With three kids, toys are not hard to come by in our apartment. However, there are only a handful of toys that entertain a special needs 11-year-old, an almost-3-year-old and a 16-month-old in equal measure. When we see the kids playing with one of the toys on this list, my husband and I will often say to each other. “We really got our money’s worth out of that one,” to which the other usually responds, “and then some.” Several of the toys on this list cost less than $10, but in order to be on the Top 10 you can be sure that they have worked some serious overtime.
1. Duplos: They are easy to clean and practically indestructible. And, they can be fun for adults too, so the potential for quality family time is an extra bonus.
2. Discovery marble maze. I know that marbles and 16-month-olds don’t generally mix, but with proper supervision, this toy entertains all three of my kids for hours. To keep them out of each other’s hair I usually build three separate mazes, individually tailored for ability (and height). It’s not as hard as it sounds; each maze takes less than five minutes to put together, and what’s 15 minutes when you’re talking about hours of fun
3. Balls. My children are not ball snobs—any ball will do. I think they might be partial to balls that bounce (especially if we’re somewhere inappropriate like the doctor’s office), but size doesn’t matter. One of our current games is taking cardboard boxes of various sizes and lobbing lots of balls across the living room into them. Kind of like a loose, giggly version of beanbag toss.
4. Fridge DJ. The magnetic radio sticks to the fridge and plays about 15 songs in 3 categories: numbers, letters, and classics. Most of the songs are now in our daily repertoire and it isn’t uncommon to catch someone in there jamming to “Birdie, Bye Bye.” Yes, including James.
5. Hot Wheels retractable race track. The racetrack rolls in and out like a tape measure with two tracks, so no big race track all over your little apartment. It works with most Hot Wheel type cars, doesn’t require batteries, and can extend 12″ or 4 feet depending on who is playing. The best part, IMO? There are little flags at the end of each track that indicates the winner, which really cuts down on the “I won!” “No, I won!” arguments.
6. Dry Erase Crayons. These have been used and cleaned up successfully on dry erase surfaces, car and house windows, highchairs, and subways (seats and windows).
7. Train table. The set includes a bunch of cool pieces like a crane, bridge, train station, and tunnel, all with cool sound effects. It comes with a couple of trains but is also generic wooden trains.
8. Indoor “fold-away” playground (folds up for compact storage, New Yorkers!). With a toddler-sized slide and steps, it is perfect for my younger two. Add in the mini basketball and soccer net and yous can join in their fun. Great, amazing fun for rainy, cold days (or weeks).
9. Toy laptop – “Fun to Learn.” There are a variety of skill levels so that my 16-month-old can play tunes, my 2-year-old can work on phonics, and my 11-year-old can try out math games with a “mouse.” No, not at the same time.
10. Nintendo action figures. Random, but surprisingly successful, these little characters have been carried continuously by one child or another for the last 6 months, and if they get lost we actually have to take the time and look for them. We have collected Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and Toad so far.