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Back to the Future

By Claire S. Green

Whether it's the economy, the changes in Washington, D.C. or in the environment, the importance of play is getting, well, a lot of play.

Play helps us become creative and critical thinkers, and guides us to be more productive and socially adept. Play keeps us imaginative and curious. What can we do to encourage play? We can give our children the time, the space and the tools; the rest is up to them.

At Parents' Choice, we've spent the past 30 years reviewing toys and what they have to offer. Unfortunately, many toys push kids into pre-programmed play — the antithesis of what play is all about. The best toys don't dictate the play - they give kids the freedom to play in any number of ways. Often referred to as classic toys, these toys need neither elaborate instruction manuals, nor battalions of batteries to provide opportunities to play — and learn. Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at the Strong National Museum of Play® in Rochester NY agrees:

"A classic toy is one that has opened ended play value, with on-going appeal that makes it endure. A classic toy is expandable and offers on-going possibilities for creative play."

Simply put, classic toys are a perfect storm of fun and learning. They provide valuable playful opportunities for children to imagine, create, discover and explore. Happily, the fun and appeal of classic toys give them a long play life — and a long shelf life — and can be found in the aisles of almost any toy store.

We are not painting all electronic toys with a broad brush of "evil;" not at all. Balance, not abundance, is the key to stocking a playroom. Bensch adds, "Think about ways toys can be combined in creative ways. The more ways a toy can be used, the more opportunities for play and learning." Bensch suggests, "The latest and greatest isn't always the only option. Parents should think beyond the immediate gotta have it now."

At Parents' Choice, we have long championed good toys. We believe a good toy:

  • Can be played with in many ways
  • Challenges a child to think, consider, create
  • Helps develop a child's physical, mental, social, and emotional skills
  • Is well made and appealing
  • Is safe
  • Is age-appropriate and fits a child's talents, interests, abilities, and size.
  • Is fairly priced, fun, and socially sound

We asked Chris Bensch, Vice President for Collections at the Strong National Museum of Play®, to confer with us on a collection of classic toys. We readily agreed on the following:

  1. Crayola Crayons
  2. Classic Radio Flyer Wagon
  3. Paper Airplanes
  4. A Doll (that neither talks nor performs bodily functions.)
  5. LEGOS
  6. Playdoh
  7. Bicycle or Skateboard
  8. Puzzles
  9. Action Figures (animals or people. Super Heroes or service men/women.)
  10. Toy Cars and Trucks
  11. Blocks
  12. Cardboard Box


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