The holidays lose a lot of their lustre when they transform from kiddie giftapoloozas to adult after-work parties. But that Christmas-morning electricity you vaguely recall returns full-force when you see your kid vibrate with excitement at the sight of wrapped presents under the tree.
Not all toys are created equal, though, and it’s hard to guess what gifts your kids will go for—my two-year-old Emile, for instance, has never developed an attachment to his plush Itchy and Scratchy dolls, to my eternal dismay. But here are a few toddler-tested toys that have provided E with countless hours of entertainment—and us with countless hours of not having to entertain him. Hopefully they’ll do the same for you.
Wheely Bug-Bee, $90
Most toddlers tool around on plastic trucks, but this has always been most popular vehicle in our house. The award-winning Australian design is a beautiful wooden bumblebee—with multi-directional wheels, a cushiony black ’n’ yellow-striped seat, handlebar and decorative antennae—that whooshes up and down a hardwood floor. Best part is you don’t ever have to put it away because it’s basically pop art. (Also available as a ladybug or cow from Ella + Elliot, 188 Strachan.)
Animal Planet’s Mother & Baby Animals Playset—Safari Edition, $24.99
Most little kids are obsessed with both animals and babies, so this is a two-fer. Emile learned all the different animal names within hours of scoring this collection of rubbery African fauna for his birthday and, because it comes with a zip-up bag, he even enjoys putting it all away when he’s done. (Available at Toys R Us, various locations.
Rockabye Baby!, $16.98 per disc
Hate children’s music but need something to chill your baby the hell out? Pick up these kid-friendly instrumental covers albums ranging from Radiohead, Flaming Lips and Nirvana to Tragically Hip, Madonna and Kanye West. We were partial to the Pixies one, though, because lullabies simply don’t get much prettier than “Wave of Mutilation.” (Available from www.rockabyebabymusic.com.)
Step2 Lifestyle Legacy Kitchen Set, $119.99
Last Christmas, I came home to discover a ridiculously oversized package on our front porch from Bubbe and Zaida. It took forever to assemble—and is so tall Emile still can’t reach the upper sections—but was well worth it. This play kitchen has countertops, a sink, two stove burners (that make boiling or sizzling noises depending on whether you use a pot or a pan), storage baskets, recycling bin, plates, bowls, cutlery, oven, microwave, cellphone, condiments and a complete coffee set. The last item is the best, as E likes to pour us a cup of pretend-coffee every morning. It comes with batteries but fake fruits and vegetables sold separately. (Available at Toys R Us, various locations.)
Plan Toys Musical Band, $47.50
This wooden drum kit is actually Emile’s present this year, but I also got it for his cousin a couple Christmases ago and it’s freaking amazing. Unlike most child drum sets, the latex drum skin actually sounds like a proper instrument and it also comes with an attached guiro and metal cymbal. I cannot wait to watch E bash away at it all Christmas morning. (Available at Baby Naturopathics.)
Doll Stroller, $16.99
Emile got super-interested in babies once he was no longer one himself, so we took him to the toy store to pick out a doll. But while there he also found himself a tiny stroller and loves pushing baby, sock monkey and Spider-Man around the house and schoolyard pretending he’s, I guess, us. (Available from Toys R Us, various locations.)
B. Meowsic Kitty Kids Keyboard w/ Microphone, $25.99
Shaped like a Cheshire Cat with keys for teeth, this boasts five different musical sounds, including piano, bells, organ, banjo and, of course, a “meowaphone.” It also has 20 familiar children’s songs, seven cat-themed tunes (e.g., “How Much Is That Kitty in the Window?”) and a retractable microphone so your kid can croon along. (The quality of the mic is awesomely terrible and makes E sound totally punk rock.) It also has several programmed beats, ranging from samba to techno, with controllable tempos. Plus, you can record original compositions but unfortunately not the vocals. We leave the meowsic keyboard out so E can play music and dance whenever the mood grabs him, which is basically every few minutes. (Available via justb-byou.com.)