Family Life: The Best Timeless Toys My Kids Play with ALL THE TIME

As with most things in parenting, it's taken me a long time to get to a place where I feel like I know what I'm doing with unisex, timeless toys for children. It may sound like I'm over-complicating things, and yes, I do have a bad habit of over-complicating many things, but actually when you think about how much time kids spend playing with toys - and ideally, for many reasons, the same toys over and over again - then making sure they have toys that are gender-neutral, ageless and timeless is really important.

Of course, to be clear, ALL toys are gender-neutral toys. There are no such things as boys' toys and girls' toys, but sadly, this is not how manufacturing and marketing companies approach it when it comes to how toys are designed and brought to market.

As for timeless and ageless, what I mean here is that these toys can and should be played with at almost any age from 0 until... well, ideally there should never be an age limit on when something can't bring us a sense of fun, play and joy. And these toys are timeless in the sense that they aren't a trend or a fad. They are timeless toys built to last and be played with for years and years and years.

Timeless, Unisex Toys My Kids Love

As a mother of young boys, despite not having any advertising in our home (we don't have terrestrial TV and take ads off YouTube), my children already still have preferences for certain toys and yes, they are those that would be considered "boyish" toys like cars, vehicles and building kits. That's why I have made a conscious effort in the recent year or so to find the best unisex toys that are timeless - so they are real investments and can be played with again and again and again.

This happened to coincide with the transition into a phase where I have two kids of very different ages at very different developmental stages. So I have been looking for timeless, unisex toys that BOTH kids play with either together or apart so I am not having to have separate toy collections or be worried about my youngest breaking or getting hurt by playing with certain toys.

All this is to say the below toys are the ones my kids have been playing with since very early on - before a year in some cases - and they continue to play with these unisex toys now they are two and five. I also see them playing with them for many more years. I am so reluctant to spend money on toys that they get bored with quickly or that break easily or quickly so for me, timeless toys really are the investment that keeps giving!

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Timeless, Unisex Toys My Kids Love

DUPLO / LEGO

There is a reason that LEGO is considered the world's greatest toy, and as with most kids, our journey with these magical building brings began with DUPLO. Our eldest got his first DUPLO set for his first birthday, but was already curious about them when he came across them at playgroups or other people's houses. The bricks are (nearly all!) a safe size so not a choking hazard and they're easy to pick-up and handle in small hands.

Even though babies aren't really ready to build themselves, they will find the colours and feel of these bricks stimulating and interesting. And then, as they grow older and start to figure out how to build towers, sort colours, or just put a couple of bricks together to make their own creations, they are great tools to meet developmental milestones.

LEGO is a natural extension of this journey as the principle is the same, although now there are so many diverse ranges of LEGO. Our eldest has been exploring his love of dinosaurs with LEGO Jurassic World, but we also love giving him a small collection of basic LEGO bricks with a building board, and just setting him challenges like building a house that looks like our own, or making a LEGO garden. The other good thing about LEGO is the instructions are very easy to follow and the Junior sets (4+) are great for beginners to start building independently.

Yes, LEGO and DUPLO are made of plastic, which isn't great for our planet, but I can honestly say that our LEGO collection will be with us or one of our boys until they are well into their teens, if not forever and handed on to their children, and so that really is the definition of timeless toys. 

One other note, DUPLO has a very varied range of skin colours for its characters, but it's my experience that LEGO does not. I had to go to great lengths to get more Black and Brown skin people for my sons' LEGO so I do hope this will change in the future.

Korxx Cork Bricks & Toys

We first bought some Korxx bricks when my eldest was maybe seven or eight months and we were renting an apartment with a very, err, sensitive floor. We wanted to get him some building blocks as he became curious about tower building (or rather, knocking them over!) but didn't want to buy wooden ones that would scratch our floor when they fell.

Not only do Korxx cork bricks and blocks tick all these boxes but they are pretty good for our planet too as cork is a renewable source and kind to our planet when being used in manufacturing. One other reason we love Korxx is that they are REALLY LIGHT so make the best travelling toys or just great toys to throw in a bag and take with you somewhere as they won't weigh you down.

Korxx are great unisex timeless toys as they can built with to make any number of shapes, buildings, or other creations. We often build towers with them (that yes, get knocked down almost instantly) and we incorporate them into other games we play like building cities, making bridges for trains or cars to go under, and also sorting games by size, shape or colour.

Since our first purchase from Korxx - we got these colourful building blocks and shapes - we have bought more of the same range, some Korxx animals for playing with in the bath, and also the oversized building blocks so we can build forts and walls outside too.

It's true that Korxx are not cheap to buy and we haven't bought as much Korxx toys as we would have if they had been cheaper, but it's fair to say that that in itself is a good thing. We also don't mind paying more for toys that will last a long time and toys that our kids will play with all the time.

One small note, infants and toddlers may put these bricks in their mouths and bite into them. This is another plus point for Korxx and cork in general as it's not a toxic material to have in mouths, but yes, it's also true that they can be bitten into easier than say wood or plastic. Just something to keep an eye on when they are little (under 2) although kids do grow out of this quite quickly. 

