Greatest Hits Toy List (aka Toys with Staying Power)
Welcome to our Alpha Mom “Greatest Hits” Toy List (recently updated for the 2015 Holiday Season). The inspiration for this came came suddenly after years of analyzing some of the big-box retailer’s “Hot Toy Lists.” Each list is virtually identical and there are rarely toys on it that garner the level of enthusiasm we have for other toy and game favorites.
I asked a few Alpha Mom contributors to share their families’ favorite favorite toys and games. Ones that they are really passionate about. What I discovered is that the toys and games that their kids play with for the longest periods of time in one sitting or over time are the ones that garner the most accolades.
In the end, we recommend 50 Toys and Games that we feel you can trust. The selections range from infant to tween-age. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your opinions in the comments section below. At the end of the day, when buying a gift think of the recipient. Gifts given thoughtfully and picked specifically for the recipient will always be “Hits.”
Greatest Hit Toys & Games!
For Babies under One
Babies don’t need much of anything other than food, sleep, diaper changes and love. However, as they start to crawl and get curious, we’ll make these recommendations that really last through toddlerhood:
1. Mozart Magic Cube: this is an all-time favorite amongst experienced parents. Kids love it and parents too.
3. Pull-Toy Animals: you really can’t go wrong with any pull toys. It’s developmentally appropriate for this age and there are so many super cute options, especially the animal ones.
4. Toy Broom & Dust Pan: my toddler son loved to maneuver his broom. Toddlers love to mimic their parents and this toy is another developmentally-appropriate toy.
5. Pretend & Play Doctor’s Kit: Fantastically simple toy. Your kids will love being the doctor, nurse or patient. This toy is a hit toy amongst a couple of moms like Kelcey and me. Another choice is this cloth/ soft play doctors kit version.
6. The Bilibo : When this innovative toy burst onto the scene several years ago, it was the talk of the town. Let’s not forget about it. It provides hours of open-ended play fun and belly laughs. Perfect for a two year and it will be still be loved when your child is in the first grade. Toys with staying power are hits!
7. Kettler Tricycle: was a huge hit once my son he turned 2.5 years old. We started out with the navigation steerer and then once he had mastered his movements (around three years old) he was off on his own. Don’t forget the helmet, of course.
9. Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks: Our contributor Wendy said that both of her boys have played with these blocks constantly since they were toddlers. They’re used for straight-up building, of course, but they’re also used to support other kinds of play — race tracks for small cars, cages for animals, mazes for remote controlled bugs to walk through, etc. They still get a lot of use with her 7 year old– that’s staying power.
For Young Preschoolers
10. The Picnic Game: Even though this game is recommended for children ages 5+, it received a rave review from almost an three-year old last year. My son was also pretty young in preschool when we played it regularly.
11. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Game: Our regular contributor Kelcey, shared that “this is a wonderful game for kids because you play individually but then you win or lose as a group. So no sad pouty faces at the end. My girls love this one. And we always end feeling good.”
12. Magna-Tiles: This is by far my favorite toy in the whole wide world. Unfortunately, Magna-Tiles are expensive! Yeah, this is a big investment, but worth it in my opinion. This is another toy with tremendous staying power. If you can swing it, I recommend starting to buy tiles when your kid(s) are young and then add and add to the collection (especially if/ when you can find them on sale).
13. Melissa & Doug Pretend Food Sets. Imaginative play is great and M&D get lots of praise for their high quality food toy sets. Kelcey’s family loves the Melissa & Doug Pizza Party and she shared: “My kids have been playing with this for years! A simple, creative toy that stands the test of time. Who doesn’t love pizza?” Wendy and family love their Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set. Wendy shared, “We are only now passing it along to another family. Constantly played with when the kids were preschoolers. Other sets got use too, but did not hold the same appeal.”
14. FurReal Friends Cuddles My Giggly Monkey Pet Kelcey looked at this toy closely for our Hot Toys of 2013 analysis and she and her family gave it a big thumbs up. Her littlest daughter, who was three years old at the time, fell in love. At the time of that review Kelcey thought this one would have staying power especially if you have kids who love to play with baby dolls. She wasn’t wrong. Two years later, it’s still a hit in her house. Her 2.5 year old was just playing with it.
15. Batman costume: Wendy bought this for Halloween one year and it’s probably the all-time most played with toy at her house. Both kids have used it for dress-up for years. Best $20 she ever spent. Theirs did not have poofy muscles which made it more comfortable and made the kids more likely to play with it.
16. Chalkboard/ Art Easel: Kelcey says that this has been such a good purchase. Her kids have used it for all kind of imagination play over the years from playing school to art projects to whatever they can think of! Money well spent.
17. Big Floor Puzzles: Amalah’s youngest son, Ike, is currently obsessed with the Melissa & Doug floor jigsaw puzzles and re-using the same ones she bought her oldest, Noah, as a preschooler (and her middle son, Ezra, loved as well) so they definitely hold up and have staying power! Provided you can keep all the pieces, of course, hahaha. We actually reviewed a bunch of different brands of large floor puzzles a couple of years ago and we also like the floor puzzles made by Crocodile Creek because the pieces are big and colorful and the designs are really beautiful (though this brand is more expensive than others).
For Older Preschoolers
18. Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book! Amalah recommended this book as a hit. She shares: “A wonderfully fat book full of fun activities, crafts and doodle prompts that kids can (mostly) do unsupervised or with siblings and friends. Kept my kids occupied for weeks on end. Plus, it’s the Pigeon! Everybody loves the Pigeon.”
