Tuesday, November 27, 2012

7 Ideas to Find Toys Your Kids Will Love at a Price You're Willing to Pay

How do you choose Christmas gifts for your kids?  Do you ask them to make a list that you work from?  Do you wander the toy aisles?  Do you order online?  Do you see what's on sale and just go with it?

It's a hard call.  I typically ask my kids for suggestions...but they often suggest things that I'm pretty sure they won't get much mileage out of.  Let's face it...they just don't really know what options are out there...especially since our TV has no sort of reception or cable...it only works for videos.  (Yeah...I know...we live in the stone age at our house.)  So my kids don't even see many commercials to try to convince them of what they want.  Maybe that's better...I don't know...

I could also walk the toy aisles with my kids and see what appeals to them...but everything appeals to them even if they would only play with it for five minutes.  The toy aisles at the local big box stores worked when the kids were a little younger, but not that they're older, I just don't often find toys there I want to buy for my kids, since I'd rather buy a great toy than a mediocre toy with a licensed character on it. 


Here are a few ideas I've used to find awesome toys your kids are likely to love...

Ask your kids, but you don't have to stick to their list.  When you ask your kids for ideas, don't let them think they can make a list and get everything on it.  I wait and see if there's one thing the kids mention a lot to see if it's really something they've been wanting or something they just saw once.  Katie has asked for a pottery wheel a lot...but they're expensive, the online reviews weren't good, and she's need help every time she wanted to use it.  So we've opted to put together a mega-art kit for her and include a couple pounds of air-dry clay with it.  She can have the fun of making things with clay, but instead of buying a pottery wheel, we used that money to get a lot of art supplies that she'll be able to use a lot more.  (There are a lot of art buckets/kits on the market, but I think you can get a lot more value for your dollar buy building your own, especially if you have some of the items around the house you can include.)  Then we'll sign her up for a pottery lesson next time we go to Grandma's house because she has an artist neighbor who gives lessons on her wheel.

Stop by your local Goodwill or other Thrift Store.  I don't know if this is true of every Goodwill, but besides the typical "this color half-off," some stores have additional sales.  Call and find out when your favorite thrift store will be having a sales.  One year on Black Friday every toy in the store was $1 no matter what the tagged price was.  Another year everything in the whole store was 50% off.  We got some great games and other toys for super cheap that we're still getting a lot of mileage out of.   This is a great option if you don't have a particular toy or item in mind and are open to whatever jumps out at you.

In the past I've also found a great Lincoln Log set at the thrift store.  (Whoa, have lincoln logs come a long way since the set I had as a kid.  Seth loves to play with them and build houses.)  I didn't see the exact set we have online, but ours is similar to this one.

This year I tried going to a different Goodwill and while they had no sale...I did find the exact cookbook I wanted to order for a teenage girl we're doing 12 days of Christmas for.  (Quick and Healthy Recipes and Ideas by Brenda Ponichtera is one of my very favorite cookbooks because the recipes are healthy and it doesn't call for fancy ingredients.)  I'll be including an apron and kitchen supplies with it.  (Even younger kids love a gift like this, especially if you choose a kids' cookbook with lots of pictures in it.)

Stop by your local kid's consignment store.  You're more likely to find good quality toys with the complete set at these types of stores, but they'll cost a little more than a thrift store.  I stopped in a favorite consignment shop the other day to get some snow boots for Seth.  I scored big when I found some wooden Melissa and Doug puzzle sets (4 puzzles with 12 pieces each in each) for $4 each and some magnetic wood dress-up dolls for Becca.  Becca has one puzzle like this already and they're the perfect difficulty for her.  If you're buying for a 3 or 4 year old, these would be a great choice.
My mom has a set of magnetic dress-up dolls similar to the ones I picked up for Becca, and Becca had a blast playing with them during Thanksgiving, so I know these are going to be a hit.  This isn't the exact set I found at the consignment store, but it's similar.

Check local classifieds...Craigslist, online newspaper classifieds, Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade groups, etc.  This works great if you're willing to buy used but are looking for something specific.  Katie has been asking for a skateboard this year and I found a girly one through a Facebook group, even though we live in a rural area.

