The 8 classic toys that every home should have (and why less is actually more)

by | Apr 8, 2019 | Toys & Books | 0 comments

Today, Alice from ‘Real Kids, Real Playis writing for us about the 8 classic toys every home should have. She’s discussing why less is actually more and is giving us her thoughts on some excellent toys that your children will love. This is a topic that I feel certain all parents will be able to relate to. Sometimes, toys can be overwhelming!! Over to Alice…

Written by Alice Zsembery | Author “Real Kids, Real Play

Did you know that current statistics suggest that Australian’s (and Brit’s) spend the most money per child on toys, at a staggering $500 USD per year!

I was reflecting on this statistic recently as I was attacking my kids’ room after watching an episode of Marie Kondo and, to be honest, it didn’t surprise me much.

If you just think about one children’s birthday party, just one. Let’s say they invite 10 friends and each friend buys a $30 present…already, that one child has $300 worth of toys on one day! That’s before even considering presents from family and Christmas and any other special occasions throughout the year (as well as the random toy purchases for no reason at all).

The modern parent genuinely just wants to give their child the best

At the core of it, I believe that the modern parent genuinely just wants to give their child the best. Let’s face it, toys were expensive when we grew up. And in what I think of as the first real generation of globalisation, the influx of cheap toys has taken its toll on parents who recall having very little and now can give their children the entire opposite.

But the thing is, are all these toys that clutter our floors (and our rubbish tips) in the best interests of our children? And, if not, what are the toys we should be focussing on for genuine, unhindered, children’s play?

“Research has shown time and time again that less toys IS actually more.”

For example, in a recent study at the University of Toledo, they examined the influence that the number of toys available had on toddlers’ play. In particular, they were testing the hypothesis that an environment with fewer toys leads to a higher quality of play for toddlers.

In the study, 36 pre-schoolers were observed in two different individual free play conditions; one with 16 toys, and the other with 4 toys.

Fewer toys = higher quality of play

Here’s the thing: the study found that when children were faced with fewer toys, this led to a higher quality of play for the toddlers. Specifically, the children were engaged for longer periods of time playing with a single toy, had better focus to explore and played more creatively. That is, they played with the remaining toys in a greater variety of ways and not so prescriptively.

This isn’t a unique finding. A similar study undertaken at a kindergarten in Germany in the 90’s took the toys away completely. After navigating through an initial moment of ‘boredom’, the children exercised their imaginations and began to create play out of items that they would never have previously considered.

Should we be surprised? Not really.

Let’s face it. It’s the way we have been playing for centuries.

“Almost every parent I know regularly complains about the toys that the kids pull out onto the floor and then play with for all of 30 seconds.”

They are overwhelmed (as are we!).

It is no different to me having 30 windows open on my computer and constantly flicking through them all; what chance do I have of concentrating?!

So, if we are supposed to focus on less toys, rather than more, what ARE the valuable toy additions to any household? Which ones help promote the flexible and engaging play that was observed in the university studies (and, let’s face it, that all us parents are seeking)?

My recent declutter has led me to reflect on the key play items that have not only stood the test of time (and not hit landfill 5 minutes after purchase) but have actually been dearly loved and played with the most.

So here it is, my ultimate list:

The ultimate list – 8 classic toys every home should have

  1. Blocks

A classic toy that not only helps with hand-eye coordination, but also teaches kids early mathematical and engineering skills and spatial awareness.

In our household, a homemade wooden set, as well as Duplo (and more recently Lego) have been the biggest hits. For a long time, we did try a cheaper plastic block set but, I must be honest, the more expensive Duplo was well worth the investment.

For a slight variation, magnetic tiles have also proven a hit.

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Dress ups

Dramatic play is a key part of early childhood development; fostering imagination, exploration, assisting to build relationships and improving communication.

The thing is, dress ups don’t have to be $30 a pop. Next time you do a wardrobe cull, think of items that could pop into the dress ups box. An old fascinator, a pair of gloves, a funny hat, that beautiful skirt that you could squeeze into in your pre-baby body and just can’t handle getting rid of although you know that you never, ever will be a size 6 again (#speakingforafriend)?

