Look, iPads can teach our kids a bunch of different languages before they’re even done being toddlers and that’s pretty great. This isn’t one of those posts about how much better it was when children spent the entire day outside; either playing with a neighbor kid or riding their bikes miles away from home. Sure, that’s one style of parenting that definitely has its downsides. But this is more about those toys that were silly, interactive, and didn’t cost hundreds of dollars because they doubled as a small computer. Maybe they were just endless entertainment, just like how a bit of cardboard and plastic took up their imagination for hours.
Parents back then never had to worry about a plethora of advertisements aimed at manipulating their young, vulnerable minds, either. There’s a place for iPad games and YouTube shows for kids, and there’s also a place for these simpler toys that were plain old-fashioned fun. They didn’t harvest children's personal information to better market themselves. They were still super fun to play with. And who knows, maybe some parents still have their old toys in the attic or at their parents' house and this will remind them that their kids might actually be super interested in them, too!
24 Magnetic Darts
Okay, these were just so much fun and the best part is you could probably make your own with a little hot glue. Find some plastic rocket toys, tip them with magnets, and then attach magnets behind a piece of decorated cardboard or paper. Or you could just buy one... But still, darts are such a fun game that it only makes sense to make them kid-friendly in safety and design. You could make any kind of your own and it’s the perfect indoor game.
23 Some Classic Sky Dancers
All hail the most easily weaponized and simultaneously girly toy in the history of ever. It's not necessarily that the characters need to come back (although that wouldn’t hurt) as this oddly unique style of toys should return. How much fun could self-propelling bits of plastic be? Umm, very. Captivating for most of an entire sleepover — that’s how much fun. Bring them back so our Sky Dancers can war again. They look like creatures of love, but they’re really war machines.
22 Get Tiny With Polly
What’s better than a house so tiny it fits in your equally tiny purse? Oh, I don’t know, maybe if random bits of furniture are also stamps! And a bunch of tiny people to live in this tiny palace. That’s right — arts and crafts project or specialized stationary maker as well as such a fun toy! Long before the joy of human-sized tiny houses, we had the fascination of Polly Pocket-sized tiny houses. It’s a fascination that lives on today.
21 And Then, Mighty Max
Mighty Max was the boy version of Polly Pocket but it should be pretty obvious that anyone can play with either. Sure, either gender but also adults… right? I mean, we’re the one dropping money on these toys. Mighty Max didn’t contain adorable condos with sweet little roommates but it was a toy that harnessed the awesomeness of things made tiny and compact. That’s really enough of a draw for anybody. An iPad can never fold in on itself like a fun little puzzle (unless it’s very broken) and that’s why we need more of these.
20 ... But Also Easy Bake Ovens
Again, needless gender divides were used to sell more toys. But as long as both siblings were allowed to play with either, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, you’re using a tiny electrical bulb to bake things that don’t actually taste that good but are still super fun. And maybe it’ll get your little one excited about baking in a way that doesn’t involve actually dangerous hot surfaces! Hey, if you can find a replacement bulb for that thing — go to town. It’ll be great.
19 Those Hungry, Hungry Hippos
Have you ever heard that the most dangerous African animal is the hippo? Did you not believe it? Well, you need to play a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippo. Once you see it, you’ll believe it. Lions don’t stand a chance. Those things are dangerous when they’re full but they’re lethal when they’re hungry… and controlled by competitive children. Also, the thing about hippos is true — just ask scientists. Well, ask scientists or use AskJeeves after playing a few rounds of Hungry, Hungry Hippos.
18 There's No Fun Like A Barrel Of Monkeys
A barrel of monkeys is the perfect chain to rescue a Lego person from a monster (that’s a totally different universe of toys) or the best streamer inside a Lincoln Log house for your My Little Pony’s birthday. Or it's just a fun game to play on its own, but let’s be real here. (Yeah, there’s a lot of crossover in the toy box.) Toys that are sold separately get to know each other as well as a barrel of monkeys. See what I did there?! It's a full circle, baby!
17 Paper Dolls
Paper dolls could definitely get a modern-day update. Switch out the dresses and skirts for a surgeon’s scrubs, a business suit and suitcase, and also maybe a pretty outfit. That said, these toys are brilliant in their simplicity. Kids have to take the time to carefully cut them out and that just makes them more excited to play with them. This is one of the more doable vintage toys to recreate with your kids. All you need is some artistic skills or just a printer.
16 A Chatter Phone
Yes, there is no deficit of children’s toys that make loud, repetitive noises . Your child might not even register that this is even a phone. That said, these things were super fun back then. You probably can’t even make your own and DIY it, but you might have one of these lurking at a relative’s house! I mean, if the house is too silent and the power of nostalgia is that strong—which is super unlikely—these Chatter Phones might be just the ticket for a good time at home.
15 Lincoln Logs, Of Course!
These are a classic for a reason. The toy Lincoln Logs is about 100 years old and that’s because it never stops being fun to build cabins; give them little windows and have all your other toys play inside them. Sure, they’re like the prairie version of Legos and they definitely aren’t as flashy but this is one of those toys that’s so fun to play with for kids and adults alike. It's definitely worth a search in the grandparents' storage room.
14 May I Introduce You To, Mr. Potato Head?
Long before Mr. Potato Head was a big movie star, he was a super fun toy. And before that, he was just facial features with little spikes that could jab into a potato. That’s some serious 'do it yourself' fun when you’re playing with potatoes. Save the potato for dinner and find your old plastic version — maybe he can live in a Lincoln Log palace this time around! Your child will be amazed that character from Toy Story is an actual toy, too.
