Cheaper Toys ARE Better For Your Kids!

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2008-03-0333

How often does this happen to you? You buy a nice, fun, fancy toy for your kid. He or she ignores it for the box and wrapping paper.

It happens so often that I suspect there’s some evolutionary basis for what I’ve been observing at home.

I pride myself on hunting down just the perfect thing I know will thrill and impart knowledge to my kids. I got it down pat: check catalogs for the “perfect” toys, then scour and other online retail sites for the best deals on these very items. I pat myself on the back when I get a cool bargain or two.

Upon receipt of the shipment, my kids are keyed up and ready. They’re excited alright. But not for the treasure in the brown delivery box on the doorstep. No… they’re crazy about the box. The plain, old cardboard box that they’ll be spending hours hiding in.

Kids are easier to please than you think, so imagine all the money you’d save if instead of this,

expensive child toy
Photo by

you went for some other alternatives:

The Humble Cardboard Box

cheap toy: cardboard box
Photo by Casual Key Strokes

Bubble Wrap

cheap toy: bubblewrap
Photo by Entropyman

DIY Suit of Armor or Robot Outfit

cheap toy: cardboard suit

Furthermore, experts say that the classic, old-fashioned toys are indeed healthier for your children than electronic, expensive toys and gadgets that are the rage these days. This Science Daily article describes this finding:

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.

The overarching principle is that children are creative problem-solvers; they’re discoverers; they’re active, says Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple and co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab. “Your child gets to build his or her imagination around these simpler toys; the toys don’t command what your child does, but your child commands what the toys do.”

From the article, these additional recommendations jumped out at me:

  • Toys that allow kids to explore help them learn those lessons needed to function in our world.
  • Pick up a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child. A great toy would be something that triggers and develops your child’s imagination. The more uncomplicated and simple toys (which are typically much cheaper) are of this kind.
  • Be skeptical of toys that make grandiose promises, such as those that claim they’ll turn your child into a whiz kid or jock.

While observing my kids’ play patterns, I’ve noted that they can be pretty fickle about what they play with. They can have short attention spans, with toys suffering limited lifespans in their clutches. You may therefore want to think twice before getting them stuff that’s pricey or even brand new!

The benefits of toning down our toy choices go beyond the economic. Besides being more affordable, basic toys help round out our kids better. And they can be fun to make yourself! If you’ve got junk lying around, you may find that with a dash of creativity and enthusiasm, you and your children can wring hours of fun from it.

A long time ago, we survived without XBoxes or Gameboys or even Talking Elmos. My favorite plaything was a cheap set of jackstones. What makes today’s kids any different from past generations?

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Working Dollar March 3, 2008 at 11:30 am

When I was a kid in the early 70’s the big toy for boys was the foot tall G.I. Joe. You could buy cars, jeeps, helicoptors, clothes, guns, and everything else under the sun for G.I. Joe.

Of course my mother was a single moother trying to raise three kids on a secretary’s salary, so I did not get too much from the G.I. Joe line. However, I had one G.I. Joe and a jeep, a couple of guns and that was it. All my friends had everything else that came with G.I. Joe that was “buyable,” and I felt like crap ’cause I did not have all the “extras.”

So, in my backyard, I built this huge fort for my G.I. Joe out of left over lumber, scaps I could find in local business alleys and fields, and my G.I. Joe fort got a huge reputation on my block and a few blocks over.

This fort was free, I built it, and it was better than any manufactured G.I. Joe accessorized item sold in stores, and all the kids wanted to come over and play with the fort.

Needless to say, your article makes perfect sense. Thanks for posting it.

Raymond March 3, 2008 at 11:58 am

Well the whole cheaper toys is better only works for kids up to a certain age. Once they start school and are exposed to the wonders of video and computer gaming, that’s when their choice of toys gets pricey – mostly for boys probably. Happened to me when I was a kid. I started pulling at my mom’s pant leg for more expensive video games.

Playstations, XBox’s, and Wii’s are where it’s at today and that seems to be the trend.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm

@Working Dollar,
Your fort sounds like it was incredible fun! I didn’t have very many toys but I had a bike, a ton of books and my own library in my room. I actually remember wishing I had the Barbie dolls my friends had, but didn’t even get one till I was in my pre-teens!

@Money Blue Book,
I guess what I mean by “kid” in this post is indeed a younger child. I should answer my own question about what makes a kid today different from those in generations past: kids today ARE more sophisticated, highly influenced by their environment and peers and so forth. But even older kids can benefit from more reading or crafts based toys (where they do something stimulative to their imagination) rather than the more passive, flashy toys that go for $100 a pop and that break really easily.

The Happy Rock March 3, 2008 at 12:39 pm

I am always drawn to toys that can be repurposed and foster the imagination. I dislike buying my son thing like RC cars and the like, since once the novelty wears off they sit and collect dust. Plus they do all the work.

I prefer toys like blocks, K’nex, and the like since I can teach my son new and creative ways to have fun with them.

Toys that are free are the best. I mean who can beat a homemade fort out of an old sheet!

Aryn March 3, 2008 at 3:02 pm

NPR just did a whole series last week on preschool kids no longer having imaginative play and how detrimental it is. Kids need to play make-believe because it’s how they learn to self-regulate their behavior.

This is the first of the series:

Ron@TheWisdomJournal March 3, 2008 at 3:05 pm

The most fun (and creative) my children ever had with anything was a refrigerator box we had. I cut open a window and a door, from there, they decorated it with crayons and markers, drawing window boxes with flowers, made a mailbox with the window cardboard, and spent hours in there just playing.

Maybe JD at Get Rich Slowly should just sell boxes to Toys R Us!

