Okay so in no particular order these are the items in our home that we've gotten the most bang for our buck: I'd love to hear YOUR most loved, best investments also... please share!
We've got to have close to 100 cars or so in this house... but they don't seem to get old. They have a wide age-span of playability and they are very flexible with what the kids can do with them... they are a consistent presence in the play here on most days. Check out the new parking spaces I discovered when I opened up the piano the other day. Plus at only $1 each, you get to constantly flush in and out of new additions to the car box.
We've had many little block sets come and go in the home... they've all gotten played with but eventually the paint chips or they just aren't taken care of etc. Unit blocks are a MUST in any home, in my opinion. These differ from other block sets in that they are sized to correspond with each other (e.g. Two square blocks are the exact size of a base rectangle; two triangles equal a square etc.). They are larger, sturdier (maple I think) and inifinitely fun in what the kids can do with them! Blocks around here build houses, race tracks, fire stations, roads, towns all kinds of things. We bought each boy a set for Christmas a couple years ago because they more you have, the more you can create, and they are forced to share and collaborate. The ones we bought were on sale at amazon at the time. A great investment!
Random pieces of cloth:
I'd love to buy some quality silkies like those shown here, but they're out of my price range. But I've picked up basic squares of different cloths at Wal-Mart or garage sales and such and the boys have been able to make capes, robes, ipromptu picnic blankets, and all kinds of costumes. Just a basic rectangle about 3 feet wide/tall or so and imaginations run wild.
Stuffed animals/ Baby dolls:
Now I never thought little boys would get into stuffed animals or dolls so much but they each have their own little boy baby, and we have a plethora of stuffed animals that seem to be constantly flushing in and out of our home and as long as the stash isn't GROWING, I'm fine with that. Generally new ones come in as gifts or from rummage sales etc, but older ones (except the most beloveds) find their way out the door too. Anyway, the boys do all kinds of pretend play with their animals, they dress and feed and wear (!) their babies, drive them around in laundry baskets etc. So while I'm not personally a fan of stuffed creatures, I see that the boys truly enjoy them and do imaginative things with them so they're here to stay!
Balls of all shapes and sizes:
I'll be the first one to admit that our house is a rough and tumble kind of home. Things don't always get taken care of they way we'd hope. Many basketballs, footballs, baseballs, bouncy balls etc., have come, gone, been lost, popped, ruined or roofed over the years. But, we ALWAYS have balls around. And they inevitably get used in one way or another or enjoyed for spurts of time while interest is there etc. And the advantage to this just became obvious to me. For example, people who have musical instruments lying around have a greater chance of raising musicians and just exposing kids to a variety of musical styles... it's the same with balls from all sports. Our kids shoot baskets, throw footballs, catch baseballs, bounce play balls, kick soccer balls etc. And they are all getting better and more coordinated at it. Xavier is in T-Ball this year and he's got the best arm on his team when it comes to throwing and catching (batting, not so much). It's obvious that he's had a lot of experience throwing things around and playing catch with his brothers and Papa. It amazes me to see some of the other kids throw the baseball with astounding inability... I'm talking 6 year olds who don't get the concept of when to release the ball and the thing only goes 3 feet in front of them, it's quite sad. So yes, balls of all types, have been great investments for many reasons.
These also are in constant flux around here since they get ruined half the time, but I keep a close eye on the GOOD ones we have... but having consistent access to drawing and coloring materials has been essential in allowing the kids to be creative in an artistic way. They do some kind of drawing or coloring a few times a week it seems... and they even go in phases where they'll take a box of crayons, a couple coloring books, and spend the whole afternoon in their room!!!! It's crazy... but I'm not complaining!!!
Fisher Price Little People
I'm talking about the vintage ones as seen in our header here. They've played with the newer versions and will enjoy them for a while if they have them, but they always seem to go back to the old skool ones (which I keep in a giant storage bin and only bring out every so often) that aren't sold anymore (we got ours from garage sales, thrift stores and ebay). I've reflected on WHY they seem to prefer the older ones... I mean the newer ones are brighter, more detailed, make noises sometimes and overall more FUN looking. The old ones look boring in comparison. I mean just look at the picture on the top of the blog compared to this:
So my theory is that the kids prefer the older ones precisely because they can imagine more with them... THEY have to make the noises.... THEY have to pretend they're holding things and that their outfits are interesting or bodies are more than simple shapes etc. I really do believe that "less is more" when it comes to toys and if you give kids ambiguous, simple toys, they'll have much more to play with than the toys that do all the imagining for them.
Anyway, there's my compendium for now. Empty boxes also get used a lot around here, and anything new, whatever it is, will get loved and played with exclusively for at least a couple weeks. But as it goes, the boys eventually get bored with these and then shuffle back to their tried and true toys...
(Biggest disappointment? We have received some lovely puppets over the years; I have great visions of my kids lovingly setting up a show and creating all kinds of comedies and dramas with their puppets... but alas... they've not barely used them. I wonder if we have a girl that this will change... because I refuse to part with these whenever purge time comes!e)