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I heard an answer to this question awhile back, and believe it's true - though guessing it's not based on any real research. The answer being that any toy that forms a bridge between them and their parents is the toy they like best. Any thoughts?

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I don't know that I agree with the "bridge to the parents" answer, although I could see it being true in some cases. I really like this question, though. I would love to see some answers that are well-referenced/researched, and I plan on adding a bounty once this question is eligible (in 2 days). –  Beofett Oct 7 '11 at 15:32
    
+1 @Beofett: Awesome, thank you! –  blunders Oct 7 '11 at 15:36
    
I think you' have to define "favorite toy" a little more. Any new toy is a favorite toy (at least for some time) :-) Do you mean long-time favorite toys? –  BBM Oct 7 '11 at 18:05
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I found this article that has some really useful categories in it. –  Beofett Oct 11 '11 at 16:05
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Well, from my experience every new toy is the favorite toy.

The interesting question is: how long?

Much things and toys are interesting only for a short time and others will be used again and again. The more flexible they are (as Sarato describes in her answer What toys tend to be a child's favorite, and why? ), the longer they'll last - e. g. Duplo, Lego, building bricks or a wooden railway which can be used every time in a different way.

From my experience (with a nearly 4 year old boy), I'd say, the following features make a toy especially interesting for a (our) child:

  • if anything moves (by hand or automatically), e. g. a digger with a functional shovel, all kinds of vehicles, a fire engine with a ladder which can be turned or tilted, ...
  • if they can make sound (electronic toys or musical instrument)
  • if it has a motor (electrical, radio controlled, or whatever) and can move by itself
  • if it imitates real objects that only adults are allowed to use (tools, cars, computers, ...)
  • if it touches the child's interest (fire engine, police car, ship, tools, stuffed animals...)
  • if it has to do with water (like the water canal systems)

The toys, our son uses most often (at home, we don't know exactly, what he does in the kindergarten) are at the moment

  • his wooden railway and the
  • duplo bricks (with people, animals, vehicles, ...)
    EDIT: now LEGO or Baufix (wooden parts with holes, which can be assembled with wooden screws)
  • a cassette player
  • and handicraft working (scissors, paper, water color, ...)
  • and he has several favorite cuddly toys
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Very true, every new toy gets played with a lot for the first few days then it slacks off. Good points! –  MichaelF Oct 7 '11 at 19:30
    
+1 for water toys –  Sarato Oct 8 '11 at 15:36
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My 14 month old daughter loves to turn the stereo on/off...as a matter of fact, anything with a button that has an immediate/discernable response(music, light, etc.) becomes a favorite...she always goes back to the object and presses the button. –  milesmeow Dec 28 '12 at 23:54
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We routinely "rotate" the toy selection in the play room, both to keep the quantity of toys constrained, and so that when we re-introduce toys they get that new toy fun! effect.

My kids are 1.5 yr and 3 yr. Typically whatever one kid is into playing with, the other one wants. So their tastes in toys ends up completely overlapping. Doesn't even matter that one's a boy and the other's a girl; the boy has taken complete ownership of my daughter's new baby doll, and the daughter likes to sort through his Duplo blocks.

Given their ages, toys that tend to get rotated out include easily weaponizable toys (i.e. "hammers", "sticks", "baseballs", and "vehicles"). These all move to the garage (and are available during father-son garage time).

We also have some by-request-only "games" which are put away but can be used with adult supervision: Play doh, crayons, colored pencils, paints, puzzles, games, and a kids electronics set. All are popular but used infrequently so far.

A few toys have become standards. They never get rotated out because they get played with frequently and are rarely "trouble". These are the ones I would consider the all-around long-time "favorites" that get dragged out time and again, and that we are cleaning up and putting away most every night:

  • Cardboard books. Big basket of books they can dump out, sort through, etc.
  • An electronic "laptop computer" with lid that opens and closes and lots of buttons
  • Duplo blocks. Divided into several bins; we play with only 1-2 of the bins at a time. Usually the "Duplo people and animals" bin.
  • Wooden blocks. Simple, but never out of style!
  • Stacking rings
  • Soft rubber/fuzzy/plastic balls.
  • Small orange plastic cones. Only $3 for 4; who knew they had such play potential!
  • Nylon play tent

Not mentioned but perhaps even more importantly are the plastic containers we use to store and organize all of these. Often the kids will dump the toys out of the bins and then play with them! They'll stand on the bins, sit in them, put things in them, use them as "lawn mowers", use the lids as bats for hitting balls, wear them as hats, and so on and so forth.

Indeed, I'd have to say in terms of actual play time, the kids play less with their own toys and more with other common household objects: The aforementioned containers; remote controls; blankets and pillows from the couches; the couches; any stools, chairs, or movable furniture; napkins; pot lids; cat toys; spatulas (HUGE favorite!); rubber bands; laundry baskets; everything from the magazine rack (torn to shreds); the telephone; laptop computers; brooms and vacuum parts; the laundry; etc.

Oddly, anything we'd put in our recycling bin weirdly ends up being the perfect toy. Of course we wash everything before we put it into the recycling bin, so at first we weren't that bothered by them dumping it out and strewing egg cartons and cardboard boxes and plastic containers across the kitchen, but it's so consistent we eventually had to just put the recycling bin up on a counter so the couldn't get into it and had to stick with their own toys. But giving them an odd cardboard paper roller, or plastic snack container, or egg carton can give them an evening's activity. Go figure.

