Part 3: An Expandable Toy Universe
Too many toys these days are expendable. We’re expected to shell out $40 for some piece of plastic that gets played with once or twice before our kids grow bored and we end up giving it away, or worse–throwing it in the trash. But instead of buying expendable toys, we should look at buying expandable toys.
When you buy an expandable toy you’re stepping into a massive universe of possibility. Dollhouses need new furniture and a bigger family. Train sets need more track and additional boxcars. LEGO, Playmobil and K’Nex have built extensive universes of their own, adding new sets all the time, growing almost infinitely, providing kids with endless opportunity to grow their toys into massive collections.
And while your head might spin with nightmares of stepping barefoot through minefields of plastic blocks, the concept of expandable toys can save headaches in the short run, the long run and every run in between.
If you’re wary about spending a bunch of money on toys that you don’t necessarily know your kids will like, expandability is your new best friend. Because they come in sets, expandable toys are relatively inexpensive to try out. You can buy your kiddo one piece of the universe, a small planet if you will, and test the waters. If it’s a hit, you haven’t just scored points now, you’ve set up yourself (and your family and friends) to score points again and again and again and again.
Those toy “planets” are meant to be exhausted fairly quickly. By keeping them small and specific, toy manufacturers allow for fast and regular expansion to more and more planets, eventually leading to entire universes within your kiddo’s room. And while this is a brilliant piece of marketing, it’s a win-win for toy companies and parents alike.
I remember logging a lot of hours with LEGOs as a kid. A single small set, usually island or Medieval-themed, would only last a few weeks before I lost interest. But every time a new set was introduced, the entire collection became new. A space set would allow me to put Medieval knights into space ships. A pirate set introduced conflict (or friendship) to the previously lonely islanders. Eventually I started mixing and matching the pieces, making my own worlds from the strange jambalaya of plastic bricks.
The beautiful thing about expandable toys is that they usually combine all the other good-toy features I talked about last week. They tend to be interactive (relying on your child’s participation to work), open-ended (giving your child a whole world of possibilities), and creative (letting imagination rule).
One of the big questions throughout this series has been how you can know what toys your kids will like. Nobody likes wasting money on toys that go straight to the back of the closet, so solving this problem is key to saving money. When your kiddo gets invested in an expandable toy universe, this question is answered for you. You, your friends and your family will never have to second guess yourselves when it comes to giving gifts. Everybody can buy a different set to go with the expandable universe, ensuring that all-important long-lasting play value, and getting the best possible bang for your buck.
I know this three-part series has thrown a lot of information your way, so let’s take a second to breathe and look back at it all:
Toys can be expensive. While trying to pinch your hard-earned pennies, it can be a drag to spend $40 on a toy, only to find out your child isn’t even into it. To save yourself some money, stop thinking about the cost of toys in their actual dollar amount and start thinking in dollars per hour of play. If you buy toys that are interactive, open-ended and creative, like those great expandable toys, you can ensure your kids will play with those toys for hours upon hours. Your kiddos get great toys and you save money. What could be greater?