Shakespeare, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, The Catcher In The Rye, The Rolling Stones . . . Mr. Potato Head? What makes a classic a classic? Longevity, staying power, and keeping generation after generation interested are some of the traits that make certain personas, books, music, and especially toys, classics.
Stephanie Gallagher, mother of two and author of The Gallagher Guide to the Baby Years: The Real Mom's Survey of Top-Rated Products and Advice, says toys that stand the test of time are intriguing, involving, and indestructible. "Toys that can be played with many different ways, such as Mr. Potato Head, Legos, and Lite-Brite are perennial favorites," says Gallagher. "They provide a familiar, yet novel, experience for the child each time."
Elaine Fantle Shimberg describes herself as a "hopeless saver" and has kept many toys her children played with in the '60s for her ten grandchildren, ages seven months to eleven years. When the grandchildren visit, they head for the classic toys like Fisher-Price play people and castle, plastic toy soldiers, Tonka trucks, and the infamous dog that squeaks as its pulled. The common factor of these favorites? "They don't have batteries and they let the kids use their imaginations," says Shimberg, author of Blending Families. She encourages parents to use non-battery operated toys. "Blocks, dishes, and toy cars can keep kids busy for hours," she says.
Think of the toys you played with during your childhood and you'll probably come up with quite a few that didn't require batteries. Board games, Mr. Potato Head, Legos, and Etch-A-Sketch are classics because something new happens or is created each time the game or toy is played.
Gallagher agrees with Shimberg and says while electronic toys give kids immediate satisfaction by pushing buttons to get a reaction, they don't allow a child to use his imagination. Gallagher, who favors Little People, dress-up playthings, tea sets, workbenches and kitchens, says these are great because "children like trying on different identities at different ages, and these types of toys allow them to do that."
Thought-provoking and imaginative toys are often considered classics. Simple items such as alphabet blocks (which encourage spelling as well), crayons, Play-Doh, Lite-Brite, Silly Putty, paint sets, and clay are always a hit. Non-classic toys, such as Gameboy and Playstation, can be isolating and do all of the imagining for the player. These items can also get expensive as children get bored playing the same game over and over, with the same outcome, and require new games.