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07.19.13 / Five Things

Where are all the toys in your house?

I get that. A lot.

The boys’ toys are in their room; Mabrey’s toys are in her room. We have no separate playroom and I don’t keep overstock in the attic. I store drawing, coloring and crafty supplies in a designated cabinet in the kitchen. Board games go in the floating credenza in the dining room/mudroom. Truth be told, my kids don’t have a lot of toys. We don’t have the space and even if we did, I would still keep the bare minimum. Why? Because no matter how many toys they have to choose from, they keep coming back to their favorites. They play for longer periods of time and have better focus when they aren’t bombarded by choices and jumping from one toy to the next.

Today I’m sharing my older kids’ {not mine!} five favorite toys. There are a slew of blog posts on the internet addressing the best baby products, the best baby toys, the best toddler toys and the best preschooler toys. But you don’t see a lot in the way of the 5-10 year old range so I thought this would be a fun and slightly different take. My older kids are boys and they’re 5 & 8 but we have {all!} nieces ranging in age from 1-10. When our older nieces visit, I feel bad that we don’t have girl-specific toys but something always grabs their attention and it’s usually one of these five items. FYI- This list doesn’t include crafty, tech-y or outdoor playthings. I was trying to focus on the toy genre. Oh, and this post is not sponsored in any way.

fave bigger kid toys

1 – We bought the boys this blocks & marble set for Christmas last year. They have a lot of fun engineering marble tracks in different configurations and seeing what happens. You can see the little wheels in their brains turning as they try to figure out which block to put where in order to get the marbles to go the way they want. We’re thinking of investing in the super set this Christmas to give them even more options.

2 – Have you guys heard of littleBits? They are the bomb. Basically, they are little modules with their own specific function that snap together magnetically to create a larger circuit. Kids learn about electricity without the risk of shock or firestarting. Super cool. Like the marble track, the starter littleBits set can be extended with additional pieces and/or sets. My kids have saved their money and bought additional pieces like the fan.

3 – Good ol’ plain wood blocks are just one of those toys that never get old. My boys use them to build roads, houses, cities and forts and drive little cars around the block backdrops. The most comical use I’ve seen was when the boys built skyscrapers for Mabrey {a.k.a. Babyzilla} to demolish. Ah, I savor those rare everyone-is-getting-along moments.

4 – Legos. The bain of my existence. Yes, they get lost in our shag rug, take over rooms and act as mini land mines when left out for me to step on barefoot BUT they keep my kids occupied for hours. They have all kinds of different sets and mix them together to create elaborate castles, houses, vehicles and weapons.

I’ve yet to find a good way to store Legos. Suggestions? Right now we’re giving one of these organizers a try. It has three perforated trays that are tiered to sort Legos by size. Often times, the boys are looking for a specific piece and this helps them narrow things down quickly. If this is the best system for them, we’d have to invest in a few more to contain their entire collection.

5 – Books. Technically they aren’t toys but out of everything on this list books keep my kids’ attention the longest and take up the most space in their room so I thought it was worth the mention. “There Are Rocks in My Socks!” Said the Ox to the Fox is one of our family favorites. We have HH’s childhood copy. While writing this post, I was stunned to learn that this book is a collectible. New copies go for upwards of $60!

We spend a lot of time reading in our house, together and individually. We take weekly library trips and they are one of my favorite things to do with my kids. I have fond memories of spending my summers as a child and teenager at the library or reading library books. {HH can’t relate. He says that was the last way he would have chosen to spend his childhood summers.} I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the excitement in my kids’ faces when I tell them it’s library day. Of all my kids’ belongings, books are the most important {they have more books than clothes} and I don’t think they can have too many.

Those are my big kids’ favorites. And you better believe I’m keeping them close at hand this summer to combat boredom! When I look at this toy list, I see a common thread. Imagination. On their own, these toys aren’t that captivating. Imagination and creativity bring them to life and make them fun. And because imagination is involved, these toys are long-lived in our home. They aren’t seen the same way twice. They aren’t played with the same way twice. They aren’t thought about the same way twice. Each experience with them is totally new and unique.

images: collage by Dana Miller for House*Tweaking, linked within

52 Comments

Whoa! I had no idea “There are Rocks in My Socks” was such a collectable! I read it to my son just last night. I dug out my old copy just recently because I recited the first page to my son and husband and both wanted more (I still remember it by heart from when I was a kid). My little guy loves it so much that I was thinking of getting a back up copy, but now I think I’ll just have to watch him more closely when we read it.