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I agree with BBM, that for a child, every new toy becomes their favorite toy. This is also the same observation I am seeing with my child. But I also try my best to give him developmental toys which will help or aid him in his learning. I buy books, media and toys that would help him improve his vocabulary, word knowledge and so on, so he can learn easily. At home, we also try to play Scrabble, and or read books, so he could see our interest, so in a way, he can be influenced. He would know the kind of games that we play. There are even some scrabble board specially made for children, which can help them learn words in a fun way - http://www.squidoo.com/seven-tips-on-how-to-be-king-and-queen-of-scrabble

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The favorite will vary from child to child also changing with developmental stages. A favorite for most infants and young toddlers are things with faces. This can be anything from a mirror to a stuffed animal to a doll. The reason this is generally a preferred toy for young children is that their favorite thing to look at is their parents' faces so it is familiar to them. This may never change for some children. The primary purpose of play with toddlers and young school aged children is to explore roles and they quickly seek out creative play mimicking adults in their life or things they have seen on TV. If they see Mommy cooking every day, they will want toys to imitate that, likewise if there is someone using tools often, etc. My 2 year old nephew current favorite is Swiffer with a section of the handle removed - he helps every day dusting the floors with it and will do so for hours on end. I do wonder if the question is actually intending to ask what the most "popular" or common favorite toy, as it is a relatively individual thing.

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+1 @Erin: The intent of questions "tends to be the child's favorite" includes factors such as status/popularity of a toy, but in the end was an effort to seek what factors effect a toy becoming highly familiar to a child, and why. –  blunders Oct 12 '11 at 23:18
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Reasons for a child selecting a toy might include:

  • Toy's Status: If the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered -- it's more likely to be "naturally selected."
  • Generational Longevity: While a child might influence an adults toy purchase, in most case adults buy the toys, and adults are more likely to buy toys that they have an emotional connection to according to this survey of 3,000 adult by a top toy news site Toyology.
  • Durability: If the toy doesn't last, it's less likely to become highly familiar to the child.
  • Discovery: If the toy fosters learning and creativity, an emotional bond between the child and the toy is more likely.
  • Innovation: If the toy profoundly changes the way a child plays; for example, gaming systems completely changed the world of toys.
  • "Adult Like": Children like to pretend their adults, examples include: caring for babies, shooting guns, construction, cooking, and driving.
  • Portability: The more places the child is able to use the toy, the more likely they're to use it, and the more time they spend with the toy the more likely it is to be their favorite.

If you're looking for a blast from the past, you might check out the National Toy Hall of Fame's "List of Inducted Toys": Atari 2600, Baby Doll, Ball, Barbie, Bicycle, Big Wheel, Candy Land, Cardboard Box, Checkers, Crayola Crayons, Duncan Yo-Yo, Easy-Bake Oven, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Frisbee, The Game of Life, G.I. Joe, Hula Hoop, Jack-in-the-Box, Jacks, Jigsaw Puzzle, Jump Rope, Kite, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, Marbles, Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Nintendo Game Boy, Play-Doh, Playing Cards, Radio Flyer Wagon, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Rocking Horse, Roller Skates, Scrabble, Silly Putty, Skateboard, Slinky, Stick, Teddy Bear, Tinkertoy, Tonka Trucks, and the View-Master.

(Yes, this is my question, but after looking into the question more myself, I thought I'd share what I had found.)

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I had to laugh at seeing that "stick" and "ball" had been inducted (and recently, too!), but after reading the justifications on the website, it makes sense. –  Beofett Oct 11 '11 at 15:57
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I know this is in answer to your own question, and it isn't the most highly voted, but I'm awarding you the bounty for two reasons: you give the best list of characteristics of a toy that will possibly result in it becoming a favorite, and the information provided on the National toy Hall of Fame gives a great set of concrete examples that will be helpful for anyone interested in the subject. –  Beofett Oct 14 '11 at 16:25
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+1 @Beofett: Wow, thank you! If there's way the answer might be improved, feel free to edit it directly, or proved feedback and I'll attempt to address any point you might have. FYI, I'd decided to select the answer based on your choice, since I thought it was awesome you decided to sponsor the question. Cheers! –  blunders Oct 14 '11 at 16:31
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I liked what Beofett said in the How many toys are enough / too much thread. He suggested that the best toys are toys that you can create things with (crayons, legos, etc.). This held true for my brother and I as we were growing up-- while I only played with my easy bake oven for a few months, we played with our block set and legos for many years without getting bored with them.

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+1 LEGO and art supplies kept me occupied whenever I was indoors. There’s also K'NEX and Erector/Meccano, which can be used to make all kinds of semi-useful widgets. –  Jon Purdy Oct 7 '11 at 21:17
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Based on numerous observations: often the favorite toys for a lot of kids are things that can serve as containers - from the standard "carton box from a toy" to assorted boxes/bottles/bags/etc...

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+1 @DVK: Any idea why? Also, guess the answers reminds me of all the bags, containers, etc. warning that they're not toys; meaning that kids must use them as toys. –  blunders Oct 7 '11 at 16:40
    
I think containers ares so interesting, as it enables "interaction" between things. You can put them in and out, transport them - also lorries or other "carrying" vehicles are interesting, as the child can load something in, bring it somewhere else and load if off there... –  BBM Oct 7 '11 at 20:14
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The containers enable the kids to play roles and act - more or less the core of what playing is. –  hlovdal Oct 7 '11 at 22:10
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Plus, they emulate adults. E.g. "take the lunchbag like papa and go to work", "put things in a box to organize them", "this is my wallet" etc... –  DVK Oct 9 '11 at 4:18
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This point is illustrated nicely by this book. Not A Box amazon.com/Not-Board-Book-Antoinette-Portis/dp/0061994421 –  Kibbee Oct 11 '11 at 23:39
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