Batteries Not Included

Everything new gets old fast, so check out these perennially popular toy ideas to keep young minds stimulated (and the beeping to a minimum).

Tickle-me-Elmos come and go. As parents watch Elmo wind up neglected in a closet or abandoned to a garage sale, they may bitterly remember standing in line for five hours for the must-have toy.

Don’t give in to the pressure. Classic toys that parents, and even grandparents, may fondly remember are still popular and exciting for today’s kid. Best of all, they help promote imagination and help children become engaged, engaging and creative.

Rose Wiegand, manager and buyer for Once Upon a Time Toys in Rocky River, strongly believes in playthings that stimulate imagination, both for her customers and her grandson, who just celebrated his first birthday.

“If you give a child one or two toys that actually occupy them, it’s better than 10 to 15 flashing, beeping, singing toys,” Wiegand says.

Many toys overstimulate kids, Wiegand says. She encourages a balance between classic toys and flashing, newer ones. Toys that enable kids to make up stories and to explore ideas teach them to be creative and critical thinkers. They can also boost motor skills.

“Even kids that are used to electronic toys can be engaged by these kind of toys if they are exposed,” Wiegand says. “Otherwise, we’ll have a generation of kids who aren’t self-thinkers.That’s scary to me.”

Unsure where to start? Here are some basic categories Wiegand suggests:

These are fun for all kids (and parents). Especially helpful for shy children, puppets teach kids to use verbal communication skills to express their feelings. Sometimes a puppet can say things a child might not want to say themselves, Wiegand points out.

Musical Instruments
Tin drums kids can rat-a-tat, mini-saxophones, little pianos — they’re not a parent’s nightmare, because they’re not electric. Playing these instruments encourages active participation.

Board Games
There’s a reason board games never go out of style — they encourage family time in an increasingly hectic world. Stay away from electric versions and try some old standards such as Monopoly and Scrabble.

Drawing, painting and finger-painting are all great. You can even buy kid-sized easels that make it even more fun. “Tactile methods of self-expression are great for teaching kids how to communicate nonverbally,” Wiegand says.

Wooden blocks are durable, can’t be swallowed and have truly stood the test of time. Wiegand says blocks help kids with their fine motor skills and critical thinking.

Dollhouses are great for boys and girls — and dads, don’t freak out: There are pirate ships and castles galore. Houses (or castles) unleash your kids’ imaginations.

It’s important for kids to imitate adults; it helps them prepare to one day enter that world. While boys and girls alike can and should indulge in make-believe, Wiegand says little girls may be especially fond of this pastime, and that it should be encouraged.

Kitchen Sets
A well-made, quality wooden kitchen set that is durable, safe and easily cleanable is another way for kids to imitate adults. “You can pass them down from generation to generation,” Wiegand says.

Dolls that don’t need batteries are perfect for teaching the ability to nurture. Kids can change dolls’ diapers, feed them and cuddle them — and their imagination is allowed to reign in the absence of battery-prompted actions. If the doll wants to cry, the child must make the noise. Kids also develop their motor skills by changing dolls’ clothing and brushing their hair.

Give a child a ball and he’ll keep occupied for an unbelievably long time. “They’ll roll, bounce and catch — all great for motor skills and hand-eye coordination,” Wiegand says.

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