I don’t know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with toys in my house. On the one hand, I want my kids to be happy and love watching them play with something new, but I despise adding to the clutter of our house and nothing annoys me more than seeing a brand-new toy abandoned after two days. Thankfully, these toys seem to be in it for the long haul! Best of all, they don’t rely on batteries. None of the toys on the list are flashy, obnoxious toys designed to distract. Rather, they engage Dessa and Harvey in meaningful play that helps to foster their development through physical activity, imagination, and social interactions.
Make a mental note to come back to this blog post if you have gifts to purchase in the near future (Christmas will be here sooner than any of us is ready to admit and it’s always hard to think of great gifts for babies and toddlers on the spot) because these toys are so good and even a scrooge like me can love them!
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1. Step2 Push Car
I can still remember the text I received from one of my best friends 3 years ago when Dessa was still a baby, offering to give us a hand-me-down Step2 push car that her own girls (now ages 9 and 7) had outgrown. I’m pretty sure I turned down the offer because Dessa was just a baby and the last thing I wanted to think about was housing a big plastic riding toy in my garage. Somehow my friend understood that I was gravely misguided and dropped off the car when she came to visit us a few weeks later, despite the fact that I wasn’t interested. Thank God she didn’t listen to me! By now, that pink Step2 Push Around Buggy is over 10 years old and it has already been well-loved by both of my children and Harvey doesn’t care one bit that it happens to be pink (which is good because it is certain that more pink hand-me-down toys are in his future).
Our pink car developed a small crack near the handle on the rear of the car last month, which made the safety of the handle a little questionable. The car had lived a long, good life so I couldn’t really get upset about the crack. I was eager to replace it for Harvey’s sake, so I bought an upgraded buggy (a red, 10th Anniversary edition car in the same style as our original pink car) for Harvey on Facebook Marketplace. We are still pretty cautious about germs in our house so I let the car cook in the back of my very hot minivan for 24 hours, then wiped it down really good to kill any lingering microbes.
The plan was to put the pink car out on garbage night a few days later and just keep the red car to play with, but Dessa was thrilled about the prospect of having two cars to ride and push so we ended up keeping both cars for backyard fun. The pink car is still perfectly safe to use with the handle removed and it’s nice having a second car that I can direct Harvey to when things get a little tense between the two siblings. It’s also way more fun to have a pretend car wash with TWO cars.
The overall style of ride-on cars from Step2 has changed considerably in the past decade and the cartoon-style cars that we own are no longer available (unless you purchase one secondhand). The newer models have a sleeker, more modern look, and even come with built-in cupholders.
2. Pop-Up Tunnel
I bought an inexpensive pop-up tunnel for Dessa last year thinking it would be the perfect toy to keep her entertained so I could get some yard work accomplished and the tunnel held her interest for approximately 20 minutes. Every once in a while, I would take the tunnel back out of storage and Dessa would be entertained for a few glorious minutes, then it would be discarded and ignored for several months.
The thing I didn’t realize about tunnels is that they aren’t really fun to play with by yourself, but they are super-fun to play with a friend (or a sibling!) And now that Harvey is old enough to crawl, explore, and chase his little sister, our pop-up tunnel has made a major comeback in the Gavin house. Harvey and Dessa play with the tunnel nearly every single day. They chase each other through the tunnel and Harvey especially loves peering at his sister through the panels of mesh. I can’t count how many times I have left the room to get a few things accomplished and heard squeals of laughter and delight coming from both my kids while they follow each other into and out of the tunnel. Best of all, this little gem folds right up and is easily hidden out of sight under our living room armchair while it waits for the kids to play another time.
3. KidKraft Hillcrest Playhouse
If you had asked me about our Hillcrest playhouse from KidKraft three months ago, I would have told you it was one of my most disappointing purchases of 2020. I scoured the internet for a cute playhouse to accentuate the charm of our back yard and fell in love with the Hillcrest model from KidKraft. I love the classic styling, neutral colors and the fact that it is made from wood and not plastic.
Dessa loves imaginary play and I knew a playhouse would be right up her ally. There was just one problem that I didn’t anticipate: the Hillcrest Playhouse consists of four simple walls and a roof. There isn’t a kitchen or seating. Just a doorbell, a pretend phone, a play clock, and some chalkboard surfaces. The house is adorable, but it wasn’t enough to capture Dessa’s imagination.
Then, last month, I made a few small changes to make the Hillcrest playhouse more inviting for play. I set up a little bench from our kid-friendly picnic table inside the house that Dessa could use as a table and we set up the play sink Dessa had received for her birthday inside the house. That was all we needed to unlock the joy and potential of this simple little playhouse. The bench has basically become a permanent fixture inside the house and Dessa now plays inside her house nearly every single day – usually without the sink. These days, she prefers to run around the yard collecting leaves in a little white bucket, then take all the leaves into her house to create “grass salad” for all of us to enjoy.
