To me, the best toys are the ones that fire the imagination. I always steered my kids away from the toys that only did one thing. "You'll be tired of that in an hour," I'd tell them. One of my all-time favorites is Playmobil, the figures in the blue and white boxes that create worlds for acting out all kinds of stories. Sara, my now 20-year-old started collecting Playmobil figures when she was a toddler. She got the Indian set with the teepee and the campfire, the operating room with the ambulance, the playground with really cool swings and a merry-go-round, and lots of horses, including a gorgeous carriage and a farm wagon. Of course, many people came with all these sets and she would spend hours acting out the stories of these characters' lives. Every gift-giving occasion brought more characters (animal or human) or equipment.
My daughters are six years apart, so by the time my now 14-year-old was old enough for the toys, Sara was ready to pass them on to her sister. Lauren got the whole collection as a Christmas or birthday present one year. More gift-giving occasions came along, more allowance money was spent, and the collection grew. She and her friends had the playroom floor covered with ongoing worlds for days at a time, maybe weeks at a time. Hair was switched from head to head, accessories passed from figure to figure. Lauren could rummage through a huge bin of Playmobil for exactly the right miniscule piece she was looking for. We had to get sets of drawers so we could organize it into a people drawer, an animal drawer, an accessories drawer, a big stuff drawer. We got the school bus, the modern house, the stable. Oh happy day that we got the Peter Pan set! She lived and breathed Peter Pan for several years as a preschooler, and one day we spotted a Playmobil set with a figure in green, a pirate, a sidekick with a red and white striped shirt, even a treasure chest and a tiny parrot. Perfect! Along the way we added lots of magical figures - a dragon or two, fairies with magic wands, a wizard.
One thing I so appreciate about Playmobil is that they never use licensed characters. Can you imagine a Spongebob line or Barney figure? 99% of the children's imagination would be squelched if the characters were recognizable as movie or TV or even book personalities. With Lauren, the Peter Pan set was something she still had to use her imagination to identify, and I'm so glad they weren't exactly like the Disney characters.
The day came when Lauren sat down with her figures and said, "Mom, I've done every story there is to do, and I can't think of any more." It was time to put it all away. Sad day for me, but I knew it was coming soon. We sorted it all, boxed it up and put it in the attic where it awaits the next generation. Can't wait to see the two girls duke it out someday. "I get the red dragon, you get the green one." "You get the carriage, I get the teepee!" "You get the ambulance, I get the school bus!"