'Tis the season to celebrate, yes, but also perhaps to be a bit more mindful about the things we buy and gift. A significant yet confounding chunk of Christmas shopping lists are made up of presents for children – whether your own or others'.
So we ask mothers of the Real Mums UAE Facebook group which toys their youngsters can’t get enough of. Here are some to consider ...
The 3D magnetic building sets are a clear favourite among children – and their parents, who appreciate the hours of screen-free fun afforded by these colourful tiles that can be made into varied shapes.
"They are definitely the best across age groups. We bought them for my daughter when she was 2 and she still plays with them at 9 along with her brother, who is 3," says Jacqueline Curran. "They are great fun and virtually indestructible."
Another magnetic building toy, these blocks are smaller than Magna-Tiles, so while they can fit little fingers more easily, they also require greater co-ordination. As Valerie Bach puts it, "I bought my daughter Magformers when she was 3. She's 10 now and still plays with them. They are a toy I will keep for my grandchildren. They've kept my kids entertained for hours, they don't take up a lot of space, and they are really easy to clean up."
Ikea kitchen set
The Duktig set in birch and plywood is a realistic miniature of a kitchen that lights up and comes with various cooking paraphernalia and food items. Elisabeth Van de Pol-Rubner says she got the play kitchen for her daughter's first birthday and "almost two years later, it's still a big hit. It's great to keep adding items to as well."
Abu Dhabi mum Geraldine Mailen Jamora resorted to buying a mini slide, swing and ball pit during the pandemic, when her children were unable to visit the park. It's a decision she doesn’t regret even when her son and daughter remain blissfully unaware about their parents’ presence. “At least they get to enjoy our little playground at home.”
Don’t underestimate the appeal of simple coloured clay, says Lene Pieters, a mixed media artist from Dubai. “It’s fabulous for taking along when travelling and provides hours of fun. It’s also great for fine motor control and stimulating children’s 3D spatial awareness and creativity.”
Dolls and action figures
When it comes to role-playing games, dolls and action figures are a no-brainer, say several members of the Real Mums UAE group. "My three-year-old twins love mixing it up with their Disney Princess Barbies, Blume dolls and Avengers action figures – Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man to be precise – in equal measure," says Tanisha Gupta.
Lol Dolls are another option, where half the fun lies in their unboxing, as these come with a surprise element. Lavita D'Souza says her 10-year-old daughter, Liel, and her friends use Lol Dolls for plays they write themselves. Blume Dolls, too, are fascinating for young minds, says Alison Rego, mum of seven-year-old Kristen; because as the name suggests they bloom and can be created into flower pots and so on upon adding drops of water.
Pieters is a fan, and advises parents not to discount the value of a simple doll's house. "The plain wooden houses are more fun, as children can imagine all the decorations or even put up temporary versions from cut-outs from interiors magazines. They can cut up old clothes for curtains and other furniture. The variables are endless," she says.
Pooja Ramchandani Mehbubani has got her four-year-old Kiara wooden dolls with magnetic dresses and accessories to change their outfits. "My daughter loves dressing them up and can play for hours," she says.
Duplo and Lego
An oldie but goodie, a traditional building block set is a favourite with children of all ages. Duplo bricks are twice the length, height, and width of Lego pieces, hence are easier to handle and safer for younger children. Both of Evans Den Dekker's sons, one who is 3 years and the other 7 months, adore them, with the older, she says, “able to play with his Duplo for a long time each single day”.
Fellow Dubai mum Alessandra Castiglione agrees: "Lego is the one thing that passed the test of time for my kids. They are 9 and 8 years old and they still play with it daily, even still using the Duplo sets that I bought for them when they were 18 months." Given that they are from the same company, the two sets are compatible.