.
posted by boo_radley at 7:05 AM on May 8, 2017

Light sabers are the one thing that gets consistent play at our house with kids ages 3 to "only plays with cellphones."
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:07 AM on May 8, 2017

Best answer: Slot cars.

Seriously. Get a small set and set it up on a slab of wood. It can be easily stored in the back of a closet when not in use. You should be able to find a used set on eBay for not too much. Have a few extra cars on hand.

Nobody has slot cars anymore, certainly not the kids coming over to your house. They'll be amazed when they see it, and it only requires a single trigger to use it. Kids will take turns having races and will enjoy watching them while other kids are racing.

You'll be hero.
posted by bondcliff at 7:15 AM on May 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Wooden blocks for sure. My brother and I had (probably this exact) Childcraft set and we played with it for years, together and by ourselves. Your friends' kids will love them now, your kids will love them whenever they come into the picture. The blocks will still be there.
posted by phunniemee at 7:20 AM on May 8, 2017

Kids love Little Toy Grocery Carts and Little Toy Strollers. Whenever we have friends with young kids over, those are among the most popular among the 2-5 year old set.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:39 AM on May 8, 2017

Lincoln Logs. They're unlikely to have them at their homes, but kids are drawn to them. Adults might enjoy the retroness of them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:09 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thirding wooden blocks and lego/duplo, they're classics for a reason.

Other ideas would be a small jungle gym, a one-person (two if they're little enough) mini-trampoline, or a swingset, if you can afford and have space for such.

And something simple that gets surprisingly much play from my nephews, especially the younger one (5 now, but has loved it for a couple years), is a huge exercise/balance ball.
posted by MoTLD at 8:19 AM on May 8, 2017

If they're mainly young babies and toddlers, I would avoid marble runs and Legos because they are choking hazards.
Lincoln logs, Magna Tiles (my favorite! Fun for adults too!) and dominoes are safe bets for all ages.
posted by areaperson at 8:32 AM on May 8, 2017

Hard to beat a large cardboard box for fun potential. Cut a window or two. They can draw inside and out.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:45 AM on May 8, 2017

I think lego, including some of the pre-fab pieces that work to quickly make planes and cars, and a pile of random cool looking action figures, including girl characters and non-action-y characters would be great. This broadly covers different play styles: kids who like to act out characters, kids who like to build, and kids who like to fly planes around pretending to shoot things. Legos, planes and action figures seem to keep kids attention longer than some toys that they pick up for a minute then grow bored of. These toys also works for a very wide age-swath, but note lego is not safe for toddlers who can eat the pieces.

Lego is pretty expensive to acquire though. We bought a few lots on ebay when my kid was younger, but it's still not cheap. For action figures, you can get at some comic book stores. If you have a Japanese toy store in your area you could some characters that will be novel to your friend's kids (unless they are from Japan I guess).
posted by latkes at 8:46 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I nth the magnatiles. I would also recommend these types of stepping stones for indoor out door play. For some reason they seem to occupy a large group of kids with wide variety of ages very easily.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:29 AM on May 8, 2017

I also immediately thought MagnaTiles when I read your question. They're pricey but have incredibly longevity.
posted by anderjen at 10:25 AM on May 8, 2017

Nthing wooden blocks and Duplos. Duplos are better than Lego because they aren't a choking hazard and big kids will still have fun with them because they won't have played with them for a while. We also have the old classic version of the Little People Farm (this one) and EVERYONE loves it. Little kids because it's a toy, big kids because it's vintage!, and babies because the door moos when you open it.

Source: Am kidless, have kid friends, have drawer full of blocks, farm, and giant tub of Duplo.
posted by raspberrE at 4:13 PM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

We kept our fridge alphabet magnets long after my kids had technically outgrown it because it was fun to see what words younger visitors (and adult ones!) would leave behind.
posted by padraigin at 7:10 AM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a parent of littles, I'm looking at some of these suggestions and thinking "omg, I hate those toys at my own house and I have kids. If I didn't have kids and didn't understand the clean-up of a million very small pieces I would hate that toy even more, and it wouldn't get offered to my little guests more than once."

Lego - no. Duplo - yes. Magnatiles - hell yes. Band in a box - HELL NO, unless you enjoy having your adult conversation interrupted by whistles and annoying toy trumpets. If I were the visiting parent just looking for some adult conversation I would veto this HARD.

One of the most popular things on our at-home playdates is our dress-up box. We have hats, scarves, costume jewelry, sunglasses, actual costumes, pirate masks, whatever we come across. Good for either sex and any age.

Washable markers, never regular markers, because a parent doesn't want to be constantly watching a kid with a marker, and doesn't want to feel like an ass when they can't get permanent marker out of your sofa. Construction paper, glue sticks, and kid scissors. Thick crayons if you're having very small guests. Stickers. Stick on googly eyes.

Punch balloons. Bubbles. A bubble machine is loads of fun for littles.

As the parent of boys I suggest a group of dinosaurs, possibly with moveable legs. In our friend group I haven't seen many of the girls care much about dinosaurs, but every kid is different.

My kids really love this toy.

Keep a box of wet wipes on hand for easy clean-up.
posted by vignettist at 9:23 AM on May 9, 2017

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