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The 5 Best Toys of All Time

It's getting that time of year when the media starts bombarding our children with the latest books, toys, software, and gadgets to put on their Christmas wish list. These lists can be overwhelming and nearly impossible for most of us parents actually to afford all the cool stuff.

We are here to solve your Christmas shopping woes with the list of. . .


All five toys fit easily within any budget and are appropriate for a wide age range, so you get the most play out of each one. These are time tested, and kid approved. And, as a bonus, they can be combined for an extra-super-fun-play experience. Enjoy!


This versatile toy is a real classic. Chances are you played with one when you were a kid. A STICK works well as a digger, a poker or a reach-extender. STICKS come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and you can amass a whole collection without too much of an investment. Larger, multi-tipped sticks are particularly useful as snowman arms. One warning, the STICK can also be used as a sword, so parents who avoid toy weapons might want to steer clear of the larger models. On the other hand, many experts agree that creative children will just find something else to substitute for a STICK.

#2 A BOX

BOXES come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Need proof? Depending on the number and the size, BOXES can be turned into a play kitchen, a fort, a house or a place to hide away. They can transform children into robots or an elaborate Star Wars costume. Add a STICK and use it as an oar for your box boat. One particularly famous use is a component of a time machine or a transmogrifier. Amazon can be one of your main sources for small to medium sized BOXES. If you don't mind second-hand BOXES, the grocery store, bookstores and furniture stores are great sources for this imagination stimulating toy.


Kids love STRING. When used properly (not for use by babies and toddlers), kids can have a ball with STRING. There are so many things to do with STRING. Hang things from doorknobs, tie siblings to chairs, make a leash for your stuffed animals, connect cans to make a telephone, or tie to a STICK and make a fishing pole. STRING is what makes toys fun. Have you tried using a yo-yo or a kite without STRING? Try heavy duty STRING for skipping, jumping, climbing, swinging from a tree or just dragging things around. Kids are usually most happy with two or three feet of it. Just remember - STRING ties everything together.


CARDBOARD TUBES are like the toy at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks—they come free with a roll of paper towels or toilet paper, but you have to wait until you get to the end of the roll before you can finally claim the prize. The small and medium sizes are most common, but the large versions can take a little more time to obtain. It may take a few birthday or Christmas gifts to get to the end of the wrapping paper versions. If you're really lucky, you'll find one at a carpet supplier. With CARDBOARD TUBES, the play opportunities are endless. Kids love using CARDBOARD TUBES as a telescope or taping two together to make binoculars or filling them with beans and taping the ends to make a rain stick. How about whacking wars? Let the wild rumpus begin. Who knows? Maybe your child will become the next CARDBOARD TUBE Samurai champion.


DIRT has been around longer than any of the other toys on the list and shows no signs of going away. There's no getting rid of it, so you might as well learn to live with it. The question is often asked - what can you do with dirt? Here are a few ideas -- it's great for digging and making piles. Use it with a STICK and create art. DIRT makes a great play surface for toy cars and trucks. Studies have shown that kids who play with dirt have stronger immune systems than those who don't. That alone might be worth getting your kids some DIRT. Need something a little more gooey? Just add water and—presto—you have mud. Mud pies anyone? DIRT is an outdoor toy, despite children's attempts to bring it inside. If they insist, you'll probably want to get some optional accessories: a broom and dustpan. There is nothing more fun and less expensive than DIRT!

At Marbles Farm we call THE 5 BEST TOYS OF ALL TIME loose parts. They can be carried, dumped, dragged, painted, buried and sorted. They can become almost anything such as props in pretend play or enhanced play-based learning in a natural setting.

Ruth Wilson, PhD and author of Learning Is In Bloom says natural play spaces can be greatly enhanced by adding a rich variety of loose parts to encourage exploration, creativity and inviting more complex play into children's lives.

We hope THE 5 BEST TOYS OF ALL TIME will on your child's Christmas wish list. They will be on the Marbles Farm list.

(Jonathan Liu, aka Geek Dad, originally published this list in January 2011)

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