It’s no surprise that Harvey has also discovered Dessa’s playhouse. For the most part, he is completely content to pull himself up and hold on to the front window while he pushes the doorbell and alternates opening and closing the door. Harvey is at the stage where he will try to eat anything and everything that he discovers in the yard, which requires constant oversight and attention from whoever is outside with him. Sometimes I bring Harvey over to the house just so his hands will be occupied with constructive things and I can get a break from pulling grass and rocks out of his hands. I love that I don’t have to worry about his little fingers getting pinched in the door because the entryway is designed with extra space all around to keep little fingers safe.
In my pre-COVID days, I had big plans to customize a cute backyard playhouse with a DIY makeover. Then the pandemic struck and I bought the Hillcrest model because the playhouse is adorable right out of the package and it has a black roof so I won’t have to worry about how well a painted plastic roof will hold up in Michigan weather (if and when I ever do get around to a playhouse makeover). If you want a cute playhouse for your kids, I highly recommend the Hillcrest model. (Just make sure you get a bench or table to put inside! We often bring one of these little chairs outside to put inside it.)
4. Veterinarian Play Kit
Of all the silly ways that my kids play together, this just might be my favorite one to watch. Dessa received a cute veterinarian play kit as a Christmas gift last year. She has spent plenty of time playing doctor to her various stuffed animals, and Dessa recently shifted her medical attention to Harvey. She uses every single tool in the play kit to give her little brother “a checkup” and it’s seriously adorable. She even puts the little water bowl up to Harvey’s mouth to give him a drink of imaginary water. Her favorite two activities during Harvey’s daily checkups are giving him a haircut with the plastic bandage scissors that came in the set (they’re oversized with blunt, rounded plastic and couldn’t actually cut anything, so I don’t have to worry) and using any device that looks like a syringe to give Harvey a shot. Dessa loves giving her little brother imaginary shots.
For his part, Harvey usually sits very contentedly during the checkup. Dessa gets very upset if her little brother starts digging in the veterinary kit, but Harvey has figured out that if he just sits still and lets Dessa do her thing, she will discard all the toys around him, one by one. Once Dessa has used a tool for her checkup, the toys are fair game and Harvey is happy to play with the abandoned toys that pile up around him while Dessa continues to poke and prod her little patient.
5. Hape Toys Wonder Walker
Harvey’s Wonder Walker is the latest addition to the Gavin family toy collection, and I’m pretty sure both of my kids will log in many long hours of fun with this one. Harvey is at the stage where he loves to pull himself up to a standing position next to anything. And he’s even happier when the object he used to stand up begins to move forward!
For the past few weeks, Harvey has been standing while he pushes his Step2 riding car all around the backyard. I’ve been thinking that it may be time to get a standing push toy for inside the house but I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge. Partly because I know Harvey’s birthday is coming up and a big new toy would make a perfect gift for the occasion, and partly because most standing walkers for babies are made of plastic and I really don’t want a huge plastic toy taking up residence in my living room. Then last week, I saw this adorable wooden push walker from Hape Toys on Facebook Marketplace and had to jump on it. It seemed like the perfect toy for my little walker (and his plastic-hating momma).
Just as I suspected, Harvey quickly fell in love with the Wonder Walker. He successfully pulled himself to a standing position behind it right from the start and every time he uses the toy to walk across the room, Harvey’s face lights up with a look of pure joy and pride.
This little wooden walker also doubles as a fun toy storage container, which just adds to the appeal. Sometimes Harvey takes a break from walking just so he can put his toys in the cart, take them back out, and do it all over again. Dessa even gets in on the fun. She helps reposition the cart for Harvey when he gets stuck at a wall and often loads a few of her own toys into the cart for Harvey to push. The fact that the Wonder Walker is a wooden toy with high-quality construction is just the icing on the cake.
And there you have it! The five most-loved toys of Dessa and Harvey right now. Not pictured are the non-toy playthings that are staples of every house with children: stuffed animals, the empty laundry basket, a muslin swaddle blanket that serves as a wedding veil for when Dessa “gets married,” and the recycle bin filled with discarded cardboard and plastic packaging (metal cans and jars go straight outside to the curbside recycling bin).
Thankfully, our children don’t require lots of great toys to be happy – just a few simple things to unlock their imagination and creativity will suffice. But if you are looking to add a few new toys to your collection, I linked our favorites below. Click on any image to shop.