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It’s a scenario that has played out 100 times in our household (we have three kids). You’re at the Walmart or Target with your family and you walk past the toy section. The kids want a break from the boring Saturday morning shopping excursion, so you take some time off from the shopping list and let them play around in the toy isles.

Invariably there is at least one toy that they fall in love with, and riddled with guilt from dragging them around you buy it for them. It looks terrific. Nice looking packaging, it makes noises and it has lights.

When you get it home, you open the packaging, give it to them, they play with it for 2 minutes then they leave it on the floor and move on.


No play value happened. The toy is what I refer to as a “crap trap”. It lures the kids in with noises and lights and gets them thinking how awesome it is. If it can do all this in the packaging and in the store, imagine what it can do when we unpack it! The problem is of course nothing. That is all it can do, no more. This is a one trick pony and you’ve seen the trick. You can see it in the kids’ eyes as they begin to play with it at home. As they realize that they have seen all it can do.

According to Wikipedia, play value “is the essential value of a toy or game for play. The term is frequently employed in the field of child development and playwork for the assessment of toys, games, equipment and spaces. When they are fun and engaging, playthings and spaces are said to have play value; those that are quickly discarded or are considered uninteresting do not. In short, objects of play must be compelling and encourage the child's involvement in order to have true play value. Play value has been defined as 'how much play can you get out of something'.”


So, what can we do to avoid the crap trap and get a toy that has play value? I believe there are three questions we must ask ourselves before purchasing.

  1. Does it look like fun. That has to be the most important criteria. Play is, after all, fun that exists for its own sake. If a toy is not fun, then it is not a toy.
  2. Will this toy facilitate self-directed play? In other words, will this toy encourage spontaneous play, independent of an adult?
  3. How much play do I think my child will get out of this toy? Does it offer real play value. If we think of the example given above - If that toy cost $20 and was played with for 2 minutes, that is $10 per minute. That is very far from offering any real value.

The bottom line is this - if a toy is nothing more than two flashing lights and a couple of horn sounds, it is not a fun toy, and it is not a toy that offers true play value. Something that can be loved, enjoyed, played with and passed on from child to child is what a real toy is. Happy shopping.

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