Find out what their friends have that your kids love.  I don't mean this in a Keep-up-with-the-Jones sort of way.  Rather see what toys your kids really like when they're at a friend's house or if there's something they talk about a lot when the come home.  This year, we ordered Becca the Melissa and Doug Pattern Block Set after she had a lot of fun playing with it at a friend's house earlier in the year.  Plus we've seen that she loves playing with this sort of toys before.
A couple toys we ordered last year that I can HIGHLY recommend are:
This Educational Insights Design Drill Workshop.  We got it for Becca last year and it's still played with frequently by all three of our older kids.
(It looks like the price has gone up since last year, and this looks like a less expensive and equally good option, especially since that blue case is one of our least favorite parts of the toy.

Another gift that was a big hit last year was the digital camera we got for Katie.  She still uses it and plays with it all the time.  I did quite a bit of research last year and we chose Fischer Price Kid Tough See Yourself Camera even though it was a little more expensive than some of the alternatives.  I liked that it had the lense that can turn around for kids to take pictures of themselves.  (Katie loves that feature.)  I also liked that it did NOT have any games on it like some of the cameras did...for someone else that might be a downside.  It also has decent picture quality, although I don't think picture quality is great in any of the kids cameras.  It's held up well over the last year...and we'll just say that Katie is not exactly a careful kid.  Becca has been asking for her own camera for Christmas...which we're not getting for her...but it shows how popular this has been at our house.
Check with brands you love.  We received a catalog from Mindware, a company we bought from last Christmas.  I actually found it a lot easier to flip through the catalog than try to browse through an internet site.  It was full of the kinds of brainy, creative toys we prefer to buy for our kids, especially if we're going to be paying full price.  Katie especially had a fun time looking through and giving us suggestions.  We ended up ordering two toys we'd seen in the catalog, but ordered them through Amazon where we found them a lot cheaper.

These are two toys I can't personally recommend since our kids haven't played with them, but I've heard from other people who own them and love them.

This snap circuit set looked so fun, we ended up ordering it as a family gift...we don't want the kids to fight over it.  Besides, Daddy may end up taking it to school for his students to play with too.
We opted to order this Zoobmobile Car Designer Set for Seth.  He's tried to get into legos, but they're a little complex for him, so we're hoping this will be at about the right level for him to be able to be independently creative.

Books are always a great gift.  My first go-to-place for books are thrift stores.  Books are usually $0.50-$1 and you can find some great deals.

If you're looking for activity books which are hard to find used, my favorites are from Usborne.  These are especially good if you're going to be travelling to keep the kids and entertained.

My go-to place when I'm looking for specific books from any other publisher is Better World Books.  I consistently have a huge selection and I find their prices low, and I can usually find the books I'm looking for used at around $3-4.  They always offer free shipping with no minimum order and if you sign up for their emails, you'll be alerted to when they have sales on their used books...which is often.  Right now their Cyber Monday sale is still going on (even thought it's now Tuesday) and you get 30% off if you buy 4 or more used books.

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  1. Some great ideas, I've finished shopping for the boys this year :-) but will be looking out for that drill second hand. I buy a lot of there toys second hand as i figure if 1 child hasn't broken it yet then it might last us a while!

  2. The Educational Insights Design and Drill Activity Center looks great! Thanks for the great idea! I can see my nephews loving it.

  3. I bought many well-loved gifts from the Hearthsong company. Back in the day I used to love looking through their catalog. They have a good website.

  4. Great tips! I buy almost all our toys second hand (my little guy is only two but I also run a home daycare so we have more toys than I'd have otherwise). There are also so many great ideas on Pinterest for home made toys, especially for the little ones.

  5. Polly, these are good ideas. In fact, I even checked out that circuit set on amazon...I think some kids around my house would LOVE this! (Yes, that includes their dad. Hee hee.) Thanks for the tips!

  6. I'm off to pin this fabulous post! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Thank you so much. I was looking for some other non-huge- plastic toy options.


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