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Vehicles

Cars, trucks and automobiles have always been an engaging hit with both my girl and my boy. Playing with vehicles not only improves gross and fine motor skills but provides kids with a whole heap of STEM learning along the way.

For all things vehicles, you cannot go past Lucas Loves Cars (the name alone gives it away!) for the most incredible selection of cars, trucks, planes and automobiles that you ever did see. For us, we have a few larger trucks for the outdoors and then a number (ok, a gazillion) of smaller vehicles for indoor play. And. They. All. get. Used.

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Dolls

Boy or girl, dolls are a toy that have been used for generations with the earliest use of a doll reportedly dating back to 100AD!

Dolls assist children in developing their social skills, by role playing and practicing scenarios they see in the world around them, processing emotions, imagination and language communication.

There are so many beautiful dolls available these days that reflect our society. At Tailoring for Miss Polly not only can you buy one of the beautifully diverse Miniland dolls but find the most ah-mazing outfits to go with them.

And if you are looking for a timeless piece that can be passed down through generations, check out the Kari doll by Edge of the Forest whose features can be personalised.

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Figurines (animals, dinosaurs etc)

Much like dolls, figurines provide the ability for children to undertake imaginative play, role playing and enhance communication.

In our house we have a set of dinosaurs and one of animals that we love, as well as a whole bunch of superhero figurines.

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Puzzles

Puzzles are a critical activity in early childhood. The act of trial and error enhances problem solving ability, it strengthens cognitive and memory skills, builds hand eye coordination and, perhaps most importantly, teaches a lesson of perseverance in the face of a challenge.

I have two puzzle lovers and have bought many a puzzle over my time. Without a doubt, our favourite and most used puzzle ever has got to be the Melissa and Doug vehicles puzzle! This has been pulled out weekly for at least 3.5 years between my 2 kids. Now that they have a construction and dinosaur set of the same quality, I have my preschool presents sorted.

8 classic toys every home needs

  1. Crafts

Fine motors skills, hand eye coordination, creativity, self-expression and decision making are all skills that are demonstrated when undertaking crafting activities.

Set up a crafting cupboard early, full of supplies. Keep those recyclables and old magazines as materials, you never know when they are needed.

If you are a little like me and groan at the thought of crafting or are seeking a little more coordination to your crafting activities, then why not check out My Creative Box who do all the hard work for you.

8 classic toys every home needs

Or, for items to fill your crafting box, you cannot go past Tinta Crayons for safe, non-toxic crayons in fun shapes that won’t snap at first sight (my pet hate!)

8 classic toys every home needs

Happy Hands, Happy Hearts for the most beautiful playdough in all of the world (the smell of their playdough alone is to die for)!

8 classic toys every home needs

If you want to make glue and bath paint and edible paint and all kinds of other play recipes, then be sure to check out Real Kids, Real Play which has a whole chapter dedicated to Play Recipes utilising household items.

  1. Instruments

Last on the list is Instruments.

Music increases sensory development, pattern recognition, coordination and lifts moods. A box of basic musical instruments at home (drum, castanets, xylophone, kazoo etc.) and you will be holding a concert every night!

Maracas are always a hit like these from My Sweet Fox

8 classic toys every home needs

Looking through this list, it is amazing to think that this list could have been written 60 years ago and the most engaging toys haven’t changed at all! There really is something to be said for simple play.

Best thing is, not one of the items requires batteries!

You’re welcome.

About the Author

Alice is the founder of Jack and Lu’s: a company created with a simple dream of bringing back real childhood; where the toys were simpler, the items were fewer and the imaginations were greater. She is a busy working mum of 2 preschool aged children and has just released her new book Real Kids, Real Play – 150 activities to do around the home using household items. It aims to remind us of the copious educational and fun activities that our children can do around the home using everyday items – without you having to spend lots of money, time or effort. It is written by an exhausted Mum, for an exhausted Mum. And Dad. And Grandparent, And Carer.  You can contact Alice at or follow her on Facebook or Instagram

Alice Zsembery - Real Kids Real Play

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