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19.July.2013

i found an old trough at an antique store that i filled with my boys’ legos. it’s great because they are totally visible yet still contained—and there’s got to be like 2,000 pieces in there!! a big old wood dough bowl would work, too!

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replied on July 19th, 2013

Ooooh, attractive Lego storage! I love it. I might start scoping out the local thrift shops and craigslist for troughs and wood bowls. Hmmmmmm…

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19.July.2013

I’m so glad to see these are the toys your boys love! I’m not a parent (yet), but I am the oldest of eight kids and a nanny, so I have lots of experience with toys. The ones you’ve chosen are the kinds of toys my older younger siblings and I grew up playing with. When I was 7 or 8 our family bought our first computer, it only had one (count ‘em, ONE) game on it, and we kids were never allowed to play it without adult supervision. Now, the youngest four kids in my family constantly ask permission to get on the computer — much of their free time seems to be consumed by it. They still do imaginative things, but not nearly so much as we older kids did. It makes me sad to see how many kids these days are trading blanket forts and books for computer games and iPads.

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19.July.2013

I love your minimalism. People also ask me where all of my son’s toys are (or were shocked that he was 2 and I hadn’t yet heard of Little People). He has LOTS of toys at school, and blocks and books more than suffice to keep all of us happy and entertained. Oh, and cooking. His other favorite thing is to bake with us. I read some where that one quality that everyone with chronically clean homes has in common is that they don’t have that much stuff. Easier to put things away if you don’t have them to begin with!

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replied on July 19th, 2013

Yes! We try to promote DOING things as well {riding bikes, helping us with smaller projects, drawing, crafting, etc.} so that makes it easier to control toy chaos too.

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19.July.2013

I love this post. I have a two year old little girl and she is the only grandchild of three sets of grandparents (my parents are divorced/remarried). They constantly spoil her with things. How do you control other family members? I’m bombarded with toys!

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replied on July 19th, 2013

That is the biggest obstacle…grandparents with good intentions. My kids have three sets of grandparents as well. Fortunately, the grandparents usually ask for ideas which we gladly give. Since we don’t have a lot of space {which I remind the grandparents of frequently!} most times, I try to encourage gift-giving towards DOING something with the kids instead of BUYING stuff for the kids. For example, getting the kids gift cards to the movies and then taking them to the movies with their gift cards. Or getting them a month of gymnastics/swimming/whatever lessons that the kids are interested in doing or a year long subscription to Highlights magazine. Another idea is contributing to a college savings fund for the kids. Of course, random gifted toys do make their way into our home. The gifter is always thanked. Most of these toys are usually played with for a week and then forgotten. I give them a month and if the kids aren’t into them, they get donated. The kids go with me to donate them. Whatever gifts are kept, we eliminate an older less used toy to make room so the toy situation doesn’t get out of control – which can happen very easily and quickly in a smaller home.

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19.July.2013

Oh man, the legos. After searching for ages, mine are now stored in two large baskets. A scoop mat holds the general legos and his lego gears came with an organizer. The larger basket has space for works in progress. It’s a battle though.

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19.July.2013

As an elementary teacher, I am giving you a big hug for choosing toys that spark the imagination! It will make such a difference. My kiddos are all grown up and we’re expecting our first grand child. I have taken all the legos and the marble chute (ours was plastic) to school, and when we have to have indoor recess, those are the favorite choices to play with. Soon, I will bring them back home for our grandson to play with at Grandma’s house. And I agree that you cannot have too many books for kids to read. (You should see my classroom!) Thanks for sharing. I am going to have to check out those littleBits. They sound great.

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19.July.2013

I saw a news story on littlebits, a company imagined by a woman, and started because another woman invested in her and her vision and the rest is history. (It was a story about women business owners and why aren’t there more CEOs that were women)

I wish I could learn a bit more of your minimalist lifestyle. I tend to hoard a bit, but I think that comes from coming from a poor family perhaps and not wanting to get rid of stuff “just in case”.

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Just pinned this! I’ve got a 5 year old and 3 year old and a few of these toys they love (legos, books) but always appreciate hearing others’ ideas for long-lasting and well-loved fun stuff for the olders. Thanks, Dana! p.s. I also really appreciate everyone’s ideas for lego storage – somehow keeping legos in boxes or baggies just isn’t working too well…

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19.July.2013

Our kids are just too spoiled. I had one toy box and all the toys I needed.

