Since the very beginning of our parenting journey, we've wanted to provide Oliver with carefully selected tools and toys to encourage his imagination, learning, and growth. Here is a compilation of nine of the best things we've put into Oliver's hands (or on his feet) over his eight years.
Schleich Animals We began collecting these animals when Oliver was very young-- just one or two here or there purchased at the farm supply store and at the thrift store when we found them. Our little menagerie has seen hours and hours of play. Along with wooden blocks, blue silk scarves for water, and pieces of brown or green felt for other terrain, we have created countless habitats and stories. (Our Nativity Set is also from Schleich, and we supplement it with our animal collection...so sometimes there are hedgehogs, deer, and various breeds of cattle attending the shepherds to see the Baby King, who made them all.)
Rainbow Wooden Blocks This was the first gift we ever gave 18 month-old Oliver for Christmas, and they are still one of my favorite toys. The rich colors are simply gorgeous. We have since added a few Melissa and Doug natural block sets. (This one, this one, and a rainbow set with more subtle colors than the one currently available.)
Play Kitchen We gave Oliver his kitchen when he was 2 1/2, and though he doesn't play with it as much anymore, it's a total kid magnet for all the littles who visit our house, just as I hoped it would be, so I'm keeping it on this list. I bought one basic set of wooden cutting food from Melissa and Doug, and with a few wooden eggs from the craft store and a cardboard egg carton cut in half, a tiny cast iron skillet and little stainless mixing bowl from my great grandma's pantry, and this little honey jar set, we've been good to go. The honey dipper also makes an excellent magic wand, should your child need it for such purposes.
Boots A pair of boots has been Oliver's ticket to the outdoors his whole life--they're all he needs to head out in a hurry (ain't nobody got time for lacing shoes around here!) and get as dirty as he wants. We've tried several styles over the years, but we've settled on Bogs (not shown in the photo above; click the link to see) for year-round comfort and durability. The insulated boots are fine in the summer and are rated to minus 30 degrees for winter wear. They don't wear out and crack, and they keep feet dry and warm, which is worth a lot in my estimation. We each have a pair and wear them daily.
Smithsonian Natural History Book I tell everyone I can about this fabulous book that has provided our family endless opportunities to learn and marvel at the beauty and variation in God's created world. Gorgeous, detailed color photographs fill this thick volume, guiding a reader through the planet's rocks and minerals, plants, and animal life (I'll be honest-- we spend most of our time in the animal section). It is worth every penny. Every DK book we own is a fantastic source of information--we have a shelf full of their eyewitness books that I've picked up from Half Price Books or Goodwill. Oliver will often grab a stack of these to take up to bed with him to page through before he falls asleep.
The Chronicles of Narnia Audiobook Set I've been in love with the story of Narnia since I was a young girl. When I couldn't sleep at night, I'd pull one of the books off my shelf and read the whole thing before going to bed. When Oliver was a nursling, his daddy read the whole series aloud to us one winter. We can't read them aloud all the time, so this audiobook set (unabridged, and each superbly narrated by a different British actor) has been a mainstay in our house. We have listened to these on long car trips, and they've helped us through countless rainy days (a rainy day, of course, being how the whole adventure begins...). Oliver listens to audiobooks all. the. time, and these are always favorites to revisit.
Toolbox and Real Tools Everyone in our family has their own toolbox. (Mine is the only one with a glue gun and x-acto knife.) Oliver's has slowly filled over the years with more and more real and useful tools. He started with just the toolbox itself and a set of wrenches from his Uncle Isaac (can't do a lot of damage to yourself with a wrench), then safety glasses, pliers, a lightweight hammer and a set of small screwdrivers. Last year he received his first set of drills. He also received a splitting axe to help with the firewood. Though they're always hard to find, we try to make sure he has some work gloves that fit as well.
BBC's Planet Earth DVD Set (or blu-ray, if you're the modern type) I'd say that, with the Natural History book above, these have helped all of us learn about the planet we live on more than anything else. They were on sale for $20 last month, so keep an eye out for discounts.
Keva Blocks We purchased these last year, and the 200 piece set feels kind of limiting, so (shhhh, don't tell!) we're adding 300 Citiblocs this year. The difference between the Keva contraption and construction set is simply the instruction booklet that comes with it, and the contraption set includes a few ping pong balls. From my understanding, Keva, Kapla, and Citiblocs are all the same size, but made of varied woods and sold at different price points. These are extremely open ended and we all can find something to do with them.
We consider everything we do to be a part of Oliver's education and development as a human being. In choosing the items he works and plays and learns with, we try to aim for lasting quality over quantity; well made items that are a pleasure to use are generally not cheap. (At gift giving times, there are typically only one to three packages to open. We tend to skip "filler" gifts.) Some of the items on this list get more consistent use than others, but all have retained their appeal over time and I would consider each a worthwhile investment.