At this time of year I am often asked for my opinion of what toys have lasting value and what parents should buy for their kids. This last week I was working with a 3 year-old who is building his language and play skills. Mom asked me what duplo lego sets would be the best for a Christmas gift. Here is what to look for in evaluating the sets and my recommendations:

  • Prime the Play: look for sets that have a mix of plain blocks for generating your own props, animals or people as well as specific pieces linked to the theme of your set (zoo, grocery store,  etc.) I like having some specialty pieces related to the theme to get the story going, while having some plain blocks for the child to take her story to another level.
  • Add Personalities: People, animals and even cars can be animated to provide conversation, and direct the play theme. Cars have different personalities and might react differently to a pit stop, while the check out girl might have a conversation with the shopper about how much her owes her.
  • Accessorize: look for a theme with enough specialty pieces that lends itself to having a child expand on several story lines as the child plays with the props. For instance, at “Winnie the Pooh’s House,”  Pooh can play on his slide, eat, sleep, or have guests over for a party versus a more limited theme of “Winnie the Pooh’s Picnic” which only provides for one activity–having the picnic. Parents should look for play value and staying power with toys–ones that can be played with in new ways each time.
  • Interact: choose a theme that offers lots of opportunity for talking such as going through the grocery store, “My Frist Lego Duplo Supermarket,” while weighing your food, discussing prices, making choices, planning a birthday party and checking out. “My First Zoo”  can engage a child in building areas of the zoo for certain animals, driving the zoo keeper around to feed the animals (there is even a steak for the carnivores), or going for a swim in the water of the clear blue blocks.
  • Integrate Learning: steer clear of the sets for learning letters and numbers (“Lego Duplo Play with Letters Set”).  Many preschool products are simply toys with letters or numbers slapped on them to attract parents looking for a learning toy. Frankly, I would rather see you get a set about the zoo and talk about the letters and sounds in the context of play which is how kids learn anyway– “Hey the polar bear is hungry, Bear, BBB, starts with B.” Or count the blocks to make the entrance to the zoo rather than get the set with numbers on most of the blocks. They become useful like flashcards and I would rather see parents teaching through their child’s experience.
  • Personalize: if you have a car/vehicle lover be discerning on what sets will provide more talking. Generally speaking “Road Construction” as a theme would generate less conversation than “Emergency Vehicle” since the helicopter is rescuing someone and the story can expand to how the person got hurt, their trip to the hospital and ensuing recovery. “The Pit Stop” from Cars has four different vehicles who are characters who talk that will engender more language than a simple road crew.

Here are some of my recommendations:

  1. My First Lego Duplo Supermarket
  2. My First Zoo
  3. Winnie the Pooh’s House
  4. My First Fire Station
  5. The Pit Stop
Check them out at Lego’s website: Click here