How To Buy Toys For Your Child

The Christmas season is upon us. It is a time of good cheer, good will and giving. A time of spreading presents among all and sundry. A season in which a man’s fondest hope is simply to get through it all without screwing up too badly.

Selecting presents for children is especially difficult. Although the present is ostensibly for the kid, the adequacy of the present will be judged by your wife, the kid’s parents, and the kid’s friends. The question is not how much pleasure is derived, but how well you satisfy social expectations all around.

The child’s parents want something that won’t make a total mess, will fit someplace where it needs to be stored, and won’t make too much noise and won’t hurt the kid. The kid’s objective is just to have fun and stay amused.

The other interested parties are the toy store and the toy manufacturers. Their job is not to make it easy, but to maximize their profits. They are well aware that many people who buy toys for kids don’t have a clue what they are doing. You are easy prey. “Please, just let me know how much money I have to fork over and let’s get this done with.”

In case you are lucky enough to have the freedom to choose toys based on their utility, instead of these nonsensical social factors, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re shopping.

Toys with cords and batteries


A one-trick pony – good for a day or two

Battery-powered toys will display the most splash and pizzazz on Christmas day. The remote-controlled race car that chases all over the living room with flashing lights and loud noises will certainly attract attention. But it is pretty much a one trick pony. That’s all it does. The kid will figure out the extent of its attraction in about 20 minutes. After that its most interesting feature is that its noise, light and bumping annoy the adults. The adults will be quite glad when the batteries die or the toy breaks, which usually happens fairly soon.

You can consider the made-in-China battery-powered toy if you want to make a safe choice when you are buying for somebody else’s kids. If it is for your own house, there are better alternatives.

Opinions vary on video games. James Paul Gee contends they can be educational.  Mark Bauerlein thinks otherwise.  My kid won’t have any.

Musical toys


Doesn’t do Mozart, but can handle “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Frère Jacques.”

Children used to pick up a musical education from their environment. Families would sing Christmas carols together. Kindergarten classes would sing about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Society has changed, however. Parents listen to recorded music instead of singing—and it is often not the kind that you can sing along to. School classes are so diverse, and religion is in such a bad odor, that they can’t sing about Santa Claus, much less the birth of Christ. Therefore, a musical instrument may be something quite new to a modern child.

A kid can do a lot with a toy xylophone.  It is surprising the number of nursery rhymes and simple songs that are written in the key of C. Any toy xylophone can handle songs like Frère Jacques and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and the child will learn quite a bit about music as he teaches himself how to pluck out the melody.

A recorder, a concertina or a small accordion can also handle a melody. These are little bit harder for a kid to manage. He needs some manual dexterity, and he can’t watch as closely where his fingers are going as when he is hammering keys on a xylophone. Still and all, kids of eight or nine years or so may find them fascinating.

Drums, tambourines and rattles are not melodic. They just make noise. Percussion instruments are useful accompaniment if you are going to sing with the children, but they don’t keep the kid amused when he is playing by himself—except as a means of bothering his parents.

Make him think

Kids like jigsaw puzzles. Also, a kid thrives on adult attention. Puzzles are fun to do with children.  Buy a puzzle that is a year or two above his age, and do it together. For a four-year-old, buy the 120 piece puzzle labeled “six and up” instead of the 30 piece cartoon puzzle.  Let him, of course, put the last few pieces in. Soon he will be able to do the whole thing. A four-year-old will know his numbers even if he can’t read. He will be proud that he is doing something meant for bigger kids.

There are boy puzzles and girl puzzles. Princesses and unicorns on one hand, and cars, tanks and fighter planes and soldiers on the other. Recognize who you are buying the toy for.

It is a pleasure to watch kids figure out the strategy for doing jigsaw puzzles. One strategy is to do the border first—border pieces are easy to identify. Another is to sort the pieces out by objects: Princess here, unicorn here, castle here, sky here and bushes over there. A puzzle for six-year-olds is usually fairly colorful and easy, but the colors are more subtle in puzzles for older kids.

Constructors make great toys. Tinker toys and erector sets kept me occupied for hours when I was a kid. This is an area in which the toy manufacturers have gone crazy.  Lego used to leave the design up to the child’s imagination, but it has gone upscale. Now there are expensive Lego sets that are so fancy the child can only make one thing out of it—the car or robot shown on the box. Go with blocks, old-fashioned Legos, and other connecting pieces that allow the child’s imagination to go where it will.

Artistic toys


Any place his imagination will take him – and cheap besides

Every parent’s joy is a child who can amuse himself. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your son spend half an hour painting a Christmas tree or a picture of a cat. It is well worth the couple of minutes praise that you give him afterwards. Artist’s supplies are inexpensive. Every child should have colored pencils, crayons, watercolors and pastels, and an abundant supply of paper—preferably the A3 or 11 x 17 sizes mentioned below.

