NEW YORK — When gift trends for little kids come and go so predictably, it can feel like you're buying toys each year just to gather dust a year later. • That cycle makes classics like blocks and board games more appealing. But classics also can be more affordable and easier to find in a pinch. And everything's now being made to satisfy more stringent safety guidelines — a win all around. • Here are tips on finding classic toys.
Safety first: Everything sold new for children under 12 in the United States must meet stringent federal safety guidelines, no matter the store or who made it or where. If you're worried, read up on the toys you're considering at cpsc.gov, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, which lists all recalls now in effect.
Author Stevanne Auerbach, who is also known as Dr. Toy, notes that even small stores now must ensure that all toys they sell satisfy federal laws.
Vintage warning: Classic doesn't have to mean old, and probably shouldn't. Used and vintage toys you find at garage sales, thrift shops or flea markets still may contain lead. It's safest to stick with toys made in the United States and after 1978, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned all use of lead-based paint in this country. Toys made before 1978 are best for display, says Marianne Szymanski, president and founder of Toy Tips Inc.
Wooden toys: The new federal rules bring old-fashioned wooden toys back into the fold. From basic lift-out puzzles and shape-sorters to train sets and play food, they're required to be made with lead-free paint. Solving the challenges they present gives kids unique satisfaction, and they're easy to find with a basic Internet search.
Top-quality wooden puzzles start at $10.
Blocks: Blocks are durable, whether made of wood, hard foam or plastic, and they make wonderful hand-me-downs. Educators love the way they help young children learn hand-eye coordination, while older kids enjoy building things with them — even temporary homes for dolls or pets, for example. And they're great to have to fill in for pieces missing in other building games.
Sets typically start around $20.
Board games: Not only can games like Apples-to-Apples and Monopoly work for children of various ages, new versions geared toward kids' special interests like sports or a favorite television show can feel more relevant. Others that have stood the test of time include Candyland, Clue and Sorry.
Most board games can be found for less than $15.
Construction sets: Basic building sets typically require little, if any, instruction, including the best known: Lego, Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoy. And they appeal to both girls and boys, especially if you don't pick a gender-specific set. Just make sure the pieces aren't too small for your intended recipient and her siblings. All three of those brands include pieces that pose a choking hazard for kids younger than 3.
Versatile sets start around $15, though a tiny Lego project can cost just $10.
Action figures and dolls: Many chains are heavily promoting branded dolls (like Hasbro Inc.'s G.I. Joe, Disney's princesses and Mattel Inc.'s Barbie). You can never have too many to dress and take on adventures.
Many action figures and dolls are in the $10 range.
Best of all: If you're giving a classic, the world is your mall.
In addition to toy megastores, mass retailers and specialty stores, check drugstores, bookstores and convenience stores for classic board games, blocks, dolls, race cars, balls, sports gear and craft kits.