If you've ever had to shop for kids toys, you know it can be a demoralizing experience. Rows and rows of schlock, organized in alternating rows of "pink" or "camo", anchored to their boxes by 43 twist ties, reeking of child labor and waste. (Can you guess how much I like shopping?) To help you out during this trying time (for the first-world definition of "trying time"), here are a few toy ideas. All of them have seen heavy use in our house (or have been coveted at friends' houses) and are great for open-ended play. In addition, they've been just as popular with boys and girls, and have worked for a wide age bracket.
This is one of the most deceptive toys we own. I can't even remember how we got it (present? random mall purchase?), but it starts off looking like a cube of stacking blocks. Looks boring, right? Well, it turns out it's a deeply nested group of squares with compatible angles that let you build some crazy, crazy stuff. We have gotten sooooo much mileage out of this, given that it works about as well for 2 year olds as it does with drunk adults. Only possible issue is the little white pieces, which are small enough to be choking hazards. But, they also sell a "junior" edition where the white pieces are larger, at the expense of some versatility. For maximum fun, I'd splurge and get the 2 cube set.
A complicated marble run that attaches magnetically to the fridge. Only downside is that it fails to do one of the key jobs of toys, namely, keeping the kids out from under your feet while cooking.
We don't actually have these, but every time I run across them, I want them badly. Then I check the prices on-line and don't buy them. But I still want them. Oh, and I've heard that kids enjoy them too.
5. Play Dough
Who doesn't like extruding?
This is less of a toy and more of an art project. Probably not the best gift for a fidgety kid, but a kid with a bit of focus can do a ton with this. Great for traveling as well.
If you have kids with a wide range in ages, get Uno. It's about the only game where a 4 year old can play with a 12 year old and neither one gets bored.
Another game that works well for a broad range of ages. Simple rules, but not boring. Similar concept as Uno (i.e. grouping of likes), but in a tiled crossword format.
One of the most engrossing card games out there. It looks like it should be easy, but it's not -- which means it's a better option than your 200th round of "go fish". Plus, it requires a kind of rapid pattern matching that kids are frequently better at, which means you don't have to throw the match to make sure your kids win sometimes. Trust me -- they'll beat you fair and square.
This is a terrific first strategy game. Definitely skews a bit older than Quirkle (I'd say 3rd grade and up is ideal), but just as fun for adults. Please leave any other good ideas in the comments!