Children also like to sculpture. The “simpler the better” rule applies here as well. Give them staples like modeling clay or plastilene. On the Internet you can find recipes for making it from salt, flour and water.


No imagination required – all the thinking has been done for the kid. It’s in the price.



It commits mom and dad to reading to him – but well worth the effort

Books are especially important in this age of video entertainment. Starting about the age of three, every child should have ABC books and counting books. It will be a couple of years until they learn how to read, but familiarity should start early and they love to have parents read to them.

My five year old son’s favorite books tell him about the world. He has one titled “The Children’s Encyclopedia,” which covers topics from the ancient Greeks through volcanoes and chameleons, another book on technology, and one on dinosaurs. He still insists that I read to him, but I can’t trick him. If I’m reading about a wildebeest and I call it a rhinoceros he will stop me—“Rhinoceros starts with ‘R,’” he insists. He is paying attention.

Older children can amuse themselves for hours with books, but for younger kids the gift of a book represents work for the parents. It is worthwhile work, but do not overlook that it is work.

Make it move


A $25 Craigslist bike. After one spill, who can tell it wasn’t new?

Kids in general, and boys in particular love rolling and moving toys—bikes, scooters, sleds, skis and snowboards. They do not have to be new. They do not have to be top-of-the-line. Just as a Fiat and a Mercedes will get you to the grocery store equally well, anything mobile serve their purpose.

Buy something used on Craigslist if you can get away with it.  Human irrationality is in your favor. Adults will buy weights or an exercise bike with the best of intentions, and then notice two years later that it is just taking up space and sell it for a fraction of the original cost. Same with kids’ toys. Sleds and bicycles are almost always outgrown before they are worn out. Shopping used, you can buy something that will give the kid years of pleasure and still remain within your budget.

Repurposing grown-up materials as toys

Kids have a sixth sense that enables them to distinguish between adult things and children’s things. Of course they prefer adult things. Three of my son’s favorite toys are an old Omega camera, one that hasn’t worked for 10 years, a dead cell phone and a defunct HP inkjet printer. They have the look and the feel of adult things even though they don’t work.

Every parent will discover that among the adult things the kids like are paper, scissors, pencils and pens, scotch tape and staplers. If you go to a stationary store you can easily supplement these with drawing aids: a French curve, a triangle, a ruler, a compass. All of these things are inexpensive, and useful around the house.

And the kid will spend more time playing with it than a single purpose toy such as a remote-controlled car. That remote-controlled car only does one thing and only does it until the antenna breaks off or the battery runs out. A ream of paper lasts forever.  By all means buy some big paper as well—11×17 in the US, A3 in Europe.  Nothing flies better than a monster paper airplane.  Buy them in colors to make it more interesting.

Repurposing trash as toys


Is this box trash? A toy? A house? Only the cat knows for sure.

Kids also have a genius for inventing their own toys. Boxes are wonderful. You can go to a liquor store and pick up an assortment of 20 boxes. Set them down with the kid, along with some industrial-strength scotch tape, a stapler, and may be a box cutter, and you can have no end of fun creating your own city. Large ones like those for stoves and refrigerators are big enough the kid can even crawl inside. It is loads of fun and it costs next to nothing.  Toys like this enjoy the novelty factor.  If he gets bored with it after a week, so what?  It cost nothing to begin with.

During my misspent youth in California we used to go tobogganing down the dry hillsides on big boxes.  Steep hillsides of dry grass are very slippery.  It is a good idea for you, the adult, to check it out for hidden rocks, but then let the kids go at it.


The toy store, the parents, the giver and the kid all have different perspectives on toys. The most successful gift is one that will hold the child’s interest over the long term, will teach him something, and will not drive his parents to distraction. Most of the best toys are not terribly expensive, and you can usually find secondhand bargains on those that are.

Read More: The Price I Paid for Helping a Single Mom’s Child

72 thoughts on “How To Buy Toys For Your Child”

  1. One great gift: a sportive activity that you enjoy and that you can practice with your kids.
    It doesn’t mater if it’s soccer, baseball or familly martial arts.
    it creates bonds, it’s good for his health, he can practice it in junior leagues, and it lasts years.

    1. This. When I was a kid my father gave me his baseball glove from his little league years. I have maintained the glove after all these years and plan on giving it to my son in a few years.

  2. Giant Jenga: great game to play with your family. Fun for all ages. You can buy a smaller version at Target. I made the larger version with 2×4’s from Home Depot.