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19.July.2013

timely post, I have been looking for ideas for my 6 year old son, and yes I think less is more. Here is an idea I found on pinterest for lego, I thought it was smart, I haven’t tried it yet.
http://pinterest.com/pin/197947346091556971/

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19.July.2013

My three are a little older and we have the same philosophy about toys. Looking ahead for you, we have found Cityblocks to be one of our favorites with boys and girls! (And parents too to be honest!) We originally saw them at a science museum and they were a huge hit! My daughter does “floor plans” for her animals, one son sees how high he can make a tower and my other son creats the most intricate models. Go with the large kit! Totally worth every penny! (Can I leave a link on your blog? Hope it’s ok!)

http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/citiblocs/citiblocs_natural_300_pc.cfm

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replied on July 19th, 2013

Thanks for the recommendation!

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replied on July 20th, 2013

Thanks for the imaginative toy recommendations. So glad to see someone else has the quality-over-quantity approach with the toys. I second the blocks recommendation. We have pretty much the same blocks EL recommended but they’re made by MindWare and called Structures. They also make a set called Contraptions that reminds me of you marble set. Besides Legos, these are played with the most consistently and for HOURS. Best money ever spent!

About the Lego storage…we have Sterlite drawers (we got them at Target. Lego makes very similar ones in obnoxious colors) and sort the pieces by color. The drawers come 3 tall and we have 3 sets for a total of 9 drawers. Anyway, we have lots of Legos and it has worked for us. I sometimes wish we had 12 drawers (for instructions and “in progress” creations and, but the 3 that we have fit perfectly across our sons bookcase…Jones Design Company did a post not too long ago and it’s pretty much our system too, only her draws are much bigger. http://jonesdesigncompany.com/children/legos-are-everywhere-and-our-way-of-containing-them/. Hope that helps!

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19.July.2013

I wouldn’t worry about not having “girl specific” toys. They may be happy not to be bombarded with “girl” stuff. As a little girl, I was never unhappy about having legos, books or blocks at someone else’s home or my home. :-) Nice variety of thinking toys!

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i just love these toy ideas & your whole outlook on this subject! i’m a teacher & believe children desperately need toys like this that make them think creatively & critically. my husband is an engineer, and when i showed him this post, he loved all of the “toys” relating to building, constructing, designing, etc. these are the types of things we hope to have in our home for the children to play with (when they come along!).

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19.July.2013

For lego storage, my mum sewed us a large, circular piece of canvas approx 3yd across, edged in eyelets with rope threaded through. Flattened out, it was a large mat, and the lego wasn’t allowed to leave the mat, save for one project that stayed out on a shelf. At the end of play, pick it up by the ropes like a giant drawstring bag, and hang it on a hook in the cupboard. Easy peasy.

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19.July.2013

Ok ,so best Lego storage ever. You ready ? It’s called a swoop bag and I am
In love. So amazing My two boys (3 and 6) use it as a playmat as well as storage. Here is the site it’s http://www.swoopbags.com. Tell me what you think!! Hope this helps

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replied on July 22nd, 2013

I am SO showing this to the boys to see if they’re interested! Thanks for sharing.

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19.July.2013

When my older kids were preschoolers, even visiting kids would ask “where are all the toys?” We just have never been too over-run by toys. My kids like Legos, lincoln logs, many balls with indoor Little Tykes basketball hoop, and little cars, and my daughter has an American Girl doll with clothes.

We have one drawer of games but lots of books. :)

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19.July.2013

My oldest son just turned 3 and I have seen his imagination explode with a combo of mega blocks, the Duplo size Legos, and his tractors and train set. He also loves to play with his doctor kit, kitchen set, and chalkboard wall. Thanks for the great ideas!

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19.July.2013

Oh, and I just bought Lincoln Logs for him! He loves creating towers with all of his block types and driving his tractors through it all on his rug.

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replied on July 22nd, 2013

Lincoln Logs are definitely in our Top 10!

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19.July.2013

I love this! A friend recommended your blog when we moved to California because we were downsizing. We also don’t have a separate playroom and try to keep a minimum of toys around. Sometimes I feel bad when I hold play dates and we don’t have all the bells and whistles around that other people have but I try to make up for it with yummy homemade snacks :-)

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19.July.2013

Our house is the same way – unless he’s playing with them, they’re not in sight. The toys are in a huge canvas tote with a cute quatrefoil print. I love it. At the end of the day I can just throw the toys in there and it looks like an adult space for a little while! I agree that simplicity is best and that kids who have fewer toys that entertain them, but rather toys that they have to use their imaginations with, are more creative and mentally stimulated!

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20.July.2013

The toys are stored in their rooms but do they have to play with them in their rooms?

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replied on July 22nd, 2013

No, toys are welcome throughout the house but at the end of each day everything gets put back into their rooms.