Fiscal Musings March 3, 2008 at 5:42 pm

I’ve never understood why people continue to buy one expensive toy after another, even when their own experience tells them it’s not worth it.

RacerX March 3, 2008 at 9:44 pm

My youngest is hard core into Bionicles as are his friends. They spend hours designing new robots and super powers. Basically these very hip Legos…from Lego.

The Financial Blogger March 4, 2008 at 4:57 am

I know for sure that my son just loves the McD’s toys which cost nothing!

His favorite bath toy is a little Buzzlight we got from McD!

escapee March 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

This really made me laugh. My son hoards empty boxes to play with. If either my husband or I attempt to throw any of them out he totally freaks out.

New Homes Section March 4, 2008 at 1:04 pm

I think you’re on to something here! My nephew is about as spoiled as they come but when I think about it, he only plays with keys and balls and gives little attention to all the hi-tech expensive toys that we give him to play with all the time. I’ll try out a few moving boxes and see what happens – but I’m pretty sure he’ll be getting a box in a box for his birthday and we’ll get first prize for the best present.

FFB March 4, 2008 at 2:38 pm

What do young children want? Boxes, keys, and remote controls. It’s funny how universal this is.

I think back to my childhood and I remember a lot more board games. There’s plenty out today but I think they were played with more often back in the day.

I also think that having a lot of toys hurts. With so many around a child jumps from one to the other without exhausting the possibilities of any single toy. It’s tough sometimes, but we try to limit the amount of toys, read: stuff, in the house. My wife has gotten into the habit of throwing an old item out when a new one comes in.

MoneyNing March 4, 2008 at 9:57 pm

It’s quite hard nowadays because your child’s friends all have Nintendo DSes. In the old days, people survived without XBoxes because no one had one!

Mrs. Micah March 5, 2008 at 4:10 pm

I remember when I was quite young I was very much into crayons and blocks. Those were good times. Oh, and the magical refrigerator box for about a month until my mom couldn’t take it anymore. 😉

DivaJean March 18, 2008 at 8:52 am

Back in the day, I had the Barbie townhouse. The penultimate Barbie item of its time. Did I play with it? No. I built my own house out of cardboard boxes, milk cartons, etc- and made something way better.

Here’s the funny part. My daughter is into American girl dolls. Very expensive. But she doesn’t necessarily like the stuff for them- she would rather spend the time with me and then we create her own. How cool that I could foster the creativity in her!

Kids Toy Reporter October 22, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Wow, I totally agree. My wife and I were discussing one of those LeapFrog fake laptops the other night and she pointed out that the kids would learn more from playing with a pile of rocks than one of those things, since they would have to use their brains and imagine rather than do what the machine told them to do.

Terrie November 15, 2008 at 10:44 am

This is great info, thanks for posting. I loved the pictures! So cute. And very true, there are so many inexpensive ways to make kids happy without spending so much money on high-priced toys. Admittedly, it is fun to buy them though. :o)

art brighton February 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I try not to buy anything much for the kids. They are as happy with clothes pegs and an empty plastic bottle as anything from the shops. But I cant stop the relatives spending too much on them and then can’t bring myself to give away the gifts. so the collection/pile grows.

Beanie Babies Expert May 18, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I find that expensive toys aren’t worth it. Why spend $50 bucks on some fancy RC car or whatever, when you can get a cheap version made in China that fulfils the same purpose? People put too much value in brands these days.

ridwan hartono August 10, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Yes….I agreed that toys for children must not that expensive, but for some reasons we need to spend money for that. Like my boy, he likes to play construction toys very much…
I’ve bought LEGO and other construction kits for him, and it lasts only 1-2 months until he finished the given models.

Now he plays LASY, almost 1,5 years…..thanks God I didn’t need to buy more toys for him..
with LASY he can build hundred models.., sure it was an expensive toys, but it least for me..


Valerie Zero August 24, 2009 at 1:44 am

These are great! my kids love toys and they don’t care if their toys are expensive or just DIY toys made by their dad. I noticed that my kids love DIY toys the most because they love to help their dad in making their toys and they can even choose the designs they like. They love to make robot suits and dollhouses made of old boxes.

Bobby Car Expert August 26, 2009 at 4:57 am

I think that the headline should be saying “Simple Toys ARE Better For Your Kids!”. Simple toys can be cheap. However, the headline implies that cheap China-made toys are good, which is often not the case. I have spent hours with my 2-year old son playing with boxes, grass, and other stuff that cost me nothing.

However, my son also loves some of his toys that are very simple but cost me a fortune. That’s because I am paying for someone thinking about the best design of the toy for the child, keeping the toy simple and healthy, manufacturing environment friendly.

Children's Toys September 14, 2009 at 3:37 am

We run a children’s toy shop in the UK. In the current financial climate we have started selling more products that are cost effective, don’t require an endless amount of batteries and bring hours of entertainment to children.

Bubble Wrap is definitely a kids’ favourite – or should that be: a big kids’ favourite! 😉

albert duncan October 21, 2009 at 10:46 pm

If you spend your time with your kids, then it does not matter how big or expensive their toys are. It’s your time that your children value, not their toys.

Naomi January 16, 2010 at 10:40 am

The Robot outfit looks interesting. It suits well for my kids.

Toys UK June 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

This article and comments have made me think. I have actually promoted some of these electronic learning toys and have convinced myself that they are well worth the purchase. There are definitely some good ones around. But I am wondering now – are they really worth the expense? I still think some of them are, but cheap alternatives seem to be even more fun!

Shelley October 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Cardboard boxes are a big hit in my family and the kids have lots of fun acting out their little scenarios with them.

Christmas 2010 Toys November 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Bubble Wrap is quite fun and can be a cheap and unique toy for children!

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