        1. You strike me as someone who knew how to toss a “dirt bomb” with uncanny precision

        2. Are you sure we aren’t from the same place? Certain references….syntax….I haven’t heard “dirt bomb” in a long, long time.

        3. look up “Jim Breuer O&A Tree forts/dirtbombs” on u tube. Youll be glad you did

        4. I.Fucking.Love.Lawn Darts.
          And the real original Klick Klacks with the glass balls you smash together…like that wasn’t going to go wrong!

        5. Totally I wish the grandparents hadn’t thrown them out. Shit best game throw them over the roof of the house (bungalow) back to front yard and vice versa.. You never knew where they’d go!!!

        6. I ripped a pool liner with them and had to work it off. Worst summer ever

  3. Musical instruments are a great idea for kids. What 7 yr old wouldnt want the Lars Ulrich Starter Drum Kit with double bass (triple bass costs more and is really hard to play).
    No ipads, no xboxes… if the Sillicon Valley execs wont let their tykes use em, neither should you

    1. Lars Ulrich is a greedy bastard. As for technology, good, get them a real computer, mobile electronics (except for phones) are for tools.

  4. Boxes…..yeah,boy! On Christmas morning they open them up to get the toys out and by Christmas afternoon they are playing with the boxes.

  5. It’s probably politically unacceptable for boys to play Cowboys and Indians or Army now days. All they need for that is to be outside and to find a stick shaped like a gun.

    1. Now it’s terrorists and privliaged white men. Guess who the good guys are

      1. I was going to say evil white oppressors and innocent indigenous peoples lol

  6. Couldn’t agree more with all these points. Well done.
    I would also promote anything construction-related on the basic level – blocks, erector set (if they still exist). No video anything.
    On musical instruments, I will warn that without proper instruction they will become toys and be discarded.
    And ALWAYS buy your enemy’s kid a drum kit!

  7. I secretly want to buy a playmobil medieval castle. The big one from the 90s with the drawbridge. I always wanted it.

        1. Probably the opposite of everything championed by the article, but DAMN that’s cool!
          I wonder if a kid would appreciate it the way we do. When I was a kid, the Old Man and I build a paper-mache bat-cave which was straight-up awesome!

  8. Agree. Legos, Tinker Toys, blocks, hot wheels type cars, melodic instruments, art supplies, etc. Some of it depends on the age of the kid. Loved art because even grounded, my dad couldn’t take away paper and pencil if he expected me to do homework. At a younger age, the wooden “train” sets, while expensive, also provide hours of fun.
    Candy Land is the mind-killer. Teach them real games like checkers, chess, mancala, etc.

  9. great article -absolutely spot on.:
    also get them outside, and together, and they’ll make their own fun and games.
    no electronics.
    solid old fashioned tools, and toys…
    Mostly they love mud, and bugs, and hunting and catching and fishing…
    At a museum recently was an IBM exhibition mainframes etc, and an original typewriter/word-processor.
    Kids put down their iPhones, and waited in line to type stuff onto real paper…

  10. My parents rarely bought me toys, so my brother and I had to make our own or rely on the graciousness of other relatives. One of my fondest acquisitions was a pack of plastic army men, which I got when I was 5 by throwing a fit in the store. The pack must’ve cost five bucks, but it lasted us years.
    Don’t buy your kids toys if you can help it. Make them build and work for everything they want to play with.

    1. Same here. I developed a very creative and inquisitive mind because my entertainment was either dirt, rocks, and sticks, or the library.

  11. When I was a kid, our toys were rocks, clubs, and dinosaur bones…and we liked it. You younger generations were spoiled – spoiled I say!

  12. Good article. Never get your kids computers, phones, electronics, software, video games, televisions. They will have a difficult enough time avoiding being glued to those things when they get older.
    A man who lets his son play video games for hours every day is essentially committing child abuse.
    And for the love of god don’t buy them any of these progressive, pop psychology children’s books written by Jews. “Timmy Has Two Daddies” and “My Mommy Dates Black Men”.

    1. Don’t forget “I Was a Preschool Transgender,” and “Not All Mommies Are Like That”…

    2. Last year I got my neices matryoshkas (those Russian wooden dolls that have smaller and smaller dolls in them). Unbelievable how the ignored so much modern shit to play with them. Children’s imagination beats any microchip but you have to encourage them to use it

    3. I think buying a computer for an engineer-minded boy could be a good gift.
      Mind you, I don’t mean a stock computer with Windows.
      A Raspberry Pi or something like that, so that the kid could learn some programming, and build something interesting stuff like a simple robot or home alarm system.
      Engineer-minded kids used to get metal builder sets, Legos or wooden building blocks in the old days. A computer like the one I mentioned could be a good complementer for those.

