What playset is so awesome that it warrents its own room?
April 11, 2020 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I have 2 sensory/non neurotypical preschool boys aged nearly 4 and 5. We have a large attic space (the engine room) where we have housed a huge thomas the tank engine brio train track that has provided over 2 years of enjoyment and it was too big to take out. They've outgrown it now and just bring all the other new toys downstairs to the livingroom. What awesome toy is big, amazing, cohesive and engaging enough that they will go up and enjoy it there together for, say 45 minutes- 1 hour a day, like they did with the thomas set?

They love to play together so that's awesome. I bought them some play mobil pirate ships which they loved, but they also destroyed- by shoving them full of beanie babies right up to the masts. We also have various vehicles and transformers... a large toy camper van and octonauts stuff... but again, not engaging enough or they bring it downstairs... Each individual toy at the moment can be played with alone, so they just bring it downstairs. The thomas set was different, you really needed it to be all together. Sure, they occasionally brought down an engine, but once it was set up they were so happy to play up there for long periods and they looked forward to going up there. Especially now, during Corona, it would be nice for them to enjoy that space again.

Motor planning wise they aren't at the level to play with duplo or lincoln logs... my friend suggested dinosaur train, I am researching this. I am happy to pay up to 400 dollars if this is something that will entertain them for hours over the course of a year or 2 (like the thomas set did)... maybe something that has a huge background or story?

I think they loved the thomas set so much because they loved the cartoons and it they loved making up stories and acting them out. Of course, they weren't independent up there to start, but eventually they could go up on their own and I would love that again.
posted by catspajammies to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ianape (parenting expert): I raised three. found fivish to really have a big switch to social/interactive play. candyland, old maid, go fish, hide and seek, doing art together... sometimes, playing whatever one normally plays - but including or around parents and family. It's not that they're done with Thomas, it's that they're done with the attic - isolated play. Maybe experiment, go up there and just read or whatever. See if they continue to take toys downstairs. Fwiw. (mine are neuro-typical and I have nothing to offer about that. Ignore this if it doesn't make sense. I know this doesn't answer the q well. It's ok to mark for deletion)
posted by j_curiouser at 10:37 AM on April 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

You might try getting some big cardboard appliance boxes for creative play, might not keep them engaged for a year but they are cheap.
posted by yohko at 10:51 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

A big fridge box made into a house/fort? Include old remote controls and gadgets so they can make it a rocket ship. Include markers so they can decorate it. Secret hatches. Paint one wall with chalkboard paint, etc.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:52 AM on April 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is a big one, but if it's possible you'll love it: can you put hooks in the ceiling that will hold their weight? Then you could hang hammocks, swinging platforms, etc. They can play the most awesome game of "don't let your feet touch the burning hot lava" ever. I've spent a lot of time in hammocks made out of stretchy material and it's wonderful for sensory people -- I believe the hammocks were made out of swimsuit fabric.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:53 AM on April 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

Our sensory daughter (5, primarily proprioception and vestibular) - and her neuro-typical sisters (3 & 7) - love their swing chair, hammock, exercise ball, pull up bar, gymnastics bar, and sensory bins (Play-Doh, slime, kinetic sand, dry beans, rice, etc.). Having all of that in one place would be a dream come true for us.

We used these Sensory Diet cards in her PT and bought a set for home. Having the equipment for them would require an entire room.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe build a screen into the wall and hire someone to video chat with them?
posted by amtho at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2020

Response by poster: I am really happy to hear ideas about theraputic stuff that we can do, so feel free to keep those coming. We have some swings and a peanut ball and I do activities with them using those etc. They get to do a lot of crashing and jumping and we have rodys... Haven't done sensory bins yet- but will do, so definitely keep these ideas coming.

But what I am really really looking for is some kind of character/cartoon/themed playset... some kids maybe like batman or whatever now? What comes after paw patrol and peppa pig? If you have a child (preschool boy) who is absolutely obsessed with some character, or you know of one... I want to know all about that.

I love all the theraputic ideas but I am curious to find a new interest that they can engage with on their own. With the swings and the other stuff it takes a lot of adult interaction to make sure they don't hurt themselves...
posted by catspajammies at 11:17 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

The two preschool boys I know are very into PJ Masks at the moment. No idea if that's just a them thing or if it's widespread. Also, Legos seem to be infinitely interesting.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2020

Some kind of faux Yayoi Kusama? images on google
posted by bdc34 at 1:05 PM on April 11, 2020

A lot of play sets are almost all imagination and not a lot of physics. I suspect cool, rolling trains helped make that very interesting. I can tell you that the MOST played with and fought over item at any of my kids schools (preschool, kindergarten) were magnatiles. I bought them when I thought maybe my kid was too old but he did get an incredible amount of play out of them. They are spendy but I suggest getting at least the 100 piece set (about 110 bucks).

