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Thanksgiving is this week, Advent starts this Sunday, and I know you mamas are on the hunt for Christmas gifts. But before you go into a perfect-gift-buying frenzy (I’m totally guilty of putting that pressure on myself), I wanted to save at least a few of you from rushing out to buy gifts that won’t even make it into the New Year. 

We’ve definitely had our share of disposable toys at our home, but I try to be selective about what we give our kids. Mainly because we’re pretty capped on toy space already, but we want to get the most for our money, too. And way too many toys make it to the giveaway box in the end. With four kids ages 4-11, we love gifts that will last–both in enjoyment and in wear. 

So from one mama to another, here’s my list of 24 toys and gifts that have not only survived a lot of wear, but my kids still love to play with, too: 

Building Blocks

From toddlerhood to the tween years, my kids have always loved playing with building blocks of all sorts. In fact, they are probably the single most played with toy in our home. 

Here’s what we have in our collection of building blocks:

1. Uncle Goose Spanish ABC Blocks–Some of our kids have been in dual language programs, and they’ve all had/are taking Spanish. It’s fun to learn the names of different animals together, too. 

2. Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Classroom Kit–It’s not only wonderful to have blocks gorgeously made from sustainable wood, but it’s awesome to have blocks that stay together, too! I splurged on the classroom kit last Christmas, but they have smaller sets available, too.

3. Secondhand Blocks–I found ours at a church garage sale and I absolutely love them. I have no qualms over giving my kids previously-loved gifts, and you shouldn’t either!

4. Wooden Train Set–I totally consider these as building blocks. Brio is a great brand. 

5. Legos–The universal building block. If you have kids, then you probably already know how amazingly versatile Legos are. Our kids’ favorites include any of the Duplo Princess and Lego Friends (for the girls), and Lego Star Wars or Lego Hobbit sets (for the boys).  We’ve also recently enjoyed the new Lego Juniors for both boys and girls. 


I had a friend with a gorgeous hand built dollhouse when I was little and I always dreamed of having one like it. Well, instead of one giant one, we have many small to medium sized ones–like six or seven of them. 

Here’s what we have:

6. Plan Toys My First Dollhouse–This one is our “big” house. It’s not always tidy, and sometimes our cat sleeps in it, but it’s loved nonetheless. The house and accessories we purchased to go with it have held up very well.

7. Haba Wooden Noah’s Ark Set–This isn’t officially a dollhouse, but I consider it one. It’s all very well made and very easy to clean (the hardest part is keeping the animals in pairs!). 

8. KidKraft Fire Station–We bought this house several years ago after my husband became a firefighter. The boys loved playing with it and after packing it away for a while, we recently brought it back out and the girls love to play with it now, too. This one hasn’t held up together as nicely as our Plan Toys and Haba sets, but it’s still holding up.

9. Melissa and Doug Fold and Go Dollhouse–This was a great intro dollhouse when our oldest daughter was a toddler. It’s small size and portability are just perfect. 

10. Vintage Fisher Price Houses–We lucked out that my mom and an old neighbor had a stash of these classic toys. We have the Farm, Schoolhouse, and House. If you ever see one at the thrift store, grab it!

Imaginative Play

Make-believe is a classic part of childhood, and although my kids are often just as content to play with sticks and whatever else they can find in our backyard, it’s fun to have some props and costumes, too.

Some of the kids’ favorites include:

11. Playskool Magic Tea Party Set–We’ve had this set for about three years now. I don’t think the teacups change color anymore, but it’s in great condition and is one plastic toy I don’t regret having.

12. Hape My Creative Cookery Set–My kids love to help in the kitchen, but when they can’t they can cook up something themselves. Amelia’s favorite is soup right now, and boy is it good!

13. Dress Up Clothes–Most of our dress up clothes are actually old Halloween costumes. We’ve also enjoyed the Melissa and Doug Doctor, Firefighter, and Police Officer sets. 

Board Games

We don’t have an official game night, but we have a number of games we love playing over and over again. Here’s a peek inside our game cabinet:

14. Ravensburger’s Labrinth–Ravensburger is probably my favorite game and puzzle brand. Well-made, well-designed, and easy to play!

15. Enchanted Forest (also by Ravensburger)

16. Qwirkle–This is my first pick for family game time. It’s easy enough for my six and seven year olds to understand, but challenging enough for my oldest and me and my husband to enjoy (our youngest loves to play on mommy or daddy’s team).

17. Sorry–Another one of my top picks. A straight-forward, easy to play game–although it can be lengthy!

18. Boggle and Boggle Junior–We don’t play the full Boggle version very often as a family, yet. I grew up playing it and can’t wait to play it more with my kids. And Boggle Junior is perfect for little ones learning to spell. 


Our kids have grown up surrounded by books. There’s hardly a room in the house without them (except the bathrooms). Our kids sleep with stacks of books in their beds and we read together nearly every night. Some of our favorite family read-alouds have included:

19. The Little House on the Prairie Series–I read some of them, but not all as a girl. We’re on Farmer Boy right now with the older three. They’re always eager to hear what the characters are doing next–I love the positive family models and the glimpse into history.

20. Anything by Allan Ahlberg(Each Peach Pear Plum is my absolute favorite of his.)

21. Ramona Quimby Series by Beverly Cleary–We actually originally bought the Audible edition of this for a road trip (it’s about 19 hours long). My kids love it so much that we listen to parts of it every week. Ramona almost feels like a part of the family.

22. Henry Huggins Series by Beverly Cleary–We also originally bought this series on Audible for the road. Henry, too, is a weekly-welcomed guest in our house. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve listened to our audiobooks–definitely worth it! 

23. Sparkle Stories–Another favorite audio series produced independently by a couple with a inspiring passion for storytelling. You can subscribe to a series, or download collections–they even have free episodes to listen to on their podcast in iTunes! 

24. Anything by Rick Riordan–A San Antonio native, Rick Riordan is the writer behind the popular young adult Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series, as well as 39 Clues. His young adult series are an excellent supplement for learning Greek mythology–my 11-year-old is almost and expert and eats all of his books up readily. The Percy Jackson series were probably the first books Skyler really began to fall in love with reading with. 

Phew! There’s probably more I could have shared, but hopefully this list gives you some ideas and inspiration. What toys and books do your kids still love? What were your favorites as a kid?

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