If you’re trying to figure out what to get your child for Christmas this year, you might want to consider getting them something from one of the traditional 'basic-12.'

Adults often seem to forget what toys are for – 'play' is actually the 'work' of children, and toys reflect that. When our children play, they are defining themselves as individuals, learning new skills, and practicing relationships with others and with the physical world. This is not only fun for them, but they can also learn that sharing, learning, and just being themselves, are all pleasant experiences. 'Good' toys are toys that will help children do those things.

There are always new and colorful toys just for the choosing that stores push at this time of year, and many do have good play-value. But there are also some basic toys that any well-stocked playroom should have on hand to encourage your child’s development.

The 'basic-12' list follows for boys and girls from preschool to around age eight, based on a list presented on the PsychCentral website. You’ll find that most quality daycare programs, preschools, and kindergartens have all of these toys. Just because they don’t all cost a lot of money, doesn’t mean your child will not enjoy them a 'priceless' amount.

  • Unit blocks. Plain wooden blocks (lots of them) in enough sizes to encourage hours of construction, alone and with others.
  • Legos or some other 'building-block'-type toy that encourages development of fine motor skills and creativity.
  • Baby dolls and a few basic changes of clothing. Nothing fancy – not necessarily the dolls that crawl, eat, speak, etc. Those dolls break too easily and reduce the amount of creativity required to play with them by whatever thing they do.
  • Play kitchen stuff or a play toolbox — both toys for both genders. Kids love to imitate their parents and other adults around them and this play helps them get comfortable with doing lots of different things.
  • Dress-ups — scarves, hats, different types of clothes, animal masks, leotards. Look in your closets or in the local Goodwill or Salvation Army store and put together a box full of stuff for hours of creative play.
  • A collection of sturdy rubber or plastic animals (zoo animals, farm animals, and definitely dinosaurs) and a few vehicles scaled to work with the blocks. Your kids will spend hours making zoos, farms, and dramatic scenes.
  • Art stuff. Lots of it. Play dough and cookie cutters, large crayons and paper for little kids. Older kids like glue, glitter, safety scissors, and lots of colors of paper.
  • Finger paint. Every kid deserves to be messy every once in a while. Also include an inexpensive plastic tablecloth to put on the floor for finger painting time.
  • Something for making music and rhythm. Pots and spoons will do for kids under two. Jingle bells for toddlers. Something more complicated like a thumb harp for older children.
  • A sturdy dollhouse with some basic furniture and durable dollhouse dolls that represent everyone in your family. The house needs to be big enough and open enough that the kids can really get in there and play. You don’t have to buy one of those expensive wooden houses. This can be a fun family project. Find a few sturdy boxes for rooms, cut out windows and doors, decorate the walls and put a scrap of fabric down for a rug. Small boxes, jar lids, some fabric and scraps of wood can be easily transformed into furniture. Dolls can be made out of old-fashioned clothespins. Even if you aren’t the creative type, remember that your kids are.
  • Anything that encourages physical exercise: balls, jump ropes, basic sports equipment, skates, age-appropriate riding toys. Too many of our children lack physical coordination, competence, and confidence.
  • An age-appropriate board game or two to encourage cooperative play and problem solving.