One nice thing is those also can be used with other play items. They became a house for other toys or a garage for cars, etc.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

My first thought was Magna Tiles too. You could try a homemade light box to play them on - then they’re illuminated and look cool and maybe this would encourage them to keep them upstairs by the light table.
I have a 4-year old and he is really into LEGO and starting to like Star Wars. I don’t think he knows really what Star Wars is, but he recognizes some of the characters and loves R2D2. He also likes Minecraft from seeing older kids play it.
What about a huge hot wheels track? Or I love those big cardboard blocks that can be stacked into forts. I think Melissa & Doug sell sets of those.
posted by areaperson at 2:38 PM on April 11, 2020

My 4 YO got a crazy fort set for Christmas and is obsessed with it. It’s basically a set that allows you to build a large structure/ fort. If you get multiple sets, you can build bigger structures. I honestly didn’t think my kid would be able to figure it out - but he did! I would say this takes less dexterity than legos.
He actually engages in a lot of imaginative play with the set. He not only built forts, he built race cars, space ships, etc.
Our local kids museum has Big Blue Blocks from Imagination Playground. They are really, really large foam blocks for building. If I had enough room I would get those. Unfortunately they don’t have pricing on their website, so I’m not sure it fits your budget.
posted by donovangirl at 3:29 PM on April 11, 2020

Layered hammock swing

Bean bags

Rope to climb and swing on

Train table and more wooden train pieces? Maybe some new construction options would get them excited.

Marble maze set
posted by medusa at 4:47 PM on April 11, 2020

Air Fort. My kids - 7 and 2 - love this thing.
posted by elisebeth at 5:13 PM on April 11, 2020

My kids are 4 and 7 and have spent quarantine building a duplo Disneyland with their many hundreds of duplo bricks. I wish we had a dedicated play space for it as it's taken over our entire living room. You might need more than $400 to get as many duplos as are required to make this really compelling, though, but I bet you could get big lots used on eBay.
posted by potrzebie at 7:14 PM on April 11, 2020

What comes after paw patrol and peppa pig? If you have a child (preschool boy) who is absolutely obsessed with some character, or you know of one... I want to know all about that.

For our preschool boy, after paw patrol and peppa pig (and dinosaurs and fire engines), he was obsessed with: Transformers and all kinds of superheros (Batman, Spiderman, the Flash, etc). Also had minor obsessions with Ben Ten, Teen Titans, and Pokamon. (Also True and the Magic Kingdom, but I think there might be fewer toys associated with that one.)

I would guess there are a gazillion play sets for most of those. Transformers might be a good bet because there are lots of toys, the toys are pretty good quality, and they are versatile.

Maybe try out a few of the cartoons over the next few days, that have play sets you like associated with them, and see if your boys get particularly excited by one set of storylines/characters in particular? If you have netflix, there is a preschool appropriate Transformers cartoon called 'Rescue Bots'.

Edit to add: my co-parent has just reminded me that these Transformer toys in particular were great when our kiddo was younger, because they are very simple but still (in kiddo's words) "awesome." They might be good for your boys if they have problems with motor skills, because they are easier to play with: ie., less fiddly.
posted by EllaEm at 7:18 PM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing Magnatiles and marble run sets. Also the heaviest use item in our neurodiverse home has been the ball pit. For years we had soft sided ball pit (the one we had was big enough for a 6 year old to lay down in). Last Christmas we built a 5x6' PVC pipe one. You definitely need a lot of balls but it feels so good to roll around in the ball pit.
posted by bluebelle at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2020

At that age my boys played with Imaginext playsets and their figures. They built whole cities and made up a ton of stories.

They also loved their 12” action figures in all different superhero’s and characters.
posted by katypickle at 10:09 PM on April 11, 2020

Hmm, how about a Scalextric set? you can get quite big ones that with the tracks laid out won't be very moveable. If you think they may bash it around a bit a Hot Wheels bundle might be doable once it is set up. Something like this looks good too.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:24 AM on April 12, 2020

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