Playdoh

Honestly, I happen to think that Playdoh may be one of the most underrated toys on our planet. It certainly isn't something I expected to be so popular for so long with my eldest boy. I began introducing him to playdoh just before 18 months but it took a while longer for him to really become interested in it. But by the time they were two, both of my sons had started to love playing with Playdoh and would demand it most days.

Science backs up my own experience that Playdoh is a versatile and great toy for developmental reasons too. You can begin with a one-year-old just giving them a lump or two to feel, squeeze and play with. Then you can gradually introduce things like rolling pins, cutters and other props that will help them explore shapes, texture and the dexterity of the Playdoh. My youngest has just turned two and he has mastered cutting out shapes and using a rolling cutter to make his own shapes too. You don't need all the flashy sets or cutters - you can use what you have in your kitchen - but a small affordable set like this can make a great gift. Alternatively, just start with a handful of pots in different colours and just leave it up to your kids what they want to do with it - I usually have a stash of 10 or so tucked away and get a few new ones out each time.

Playdoh is also great for imaginative play. My eldest has long been making me pizzas and cakes with Playdoh. Together we also make Playdoh animals, and sometimes Playdoh faces that are happy, sad, angry, tired and other feelings making it a great tool for talking about emotions (and also just doing some seriously silly faces!). Playdoh is one of the few activities I can set up for both kids, sit in the middle and dip in and out of their separate games.

Yes, you can make your own, but personally, it's just one of the things I don't have time for. As long as you keep the Playdoh in their pots or another sealed box, the Playdoh will stay soft and supple for a VERY long time... As long as you don't mind the colour brown because no matter what you do, kids will mix all the colours up and they always turn poo brown. Sorry!

Doll's House, Figures & Dolls

While these are indeed multiple different toys, I have put them together because I don't want to suggest you have to have a doll's house in order to tick this box. Just a few people figures or even just one doll is enough to get your kids' imagination going. And they are all great unisex and timeless toys for many reasons, not least the diverse number of ways they can be played with, and also an opportunity for you to see how your kids model what they are learning from the world around them.

My eldest has always had a few Playmobil sets, but I only got my boys a doll's house last year when I really saw how they didn't have enough imaginative play toys and they only had a couple of soft dolls to play with. Getting them a doll's house they can play with has really changed how they play alone, together and with other friends. (We have this doll's house, by the way.)

My youngest likes to simply move furniture around, or put toy cars in there, and just use it as a new play area, but my eldest gets more invested in imagination games and sets up the figure family of dolls in certain rooms and play out certain scenarios.

The figures also get added to other games too, which was always my intention, to bring some human element to the boys' playing with cars and dinosaurs (toys that are often considered typical boys' toys). We also often play hide and seek with the dolls, or set up picnics for them too. With my youngest I use the larger soft dolls we have to name body parts, do silly dances, and play "caring" based games like looking after babies or going to the doctor.

Because my youngest can be a bit heavy-handed when playing with toys, we do sometimes move the doll's house out of his reach, so it's fair to say that this isn't the most timeless or ageless toy, but I would say that watching him play with it often since he was able to pull himself up and stand (so before age of 1) has made him much more interested in the dolls and Playmobil we already had than my eldest was at his age.

If you are white, I also strongly advise getting a variety of dolls with different skin colours. We have this white-skinned family, and this Brown-skinned family of dolls for my sons to play with in the doll's house, and we also have a variety of Black and white soft dolls - two of which I bought recently from this shop, which specialises in beautiful, hand-made Waldorf-style dolls, if you are curious about them . I have used these dolls and their skin colours to talk about race and skin colour with my eldest son.


I have to confess and say that I grew up thinking BRIO train sets were "for boys" but this is just testament to how ingrained some of these prejudices are, because I also grew up really enjoying playing with train sets, and I still do enjoy building them! So I'm here adding trains and train tracks to my list of gender-neutral, ageless and timeless toys!

Getting my boy his first train set was a really exciting moment for me, when he was around one, even though he mostly used to spend his time breaking up the tracks and chewing on the trains we gave him. But by the time he was two, building and playing with a train set was a regular Saturday and Sunday morning activity in our household. From the age of three and four, he began building them by himself or with friends, and now aged five, he helps his younger brother.

I previously thought that train sets were a toy with an age limit, and of course, there will come a time when they aren't as interested in them, but my eldest is showing no signs of not being interested and now he creates whole cities and "dinosaur parks" with his train sets and he incorporates many of the other toys mentioned here with what he builds. So I am really hoping trains become of our timeless toys!

While you can get train sets from any number of shops and manufacturers, we collect BRIO trains and my boys each get a new one, or a new feature for their train tracks, at birthdays and Christmas, and it's been so lovely to add to their collection over the years. 

And that's it for our favourite unisex, ageless and timeless toys! Feel free to leave a note with any that you would have added to this list. And here are some images you can pin to save or share this post:


Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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