What Makes a Great Toy?

With Toy Fair sneaking up on us again, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my attitudes about toys have changed since I first became a parent. When my oldest son was about 9 months old, I heard another parent say that nothing drove her crazier than toys. She wanted to get rid of every single toy in her house. I was running a home daycare at the time and one of my new hobbies was flipping through toy catalogs as I cared for the kids. As a new mom, toys were one of the exciting perks I had discovered and I was enjoying old favorites from my childhood and discovering great new toys that I was sure my son would love for years to come.

Fast forward nearly 8 years later. I swear, if I step on one more toy I will have the biggest garage sale of all time. My house is overrun by toys because they were all far too cool to get rid of.

I do still enjoy checking out a good toy catalog, but I’m much more selective in the toys that I will actually allow into my home. I’ve learned what I like in a toy and I won’t hesitate to reject a toy that’s a waste of money and waste of my kids’ time.  There are a three main things that automatically count a toy out for me.

Electronic Toys with Limited Play Value

I have some toys lying around from when I was a kid  . . . and my kids still play with them. They’ve stood the test of time. There are other toys that they play with once and never get looked at again. While I’m not completely opposed to electronic

toys, most of the one hit wonders in our house are electronic. They draw the kids in the fastest but their attention fizzles quickly or the toy breaks because there’s just too much going on with it.

I will say, that not all electronic toys are created equal. We have 3 LeapFrog Tag Pens (well, 2 Tags and 1 Tag Jr.). Theywere such a hit from the very beginning that we had to get one for everyone. The Tag was responsible for finally getting my oldest son excited about reading and now he’s an avid reader so there are some great electronic toys out there – but an electronic toy has to work a lot harder to impress me because I don’t want to add it to the pile of high-priced, unused toys.

Cheap Parts or Questionable Materials

When I first became a parent, I never thought twice about buying a plastic toy. Since then there have been some major discoveries when it comes to toy safety and parents have to really decide whether or not they can trust a toy company to make a safe toy for their children. While I have greener tendencies, I’m the first to admit that I have not banned plastic from our house. There are just too many cool plastic toys and my kids are getting older so there aren’t quite as many options for green toys that appeal to them. Because of that, I seriously think my kids would stage a rebellion if I went to all wooden toys.

I am more selective when it comes to buying plastic toys though, and even wooden toys since the painted surfaces can contain lead and other harmful materials. As a consumer, I expect toy companies to be able to tell me what materials are in their products. If they can’t do that, I’ll probably move on to another brand. There are some great companies, big and small, that take a responsible approach to toy making. A few of my favorites are Plan Toys, ImagiPlay, and Haba.

I stay up to date on product recalls, especially since I do have a mix of toys in my home, and I tend to steer away from brands I’m not familiar with if they can’t tell me what is in their products. It pays to be an informed consumer. I’ve had to pull a few recalled toys out of my home over the last few years and as a parent, that’s scary. I’d rather choose products that are safe from the beginning whenever I can.

Products Designed for Parents and Not Kids

Despite the fact that there are many parents who love toys, toys are meant for kids and they should be designed with kids in mind. While this may seem obvious, there are actually many companies who design and market toys to parents. Elaborately designed crib mobiles come to mind. When looking at a toy, even if it’s one that I think it absolutely adorable, I have to look at it from a child’s perspective because ultimately, if it doesn’t appeal to my kids, it’s a waste of money.  Some companies, such as Fisher Price, really do a great job of researching what kids and moms want in a product before bringing it to market – and it shows in the end result.

Kids look at toys differently than adults do. It always makes me laugh when I buy a toy, having a general idea of how my kids are going to play with it, and they come up with something completely different.  It’s this reason that really, really makes me wish kids were allowed at Toy Fair. I’d be so much more effective if I could just wander through the convention with my kids and let them lead me to the toys that they naturally gravitated towards. Instant market research.

What do you look for in a toy?


  1. 2


    HI Rachel,

    So glad I found your blog. Great minds think a like! We did a very similar post a few days back –


    We both hit on many of the same points but I really like your point about cheap parts – we missed that in our post. Actually I think your post says what we were thinking better than our post – I will RT it!

    Have a great time at #TF11. It will be my first time going, looking forward to it.

    Take care,
    Dan Dad Does´s last blog post ..Holy Crap Dads! The Horror That Is Valentine’s Day Is Right Around the Corner


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