Teddy Ruxpin was a blip on the radar screen of toy history, but generic teddy bears live forever. Classic toys have enduring (and endearing) qualities that transcend breakthroughs in technology. Even changes in lifestyle don't seem to affect classic toys. Train transportation is on the decline everywhere except on the playroom floor. Home cooking is giving way to take-out dinners, but play kitchens and pretend cookware are as popular as ever.
How do toys like these become classics? And more important, why?
The essence of classic toys is that they combine fun with rich opportunities for children to explore, experiment, learn, grow, and feel good about themselves. As you consider the following examples, note that these toys allow children to take the initiative in deciding how to play; they do not force children to conform to a predetermined agenda. In other words, the play is in the child, not in the toy.
Infants learn to coordinate their senses and body actions. Rattles and squeakers engage babies' eyes and hands. When random hand movements cause exciting sounds or visual effects, the baby's joy at being able to make things happen encourages continued exploration. Balls are favorites for the non-stop activity of rolling them along the floor, creeping after them, and pushing them away again.
Toddlers strive for physical competence. Playthings that help them build strong muscles and use them with control are a priority in the preschool years. Stationary climbers, incorporating ladders and slides, provide a stable beginning. Swings and ropes can be added later. Balls are now used for bouncing and throwing, either alone or with a playmate.
Children try to understand how they fit into the family. Baby dolls help them explore the parent-child relationship. As they feed, bathe and tuck their "baby" into bed, they learn to nurture and they practice for parenthood. (Little boys enjoy this kind of play, too!) Imaginations are more likely to flourish with dolls that don't talk, cry, wet, or do anything else on their own.
Children learn to confront and cope with their fears. Medical kits, spooky costumes, and monster toys help children exorcise their fears through play. Stuffed animal bedmates ease the loneliness of nighttime separation from parents.
Children crave a sense of personal power. By creating a pretend world of miniature villages, buildings, trains, and vehicles, children can become giants who control the actions of little play figures who inhabit it.
Children need to express their feelings. Even before they have the necessary words, children display their emotions non-verbally with art materials (paint, clay, crayons), musical instruments, and through the play scenarios they create for their dolls and action figures.
Once children talk well, puppets encourage revealing conversations. Through a puppet, a child may be able to voice thoughts he cannot otherwise bring himself to say. Parent-child discussions may also go more smoothly when each uses a puppet.
Children need to become socialized. Board games teach children to follow rules, take turns, and play fairly. Seesaws and large-scale blocks reinforce the need for cooperation.
Children like to solve problems and figure out how things work. Jigsaw puzzles and take-apart toys require a child to find a single correct solution. Although they are excellent toys for that purpose, children soon master them and outgrow them. Building blocks and construction sets, on the other hand, offer options that can challenge children for many years. LEGO® sets grow with a child from large-scale Duplo sets for toddlers through complex sets culminating in motorized and computer-operated versions for teens.
Children enjoy surprises and challenges. Slinky never fails to amuse and amaze a child, from the time she first watches its antics until she has tested all its capabilities. Other toys that capture children's imaginations are Etch A Sketch, Silly Putty, magnets, and magnifiers.
Children take pride in practicing and perfecting academic skills. (But NOT when it looks like schoolwork!) Preschool toys like alphabet blocks and pegboards, and games like Chutes & Ladders, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, and dominoes use numbers and letters in playful ways.
Many classics are more than single-purpose toys. Unit building blocks help children develop finger dexterity and eye-hand coordination while they explore math (length, volume, quantity), art (patterns and symmetry), and science (gravity, stability, balance).
Wooden railway sets provide a play environment that grows with the child's physical ability to connect larger and more complex track layouts, mental ability to plan how different accessories can work together, and social ability to interact with friends in a play world of their own creation.
While many classic toys are available in most large toy stores, some are limited to neighborhood specialty toy stores, mail order catalogs, or online sources.
Classic Toy Resources
Parents' Choice Best 25 Toys of 25 Years
Back to Basics Toys Games & Hobbies
American Specialty Toy Retailing Association
(ASTRA) - Toy Store Finder
Find a Specialty Toy Retailer in Your Area
History Channel - History of Toys & Games