Toys without the Bells, Whistles, and Beeps – Kveller
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Toys without the Bells, Whistles, and Beeps

Remember when toys were simple?

Parents all know that our kids love gadgets with buttons that do cool things just as much as we do.  Although it was still a little shocking to read Hilary Stout’s recent article in the New York Times about toddlers and their love for the iPhone.

But even the biggest fan of iPhone apps for kids would agree that there is a time and place for toys that don’t beep or flash or connect to the internet.

One particular time and place that comes to mind is Shabbat.

Whether or not you observe it in a traditional sense, Shabbat can be a welcome opportunity to unplug, or at least cut back on technology use, and enjoy some peace and quiet. Why not have your kids unplug too, at least for some of the day?

Here’s a round-up of 10 electricity-free, non-commercial, Shabbat-friendly toys.

Many of them are classics and basics–helpful if you’re trying to assemble a fundamental toy collection that will last. The wise parents who recommended these toys claim they have real longevity–spanning the toddler through preschooler years–and will not just accumulate in toy bins and clutter your house.

1. Blocks

Nearly every parent I spoke to made this recommendation. My friend with four children under the age of five (how does she do it?!) recommends foam blocks so the big kids can play without the little kids getting hurt. Another friend pointed out that alphabet stacking blocks were a hit for longer than expected. Plus, they don’t take up a lot of room.

2. Play Kitchen

It doesn’t have to be fancy or huge, and if you’re an apartment-dweller you might consider some of these smaller models. Lots of parents find that pretend dishes or tea sets and pretend food keep their kids very occupied–with no need for the actual kitchen structure.

3. Magna-Tiles

Starting around age 2, and for years thereafter, kids construct remarkable 3-D structures with these flat, magnetic tiles. Every parent who owns them swears by them–but they are pricey. At $110 for a set of 100 tiles, I’m thinking of asking my parents to buy these for my daughter’s “now-you’re-a-big-sister” present.

4. Dress-Up Clothes

For very inexpensive, you can build a glitzy dress-up collection at places like Value Village. Or for free, turn your own old clothes into dress-up. Throw some blankets and scarves into the mix, be prepared to let your kids and their friends take off the sofa cushions, and voila!–hours of imaginary play.

5. Train Set

If you prefer to skip the commercial Thomas set, check out the Nuchi line of trains. Or for a less expensive alternative that is still fun, try a set of toy cars with a car play mat. I’ve also been told that eBay is a great place to buy gently used train sets for less.

6. Doll House

And other kinds of structures (barns, garages, airports, etc.) that contain people, furniture, etc. Fisher Price Little People sets come recommended–though some of them are a bit commercial and some are electronic.  I’m personally partial to the Fisher Price Little People Doll House I grew up with, which Fisher Price no longer makes, and I have recently become obsessed with purchasing “Vintage” Fisher Price Little People[14] and accessories to go with it. If you’re also drawn to the simplicity and whimsy of the Little People of yore, check out eBay. But don’t outbid me!

7. Toys from your Childhood

The staff at my local independent toy store, West Side Kids, claim that good old Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys are still a hit and last for years.

8. KEVA Planks

Another recommendation from the good folks at West Side Kids, KEVA planks look really simple but they enable some complex architectural creativity. You’ll probably only want to introduce them to kids around age four, but then their cache remains for at least five years thereafter.

9. HABA Ball Track
This toy can get a lot more play than you might expect from something that just rolls balls down a track. My friend hypothesizes that it’s the combination of colors, heavy wooden balls, and observing gravity in action that make it so interesting.

10. Little Red Wagon
Check out for more choices than you’ll ever need.

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