Parents of America are bombarded with advertisements for all sorts of stuff (actually, crap) that will make their lives easier, make their kids sleep better at night, entertain their kids for hours or make life 100% sunshine and rainbows. Truth is, most of it is garbage. Literally. Your kids will use it for 12.3 minutes and quickly forget about it. It will collect dust in the corner, the dog will chew on it and it will eventually end up in the trash can. The kids won't care who bought it for them or how much it cost. Either they like it, or they don't. Believe me, I've scoured online reviews in search of the prefect toys and still come up with duds for my kids.
In my experience there are precious few items that are actually worth the money. Boxes get more playtime than the toys inside. But during my tenure as mother, I have discovered a few items that have stood the test of time. These things were actually helpful and/or enjoyed by my children for longer than 10 minutes. I can't guarantee these items are going to be winners in every household, but as far as our family is concerned, this stuff is worth the money.
Take my word on this. Kids love to dig. LOVE it, I say! We put in a sandbox when my daughter was about two years old. She is now five and still plays in the sandbox, sometimes daily, depending on how much time we spend outside. My three year old son loves it too, although he is still working on Sandbox Etiquette like not throwing sand or keeping your hands off of other people's sand castles. You can slap together some 2x6 boards and make yourself a sandbox, or just fill in an old kiddie pool with sand. Or if you're really crafty, get on over to Pinterest for sandbox ideas that will make your head spin. Be sure to cover it to keep leaves out, and so the neighborhood cats don't mistake it for a litter box. It will take quite a few bags of sand (or a small pick-up load) to fill your sandbox, so it can get a bit pricey. But as I said, Worth The Money.
Melissa & Doug Wooden Animal Nesting Blocks
Active toys make passive kids. Passive toys make active kids. This is most certainly true. Put a kid in front of a toy with 15 buttons, lights and all kinds of noises and they will sit passively as the toy entertains them. Put a kid in front of simple toy like these nesting blocks and they will stack them, sort them by color, ask about the animal names, find toys that fit inside the different sized boxes, make staircases for their dolls, ramps for their cars, and much more. These blocks have been in our house for years, they still get a decent amount of playtime. They also appear to be virtually indestructible since we haven't managed to break any of them. Yet.
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg
We don't have babies in our house any longer, but this book was my Bible when the kiddos were very small. Everybody wants to know how to make babies sleep better/longer/easier and this book was a foolproof guide to teaching babies to fall asleep on their own. Turns out that life skill is now a lifesaver. We don't have much of the bedtime drama that other parents complain about. Our kiddos sleep in their own bed without complaint. They fall asleep on their own and rarely require intervention in the middle of the night. Her method is not difficult, and I don't think I need to remind anyone how AWESOME it is to have a quiet house with sleeping children. The book is old, and therefore cheap (around $5). Do yourself a favor if you're having a baby. Or you know someone that's pregnant. GO and buy this book now, before your baby is born. Because really, even if you kids are great sleepers, you're probably going to have a hard time finding time to read for the next 18 years.
Simple, lego-like blocks. Hours of fun. I once spent an afternoon with my daughter making all kinds of things...giraffes, cars, houses, bikes, lions, and more. Never mind that nothing I created remotely resembled the real deal. She believed me when I told her it was a skateboard. The blocks are big enough to not present a choking hazard, so they are safe even for the smallest builders. Equally entertaining for toddlers and preschoolers.
If you know me, you know I'm not the type to spend $250 on a tricycle. However, you will also recall that I'm a Craigslist fan. And that is how we came to own this dream of a tricycle for $40. The thoughtful design and super-study construction on this trike makes it worthwhile, even if you pay full price. The seat straps allow you to put your kid on this thing when they are pretty young (right around 1 year in our house). The push handle is critical since little legs do tire quickly and bending over to push a trike rider...well...ouch. The push handle easily pops off for those moments when your kid insists he wants to do it himself. And then it goes on in a snap in 30 seconds later when he's crying for a push. The front wheel locks in place for easy steering when Mom is pushing, and then unlocks when the little one is ready to take full control. Did I mention sturdy? We bought ours used over 5 years ago and it's still going strong. It's a little sun faded, but totally functional. It's the Energizer bunny of tricycles.
How about you? What has managed to keep the attention of your kids longer than 10 minutes?