Written by: Joanne Parcell
Gifts that keep on giving
I have never been able to live it down; it was my ninth birthday and I was expecting big things. Not just a huge party with miles of streamers and a cake so vast it had to be delivered on a flatbed truck; I wanted presents, and lots of them. Sure, I got the usual mix of dolls, games and cute little trinkets, but my wealthy aunt was at the party and I had high hopes for her. She never gave me gifts that keep on giving, why would she? What child would want a gift that lasts a lifetime? She had the money to buy all the gifts most kids would only dream of! After all, last year she bought me a BMX, and the year before, a three-storey dolls’ house. How could she possibly surpass herself this year? But something was wrong – she walked into the party holding nothing but a card. Where was my monster present?
When the time came for her to give me my ‘gift,’ I tore the card open, hoping to find at least a £300 note. But inside was the most pointless present a child could imagine. Yes, it seems I was now the proud adoptive parent of an East African naked mole rat. I could barely contain my excitement and I showed my delight by calmly walking over to my birthday cake and throwing it at the wall.
Age brings knowledge
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to accept gifts with good grace and also how to choose suitable gifts for my own children. Like most parents, I’m loathe to give my kids unsuitable presents like shoot ’em up console games, noisy toys, or objects that will break or go out of fashion within a week.
So I’ve been looking for constructive alternatives – enduring gifts that are good value and sturdy as well, along with those that will deliver physical and social benefits.
If you’re stuck for a decent present, take a look at the following suggestions. You’ll find well-loved classics, along with a few unexpected modern items. And I’m pretty sure that if my aunt had got me one of these instead of a naked mole rat, the cake would have remained on the table instead of ending its life smeared into the wallpaper.
Swingball – around £30
This 70’s classic is still great fun to play, even today. The game is deceptively simple and surprisingly competitive – a ball on a string is tied to a pole and players need to hit the ball back and forth, using over-sized plastic tennis rackets. This is the perfect beach or garden game, and can work up quite a sweat. It’s harder to hit the whizzing ball than you think.
Hulahoops – £4.99 upwards
A basic hulahoop costs about a fiver, but as with most toys, modern, more expensive versions exist. Lots of fun to be had spinning these plastic hoops around the waist, and on arms and feet. Buy more than one and see how long you can spin them for. These are the ideal toy for toning up a mummy tummy as well – I use my daughter’s while she’s out at school!
Plasma Cart – £49.99
The blurb on the website says ‘the Plasma Cart is a mechanical marvel that makes use of the most inexhaustible of energy sources: Kid Power ‘ These futuristic ride-on cars are powered by turning the steering wheel from side to side – no pedals, chains, or motor. They are an award-winning worldwide smash, and give the upper torso a work out too.
Spacehopper – £15.99 upwards
No kid of any age can resist one of these hilarious bouncing toys, and they come in several sizes, so even if your child is quite large, they can enjoy hopping around the garden, burning calories while they’re at it. Just don’t leave a rake in the grass.
A pool or snooker table – from £39.00
Practice, skill, and patience – a child-sized pool table can be the ultimate way to keep the kids quiet. Invite other kids around for a mini tournament; you can even buy child-sized white gloves for the referee. Remember, the more you pay, the better the quality – a cheap table can be rickety and balls infuriatingly light weight.
A ping pong table – from £69.99
A full-sized ping-pong table is a large and expensive ‘toy,’ but adults can play as well. Think: have you got enough room for such a vast purchase in your house? Perhaps you could put it in a basement, attic or garage? Alternatively, you could buy a junior version, although trying to whack a miniscule and fast-moving ball across such a small area can be a challenge in itself.
Meccano – from £9.99
Forget Lego – Meccano is where it’s at. Build virtually anything out of reusable metal strips, plates, and screws. This particular toy fosters ingenuity and also lasts for many years.
So there you have it – a few tried and tested suggestions for sensible and non-faddy toys. Most can be purchased online, but don’t forget to support your local toy shop too, where you can find even more exciting and educational toys.