Play-Doh, Play-Doh. Satan's clay. We bought this expecting a fun half-hour of nostalgia sculpting shapes with our kids. Instead they asked us to help them roll a ball 97 times, ripped each color into a million pieces that got scattered all over the floor and mashed into the carpet with their feet, and then mixed all the colors together. It did keep them occupied for hours, though, and the floors aren't hard to clean if you let the "doh" harden and then pick it up on your hands and knees. Let the kids do it and burn off the calories from all that Play-Doh they ate. 3 stars.
2. Train Table
Sometimes my kids play with this for hours. Other times they leave it abandoned for months on end. I can't quite figure out if we got our money's worth and the thing is rickety as all hell, but I'm always glad we have it when they're not home and I sneak in their room to play with it myself. Shhh. 4 stars.
3. Bubble Machine
My kids spent six straight months begging for one of these every time we went to Target. I finally relented on a lovely spring day and bought them one to play with outside. It broke after two uses, but for those two shining moments in time I got to see the wonder on my kids' beautiful faces as they realized that nothing is ever as cool as it looks in the store. 2 stars.
4. Play Kitchen
An iconic childhood toy. Your kids will love it, but you'll almost always wish you went with the cheaper model because kids really don't care if it lights up, sings songs, has granite counter tops, or comes with a fully functioning ice machine. All they want to do is throw plastic food everywhere and find a way to incorporate Play-Doh and things from the real kitchen into their imaginative play. Hide the ketchup. 5 stars.
5. Lego Blocks
You can never have too many, really. They will cover every surface of your house and for a few years you'll feel like your walking through landmines to get a glass of water, but the injuries are worth it when you think about how many hours you can spend ignoring your kids while they build towers to nowhere. All the stars.
6. Barbie Dolls
Barbie used to dominate when it came to dolls, but now sales are down and the kids just don't seem into it. Barbie is kind of like Madonna: still an icon, but possibly past her prime and continually trying to recapture good old days that just can't happen again. Perhaps she should make out with an Equestria Girl, or start dating a vampire from Monster High. That might do something to relegate her from the box under the bed. 2 stars.
It's so cute! And classic! And never going to get used! Skip the trike and go for a Big Wheel. Trust me on this. 1 star.
8. Art Supplies
Savor the moment when you purchase these because they will never look that way again. Soon the crayons will be de-papered, the markers exhausted, and the colored pencils dulled and splintered from battle. They're only well-worn because they're so loved. Just make sure to keep a few Magic Erasers on hand. 5 stars.
9. Classic Toys
Your Lite Brite. Your Spirograph. Perfection. Mouse Trap. Little miniature ovens where you bake disgusting creatures made of stretchy goo. You bought all the modernized versions hoping to recapture your youth, but none of them are what they used to be. Now they're safe and boring and come with miniature trophies for everyone that say, "Yay! You participated!" Your kids don't know the difference, but you do and it wounds you deeply. If only you'd saved everything from yesteryear so your children could know the unregulated, lead-paint-laden joy of 1983. 2 stars.
(Photo: 3dfoto / Shutterstock)