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20.July.2013

When we were younger legos were our absolute favorite toys. We inherited a large bin of miscellaneous ones from an older cousin an loved that rather than having a set of specific instructions to make something, we could do whatever we liked. Our mom’s way of trying to control the mess was to have us play on top of a flat bed sheet. When we were done we would just have to pick up the sheet and put the whole thing in the big bin. Then next time we wanted to play we would just have to pull the sheet out and all our Legos would be already out in one swoop. We were pretty good about keeping them on top of the sheet since we knew the condition to be able to play with them. The occasional piece would get hidden in our rug to then become a land mine, but it cut down on the frequency. Just as a reference, my sister is 5 years older than me and my brother is 3 years older.

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20.July.2013

We had Legos as kids and they are the best. For storage: fishing tackle boxes, tool boxes of various sizes, art supply caddies or makeup caboodles work great. These are all basically the same thing (a portable box with lots of tiny compartments that can be closed and latched) just dressed up in different marketing. Also, I agree that “girl toys” can be overrated. There is nothing in this collection that is more “boy” than “girl” — just great, imaginative stuff. I love your philosophy on toys and will be trying to do the same when we get to that point.

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20.July.2013

I have 3 girls and there are many similarities to their favorite toys as well. Our plain wooden blocks would definitely be toward the top of our list and they aren’t so much into legos but LOVE Playmobil (which I also step on.) And we also love books and spend most Saturday mornings at the library. My father-in-law built us a lot of bookshelves but since my husband is also a bookworm (he was an English Lit major in college) we are out of room for our kids books. I can easily go through toys and find things to get rid of but every time I go through books (or have the girls do it) we never can seem to get rid of any. Just going to have to build more shelves I guess. Thanks for your post. It is nice to know that other people are getting by just fine with a simplified selection of toys.

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20.July.2013

I’ve always been the same since my first was born, toys would be hidden away in a cupboard at the end of the day, as they got older, toys stored in their rooms! Makes me a much happier Mummy!
My son, 9, loves lego with a passion, and we’ve found the best solution for it all is the Lego Bricks Storage boxes, he has a small room and as they stack up, placed next to his bed they make a perfect spot for his water bottle at night too!

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20.July.2013

LEGOs. It’s nearly insane to contain them. My 6 year old has about a zillion. For his 6th birthday, we lavished him with organization. Hello, Container Store LEGO storage. We too have the sorting head, and LOVE it for all the random pieces. We have the Large Lego block storage containers, and store “sets” in those that are in plastic zip bags with their instructions. Only drawback to these containers are the round inverted “brick trapping” grooves in the bottom…so tiny Legos not in a bag get lodged. That said, they store a TON, Stack, and look bright and clean in his minimal room. We have several colors/sizes of these, and they “stack” like Legos…

We also have 4 or so “project boxes” — these are fantastic for works-in-progress, small built items and travel…we LOVE these also and they are a snap to open/close without parent help. We do not have the rack system, but bought several cases separately…

Lastly, he has a few of the minifigure “display cases” — but he crams 2 figures per slot, and it helps him sort out random people, or civic people [he has a lot of the City line...] so he can cull them for easy/quick play…these also “stack” like Legos, and have clear fronts to quickly “see” the figures.

I’ve been tempted to pick up a few of the smaller heads for random minifigure pieces, but we haven’t yet.

We are sort of Lego obsessed, and we have found clear/organized systems help them play + PUT AWAY better…

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20.July.2013

I found that my daughter (and nephews) get less frustrated with lego play when the blocks are organized by color, just like the store displays. i considered the LEGO brand storage but found it a bit pricey and difficult to customize to address all the different colors we have. We now have them organized by color and stored in ikea glis boxes. affordable at $4.99, stackable on our bookcase shelves and easy to customize. For example, we have an entire box of white legos but only need a 1/4 of one for purple ones! I also keep directions for all the sets in one glia box too.

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80100029/

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21.July.2013

Great post! We haven’t had much luck with the Lego sorting head. The 6 year old sometimes doesn’t get the trays lined up properly, then the whole thing falls apart. Right now we use 2 bins that the kids can see in to. Any projects that they are currently working on are allowed to stay out on the Lego table (a re-purposed train table), all other Lego pieces have to be in the bins and under the table at the end of the day. Any sets that they want to keep long term can go on display on their shelves. This, however, is rare. My boys rarely keep sets together for long. We have tried separating by color/size/shape into smaller containers, and they don’t seem to have any interest in keeping them like that, but just prefer to dig through a larger container to find what they’re looking for.