19. Feed The Kitty: My son and I loved this roll-the-dice game and we traveled with it often when he was younger (we would just take the dice and pieces with us in a ziploc). I definitely would recommend it for children aged 4-5 year olds.
20. Playmobil Action Sets: definitely a splurge gift. Playmobil playsets are not inexpensive but they will always have a special place in my heart for all the hours of imaginative play my son dedicated to them.
21. Marble Runs: If you’ve got a four or five-year old, now is the time they start appreciating marble runs. I love marble runs because as the kids get older they can build more complex structures. There are a lot of different marble run systems and I would choose one based on the the ability to expand, or for the cool accessories (bells, slides, funnels) if you’re buying for older preschoolers. Wendy also gave marble runs the thumbs up. She thinks the simpler, the better. She’s found that the fancy ones with motors and other extra doo-dahs are too hard for the kids to manage when they’re younger. Also, her kids had trouble building with the fancy wooden ones. Wendy’s favorite marble run is this one.
22. Imaginext Bat Cave: beloved by both of Wendy’s boys, great for pretend play, lots of satellite products to expand with. For ages 3 to 8.
For Younger School-Aged Kids
23. Legos: every one loves Legos. Because of the small pieces, regular Legos are not recommended for young ones. But, there’s a line called Duplo where the pieces are bigger and therefore safer for the younger set. To read more about introducing Lego to your child, here’s some fun and useful advice from Amalah.
24. The 3D Drawing Pad is so much fun. My son has one and it really does work!
25. The Blank Comic Panelbook For your older or more experienced doodler, these basic comic panel sheets let them get to work on their own graphic novel masterpiece. Excellent for helping kids plot their stories and organize their writing, too.
27. Do A Dot paints: Kelcey recommends these for letting your young kids get creative without the major mess of traditional paints.
28. My First Magic Set: Kelcey shared this pick. Kids love magic and this is a fun kit to teach them basic tricks.
29. Uno Card Game: This card game is a favorite of our contributors Wendi and Kelcey and their families. This card game has been around since we were kids but it’s still a great game. You can play with all ages (even preschoolers and kindergarteners can play) and that makes it a great choice for a family game night.
30. Rat-A-Tat-Cat: Another card game that is so fun with kids. Kelcey often play this with her 3rd and 5th grader before they go to bed. Uses basic math skills, lots of strategy and tons of laughing.
31. Jenga: Also another fun family game that a wide range of ages can enjoy that is a favorite at Kelcey’s home.
32. Connect 4 Game: Wendy loves it because it’s hard for her to find games that appeal to both her kids (with a 4 year age gap) but her boys both love this game and like to play it together. Bonus: each round only takes a few minutes so she doesn’t have to commit an hour of her time to play with one of them.
33. Razor Kick Scooter: This is a perfect holiday gift and Razor is the leader at making them. What kid doesn’t want one? Don’t forget the helmet.
For Older School-Aged Kids & Tweens
34. Pencil Toppers Sewing Kit : Kelcey also recommends this set to for the kids to let the them get creative with sewing projects.
35-38. Board Games: Wendi and her sons spent weeks last year playing a whole bunch of board games and then sharing their opinions. Their favorites: Blokus, Spot It, Qwirkle, and Apples to Apples Jr (also a favorite of our contributor Mir. Mir told me that her family always knows the game is over when they’re laughing too hard to continue).
40. Bananagrams: another great game for family night and who doesn’t love seeing kids having fun with word games. It also makes for a great stocking stuffer for the holidays.
41. Squap: Wendi’s boys love, love, love this simple throw/catch game. No batteries, very portable and can even be played alone.
42. Perplexus Epic: Wendi’s boys saw this in the enrichment room at their school and begged to get one for home. It’s a clear globe with ramps inside and the challenge is to make a small ball inside go somewhere. (She doesn’t really know how it works, but apparently it keeps them really quiet, so she likes this toy A LOT.)
43-46. Lego Architecture Play Sets: A favorite of mine and Wendi’s. Her son Jack LOVES these and has built the UN building, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Space Needle and the White House. He keeps them displayed on a shelf and shows them off to any friends who come by.
47. Pogo Stick: when my son was around seven years old, he spent lots of time bouncing around on this exact pogo stick. Dress in layers, put on some gloves, and a safety helmet (avoid any icy patches outside) and your child can generate enough warmth bouncing around in the cold weather too. You don’t necessarily have to wait until summer.
48. SKLZ Pro Mini Basketball Hoop: My now 12-year old son and his friends still love this toy after a few years. Many of them have one hanging on the doors of their bedrooms. This is another toy with great staying power. Now, it’s a noisy toy. So if you have downstairs neighbors (or you have noise sensitivity) who are easily bothered by kids jumping around and bouncing balls indoors, pass on this one.
49. Just Dance video game: wow, is this one a lot of fun. Kids and adults compete (or play solo) by following dance moves set to some of the best (and recognizable) dance music. It’s available for the Nintendo, Playstation and XBox platforms.
50. NBA 2K video game is another favorite of my now 12 year-old son and his buddies and they’ve been playing this one for years. It’s available on the XBox, Playstation and for the PC. It’s a great game, really innovative where your child can customize his/her NBA player (down to the tattoos), hold interactive press conferences and if s/he wins the championship, even join an animated-President Obama at the White House for a photo opp. I like it because the point of this game is to make shooting hoops (not guns) cool. Only issue is that every time the game comes out with a new edition, you have to buy everything all over again.