13 Those Old Lite Brites
This one definitely doesn’t hold up against an iPad, but it’s still super fun! How satisfying was it to make all those patterns and designs on your little Lite Brite? Is there an app to transform your iPad into one yet? There’s none of the tangible fun of poking in a light, but it’d still be super popular. The batteries might be dead by now on this one, but with one short trip to a drug store for more, you’ll have… well, some length of fun!
12 The First Educational App
Before there were phone games to trick babies into speaking a second language, there was this glorious toy: the Rubik's Cube. This is probably the most educational toy on this entire list, which might explain its enduring popularity. It’s just as much of a brain teaser as any Sudoku! It’s really an all ages toy, since it still takes ages for adults to crack this and super young children can just kind of… mess with it (and hopefully not suck the stickers off). Heck, I know many adults who still can't figure these out!
11 Remember Koosh?
Here we go from the smartest to an objectively dumb toy, but who cares?! It’s Koosh and that’s enough for us! Koosh is just a super soft little ball that is really fun to throw around. And what makes it better than any sport’s ball (besides the fact it kind of looks like some deep sea creature and that makes it very fun to squeeze), is that no older sibling can make their younger sibling cry by pelting this at them. It's fun for kids and parents!
10 A Little Bit Of Magic
Remember when you were less than $10 away from a snarky answer for everything? Those were most certainly the days. However, they’re still within reach.
Look, who knows what fluid is in that Magic 8-Ball; it’s definitely not organic. It’s probably made from GMO, MSG, and nuclear stuff. But a kid can’t bust one of these open, can they? Considering it’s a toy that serves solely to offer up a few answers, this thing is unending fun. It’s a must for pretending you’re a psychic.
9 That Impossible Pogo Ball
How many toys offer hours of knee-scraping fun while firing up a kid’s core for a workout? These days — none. Play all the Dance Dance Revolution you want, but there’s no kickstart for great balance and a weirdly exhausting playtime then a Pogo Ball. If you don’t remember, a Pogo Ball is exactly what it sounds like; instead of a stick, it’s a ball. You can bounce on it if you can even stay on it. And as great as iPads are, they can't do this.
8 Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots!
And now for a workout for your thumbs! The first game to make being a professional fighter simultaneously seem achievable and not all that exciting! This game is actually super fun, partially because it’s so awkward to punch the other person’s head off. Aren’t there rules against doing that? And before you say it — plastic bots punching each other doesn’t necessarily translate to playground fighting. Fine, it’s not the most productive or educational of toys, but these had a great look and were tons of fun.
7 Before Jacob's Ladder Was A Workout
Want to seem like a Vegas-caliber magician to your little one? Bust out that old favorite of a toy, a Jacob’s Ladder. With a little bit of cloth and wood, you can make your own! It moves like a snake or some kind of endlessly unraveling book and it’s captivating! It's great to fiddle with as an adult and is as entertaining as a cartoon for toddlers. Once again, this is a toy that does the same job as children’s YouTube with slightly less blue light entering their brain.
6 Fashion Plates For The Young Designer
The best aspect about overly feminized toys is when they support your little one’s imagination. Also, these didn’t just have to be for girls if you had cool parents. Wouldn’t Barbie be that much better if you could design her outfits? It’s just a little bit of control and purpose that means a ton to kids. Fashion Plates were basically high-stakes coloring and they totally rocked. What a great way to feel like a tiny Gigi Hadid using some stamps from long ago.
5 Power Rings
It’s not that any parent necessarily wants or needs any more bits of plastic cluttering up their houses and presenting threats to shoeless feet so much as the memories these bring back. Wasn’t it great being part of a subscription club and waiting for your prizes and toys to arrive? It felt like some mysterious organization had included you. It’s wild to make waiting fun for a child and it’s a great skill. Plus, it felt like getting Christmas in the mail.
4 A Little Bit Of Magic With The Magic Slate
Magic Slates or Etch-a-Sketch — call it what you will. That doesn't change how much fun it was. Maybe the “delete” button has made wiping away mistakes a little less exciting, but these things were great. Excuse me... those things are great. Whether you directed your line using little knobs or a magical pen, it’s so exciting to draw something and then have it disappear! And thus teach your child about impermanence. Okay, so I'm totally kidding, these things were just super fun to doodle away the day on.
3 You're The Master Of Vision
It’s incredible how mesmerizing these things are. Sure, we have screens at every turn and yet these super rudimentary versions of film are super fun to flip through. You could get any little mash-up of images to take you to far away places! It might not seem like a toy kids these days would be into, but older kids especially will love taking this trip down memory lane with you. Vision Master is to DVDs what truffles and cheesecake are to deserts; they're the same thing, but you savor it more.
2 Go Back In Time And Grow On Stilts
There was a huge array of these things; some were pretty modest but entertaining—like this cardboard pair of stilts—and some were full on death traps. Or you could just call those ones “higher stakes.” It’s still accurate and a pretty solid pun. But you can’t get too hurt if you’re only falling from this height, right? And it’s so much fun to try and master in the driveway on a warm day. As long as you’re nowhere near any ice- melting or otherwise.
1 There's Nothing Like Silly Putty
Oh, you gorgeous goop. Who knows what you’re made of but you’re still the best stress ball on the market (and if your car has a little drawer, you can hide your Silly Putty so no one else touches it until you’re stuck in traffic and need some release). This is one of those endlessly entertaining toys that doesn’t exactly do much, except it also does everything. If that didn’t make sense… you need to get yourself over to a toy store.