    4. computers and video games are great teaching tools, if used responsibly. just like everything.
      but i really wanted to respond to your comment to ask you where you got your sweet Jedi hoodie from. even your face in the pic looks like you’re using the Force.

    5. “Timmy Has Two Daddies” and “My Mommy Dates Black Men”.

      Heh, that’s already mandatory reading at their ‘education’ facility.

  13. God willing should I have children I will try my best to follow all the traditional catholic customs that made western civilization enjoyable. Gift giving should be on Dec 6th, the feast of St Nicholas. Or if you are an Eastern Catholic on the feast of the Epiphany. Also on the Nativity of St John the Baptist in the summer (often considered as a second Christmas).
    The gifts ought to be small and meaningful. Gold coin chocolates (an old tradition) in their stockings and somehow related to growing their faith in God. I’m not saying every year get them a bible or whatever but everything the author listed above are all fantastic ideas. This will ground then in reality and in the love of life…the love even of simplicity.
    Also equally important is to teach them the pleasure of giving and of alms. Perhaps suggest that they make something out of their new art supplies and taken them to an assisted living place (perhaps on Epiphany) so that they may learn the virtue of charity and that of mercy (comforting the sick is a Corporal work of Mercy).

  14. But I thought gender-specific toys were a thing of the past because “It’s the current year” and fat girls with blue hair who act crass and vile REALLLLLLY dig Star Wars and superheroes. Goddamn, that is so attractive I can’t even put words to it!

      1. It’s the most try-hard, pathetic thing I’ve seen yet, second only to pretending to love football (yeah Baby, wear a jersey and black strips under your eyes out in public, I’ve never wanted you more!). They force themselves to remind everyone “I’m a nerd! Hahaha cool!” and “I’m a geek! Hahaha cool!” and end up roping in only the most emasculated schmucky betas you can imagine, and deservedly so. I do think it’s cartoon time regarding it, Robert!

        1. I was going to throw Jabba in there, too, and have him say, “I wouldn’t fuck you with Luke Skycucker’s cock,” but I got lazy. Heh.

  15. after trump won the elction, theres really nothing left for ROK to write about (case in point – this article). the left lost. the right won. ROK served its purpose.
    ROK now trying its own version of the eastasia/eurasia war just to keep things interesting,

    1. Youre kinda right about that! Hill as prez would yield more pageviews(not that Im wishing for it). Maybe men will start reading Popular Mechanics and Bass Fishing magazines again

    2. Our culture has lost the ability to reproduce itself. We have to refind it. That’s the thrust of my writing. Yes, a major victory won. But… we have to consolidate that victory. That can only be done via the rising generations. We are a breeding population, a society, not a collection of individuals. We need to relearn that basic fact.

    3. You wish.
      We haven’t won shit to be honest. The culture war is just starting to get ugly and the majority of people haven’t got a fucking clue.

  16. I have been making my boys wooden swords since they were old enough to hold them and have made and passed them out to most of the young boys in our family. Sure the parents get concerned about them hurting themselves or others, but a few knocks on the head will teach them to handle the thing better. As they got older I made bigger and cooler things like lances and spears. They have always liked them, they last for years and years and they have always enjoyed helping me make them and experiment with new designs. Boys need swords, or, weapons in general….

  17. Lots of dinosaurs. Big book on prehistoric life, so will naturally reference them. Then ” the land before time ” so can learn how to plot premeditated murder while seeming a cute innocent victim.

  18. Great article
    I just said to my cousin that the toys I had when younger are not even around anymore.
    That’s a waste of money that could of been used for something of more value.
    My thing would be to buy them the bullshit they want but still hit them with some educational fun stuff too
    Balance is key
    “You want to play that new PS4 game? Alright. As long as I get a hour of you playing with this educational toy in front of me so I can see you for at least a few weeks”
    Balance is key.
    Yeah, short term happiness is cool but, in the sake of long term effects? Nah

  19. As a kid, I would construct my own toys. When you’re a brazilian boy who lives in a favela, your parents don’t have money to buy you that amazing battery-powered toys, much less a video game.
    Instead, when I had more or less 8 years old, my father taught me how to built an truck made of wooden and rubber. I made it with him one time, all the others I could made it alone. Soon enough me and my friends would have an entire wooden car dealership.
    I never complained for not having “real” toys, and honestly me and my friends I looked happier with these toys than the rich boy with his battery-powered ferrari that didn’t liked to share his toys.
    The lesson is: Kids, especialy boys, don’t need much to have fun. Give them something to build and let them play along with their friends, that’s what they like.

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