Whether you’re shopping for a kid who’s just turning one year old, or maybe five, or perhaps even thirty-six, the art of shopping for the perfect birthday toy is not one to be taken lightly.
In the hands of the forever young, fun-loving toy aficionado, the right gift can serve to provide unlimited entertainment, endless hours of smiles and joy, and if they’re really lucky, even a little breathing room for the parents so that they can finally sneak away for a much needed shower or that desperately yearned for cold beer consumed in the basking glow of child-free silence!
That said, when tasked to the boring, golf-loving old fart who thinks that government savings bonds are the ideal gift for any youngster today because they keep giving back at a staggering 0.10% interest rate every single year … well, let’s just say that there’s a reason why kids get amped up to bring their Mighty Transmorphin’ Electro Death Bots in for show and tell instead of their collection of annual savings bonds that don’t even shoot lasers or transform into sabertooth space lions or anything…
When I’m making the rounds at my neighborhood Toys ‘R Us, I like to put myself into the mind of the child who I’m shopping for … which loosely translated means that I need to play with each and every prospective toy myself before I can even get into the mindset of purchasing it for another person. As you might imagine, this can take hours and hours of “research,” but as I remind my wife … frequently … it’s still technically cheaper than me taking on a drinking habit, plus she gets first dibs on all of the leftover toys once I’m finally done with them.
Now some parents might argue that overly-enthusiastic gift givers such as myself need to put a little more thought into things like the noise factor or the mess factor, even suggesting retaliation that they’re going to start buying my kid drum sets and finger painting kits if I keep sending their kids singing cars in the shapes of farm animals and Play-Doh that totally ruined their favorite rug … as if it’s even possible for someone to have “a favorite” rug!
To these parents I simply remind them that A) Harry the Singing Race Car Hippo is awesome, and B) they’re more than welcome to buy my kid obnoxious toys because he has to sleep sometime and sometimes chopping up undesirable presents with your chainsaw in the middle of the night while your son is sleeping is just another part of what being a dedicated father is all about.
So lame-o parents and snooze-inducing savings bonds aside, here are a few quick tips to help make your toy shopping as joyfully impressive as mine typically is:
- The best toys run on batteries. This is 2016 and things that require your imagination tend to be pretty boring, so be sure to check out each toy’s power requirements for a simple barometer of how fun it’s going to be.
- Anything that makes you go, “Man, I wish they had that back when I was a kid!” is a good lead – especially if we’re talking about that sweet Fisher-Price Mega T-Rex that comes with the missile launchers and the special robotic extendable arms! You know the one I’m talking about…
- Avoid anything that says “nostalgic” or “old-fashioned” on the packaging … if it’s the good kind of nostalgic, the toy will speak for itself. And remember, most of the best toys DO speak for themselves!
- Educational toys are fine as long as the learning takes a backseat to senseless violence and parroting key marketing catchphrases that are certain to embed powerful branding messages that will carry a kid throughout his childhood.
- And anything that looks like food, but isn’t really food – be it Play-Doh, Fisher-Price, or even one of those Easy Bake Oven kits because let’s be honest, a two-inch pizza cooked by a light bulb isn’t really food – is fantastic.
Really, the key to any toy shopping expedition worth its salt is simply to have fun because at the end of the day, if you enjoyed running it around the store and buying it, then chances are that lucky kid is going to enjoy his new birthday present just as much as you did.
Unless it’s a savings bond – in that case, you’d better pick that kid out a really bitchin’ card.