The Best Low-Tech Toys


Buzzing, beeping, chirping, and otherwise noise-making toys are great for corralling your kiddo at a moment’s notice. But these are also the sorts of toys that crowd out the sounds of childhood that I’d rather be hearing, like laughter or much-beloved silence as my daughter works really hard to figure out something for herself. She definitely doesn’t need the robotic cheer of a toy repeatedly instructing her to put the blue square in the square-shaped hole. I’ve got something you can stick in your hole, you smiling plastic imposter.

I take play pretty seriously—the National Association for the Education of Young Children has lots of reasons why we should. And providing my toddler with toys that won’t burn her eyeballs out (and, frankly, bore her within thirty seconds) can be a challenge. Unless I’m willing to spend a ton of money. Which I’m not.

Just as a good toy doesn’t necessarily need four AAA batteries to be fun, it also doesn’t need to be hand-crafted from sustainably harvested wood and cost more than a week’s worth of groceries. And while I love local gems like Oakley’s King Arthur’s Court Toys or Madeira’s Ted’s Toy Store, you don’t always have to go to a specialty shop to find the good stuff. Here are a few of my favorite down-market spots to find a few good toys:

With bold colors and unique designs, Battat’s B. Toys are some of the most aesthetically pleasing playthings available. Because if you’re going to pretend sweep the floor, why not do it in style?


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Our newest favorite, though, is Battat’s latest Target-exclusive offering, TERRA. Their animal collections are perfect for counting and sequencing, small world play, and revisiting the very important differences between moose and deer.

Not-so-secreted away in the infant and toddler section of the store, Hape toys are reasonably priced and lovely to handle.

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The Pound and Tap Bench combines two of the average toddler’s favorite things: music and wanton violence.

WalMart offers simple, affordable essentials with their Learning Resources line. Children of the ’80s: rekindle your love of plastic fruit and vegetables.


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Sure, ToysRUs has it all, but a lot of it makes me cringe. Stick with Imaginarium for open-ended, imaginative infant and toddler play, and Playmobil for the big kids who can resist choking themselves on a miniature bayonet.

Once Upon a Child
I love buying secondhand, and Once Upon a Child has several locations in the Cincinnati area, all of which are prime Melissa & Doug hunting grounds. One child’s toy they played with three times can be your child’s treasure (until they inevitably do the same). So aren’t you glad you paid pennies on the dollar?
Melissa and Doug

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