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replied on July 22nd, 2013

That’s how my boys are! Plus, I like that it takes them longer to make something since they’re searching for pieces ;) More play time!

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21.July.2013

Can you give me book recommendations for my boys also 8 and 5? Thanks, Jill

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21.July.2013

Check this out for lego storage:

http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2011/10/organizing-legos-part-3-creating.html

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replied on July 22nd, 2013

Lovely! Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately, I don’t think my boys would be the ones to put them back into their color-coordinated drawers. And they like to move around with their Legos so we need something portable.

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21.July.2013

Magnatiles! Another great add-your-imagination toy. These were a splurge but worth it– I wasn’t sure if my daughter would be into a “building” toy but these get a lot of play, by her and by guests alike.

My goal is to keep toys to a minimum too but we also have over-indulgent grandparents and the stuff seems to multiply. (We too suggest getting “experience” gifts but that just doesn’t fly with them, sigh.) We just did a big edit in my daughters’ room, and she started playing with stuff that hadn’t seen the light of day for a while.

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22.July.2013

As Lego was taking over our London flat we brainstormed and bought a rolling cart with 4 removable plastic trays from Ikea’s laundry department. Now the Lego can move around the house and everything fits in the trays. A finished project can be on a shelf or on the lid of the top tray.
My 8 years old son does not sort the pieces in any way and creates all kind of structures and robots. He has thousands of pieces (easiest kid to buy a present for).
We stopped buying Lego ourselves; only presents allowed.
My 5 year old son only likes Lego mini figures and motorcycles – no mess.

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22.July.2013

The Swoop Bag is great for Legos. I have one for larger Legos for my 2.5 yo. I have one for his small cars too. I was getting so tired of him tipping his bins out all over the floor. This way you open the bag, it lays flat, they can play and see all their Legos and when they are done, you swoop it up.

I also moved my older sons’ Legos (8yo and 6yo) to their bedroom when my 2.5 yo was getting mobile. I put all their Legos in 2 under bed drawers that they can pull out when they want to use them. The drawers are too big and heavy so no one can dump them. When they are done, they push the drawers under the bed.

I finally solved my Lego problem after many a bin. :)

Love your style, love your blog. I look forward to reading. Thanks!

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22.July.2013

I don’t have children yet or younger siblings but I DO have a 6 year old nephew and a passion for science centres and toy stores :)

The coolest toy on the market that I’ve seen are Keeva blocks. They are thin wood sticks used for building. I love that they are popular. Kids can step away from electronics and let their imaginations go! It’s great for me too. I don’t know about everyone here but I get stuck on my laptop far too often!

I loved LEGO as a kid and still do, but it was a pricey toy for my Mum! Keeva blocks are all one shape and size so parents (and aunts!) don’t feel pressured to buy the latest Keeva building set. It seems like a great classic toy!

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22.July.2013

my friend is a furniture designer. here’s what he did with this boys’ legos:

http://instagram.com/p/TmBCopDvvC/#

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replied on July 23rd, 2013

Gorgeous!

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22.July.2013

OOOOOOOOMG! That marble and block set just slapped me in the face with nostalgia, it was my favorite FAVORITE toy as a kid (and I’m a woman!). So many hours spent making tunnels and mazes. Thanks for this post – I don’t have kids but I’ve got to keep those in mind if/when I do!

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22.July.2013

I LOVE that you have such imagination-sparking toys for your kids. I remember playing with so many similar toys when I was a kid. I’m disappointed in your characterization of these toys as ‘non-girl’ toys — it is SO important for girls to develop these problem-solving skills just like boys. Girls make great engineers too: I am proof! It may be telling that blocks and legos and make-the-hotwheel-roll-this-way toys were among my favorites, right along with the dolls and play kitchens. Vice versa for the boys to be allowed/encouraged to foster their nurturing tendencies with a doll/etc too if they are interested. {I just read Lean In and I’m all fired up — I know you meant no ill will!!} Thanks for an inspiring post!

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replied on July 23rd, 2013

Sorry if it came across that these toys shouldn’t be played with by girls. In mentioning that we don’t have stereotypical “girl” toys and that our nieces enjoy playing with these, I was hoping to show that these toys are totally great for boys and girls alike.

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27.December.2013

There’s really a book called “There are Rocks in my Socks,” said the ox to the fox.
My 20-month old baby girl identifies the animals, but pronounces all three as ‘sox’
:)
I’ll look for this book.

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replied on January 2nd, 2014

Yes, and it’s one of our favorites!

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