Toys your kids want versus toys you'll want to give them

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Every year, the National Retail Foundation releases a survey about what toys kids want for the holidays. It doesn't change that much, really -- girls want dolls, boys want cars, both want Nintendo Wii. The big news this year is that Barbie is battling it out with Hannah Montana for girls' affections, Bratz luckily are losing steam, and Dora the Explorer unfortunately fell off the list. For boys, Star Wars and Hot Wheels replaced Spider-Man and Thomas the Tank fell off in desirability.

2008 Top Toys For Girls
1. Barbie (last year's rank: 1)
2. Hannah Montana (2)
3. Dolls - generic (3)
4. Bratz (2)
5. Nintendo Wii (7)

2008 Top Toys For Boys
1. Video Games (last year's rank: 2)
2. Nintendo Wii (3)
3. Legos (6)
4. Cars - generic (4)
5. Transformers (1)
But if you're like me, you're using this dismal economy as an excuse to avoid getting kids the toys du jour and instead focusing on toys they'll use, learn from and keep around for a while. Isn't it time to revive the DIY toy movement? You know, toys that actually get kids drawing, crafting, baking, and making exploding volcanoes? Now, I admit I played with Barbies when I was young and I too want a Wii, but the gift I remember best -- and still keep -- is a hand-decorated T-shirt that I made and wore with pride when I was eight. My aunt, an architect, got me a design kit that let me stencil the shirt with stars and planets of my own design, then abashedly splatter it with glow-in-the-dark paint and glitter. For a few years, that shirt made me dream of becoming a fashion designer -- before I learned I couldn't sew..

I found the 21st century version of my aunt's gift -- ALBINO sells color-yourself T-shirts with 70 different cool designs (dogs, iguanas, giraffes, etc.), and each one shirt includes three colorful fabric markers of your choice. They're produced by a husband-and-wife team in Greece who charge in Euros, but current currency rates keep each shirt with shipping under $50 (the weekly design discounted at 20 percent off puts it under $40, including shipping). What kid wouldn't wear -- and keep -- a cool T-shirt he or she designed? (Thanks, Shelteriffic.)

A long-time favorite site of mine for finding cool toys is Kiddly Winks, making "educational" toys that are also fun. Kits for everything from designing your own soccer ball and sewing your own clothes to making your own perfume and yes, creating exploding volcanoes. Prices are comparable to buying Barbies and Hot Wheels but I think these are the better value because even when your kids are done with making their creations, you'll have their masterpieces to hold on to forever.
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