A recent article warned people not to make the mistake of selling valuable collectibles at their annual yard sales: signed pottery, war souvenirs, banana seat bikes. Yes, those vintage kid-movers from the seventies routinely bring $500 a banana! Unfortunately, mine was relegated to a yard sale long ago – along with my yo-yo and Happy Days Board Game, two items whose value also improved with age.
So what did I save? My favorite Barbie who had short hair (like me) and painted nails (unlike me). A plastic ark complete with a tiny Noah holding a tiny staff. The wooden blocks that my grandmother kept in the hall closet to amuse her 14 grandchildren. Toy collectors would label them worthless but I don’t collect toys. I collect memories.
During their childhood our children receive hundreds of toys. It’s impossible for us to predict what will interest toy collectors in 2026. But we can guess which will secure a place in our children’s memory chest.
My teenage daughter has passed most of her toys on to her younger siblings to make room for CD’s, hair gel and countless books. When I look at the shelf of cookbooks that fuel her latest interest, I remember her play kitchen set. I should have known I had a budding chef on my hands. I spent day after day visiting the “diner” in my living room to enjoy the daily specials: apple soup, banana splits, tomato sandwiches – all featuring plastic food. Lately, she has revived her restaurant career to entertain her two-year-old brother. A decade from now, will she find her childhood memories hiding in the mini refrigerator and smiling toaster?
I suspect my 10 year old’s favorites will be those that aid her love for drama. I’m sure the teapot she hand painted from a kit will make the cut. She loves to host tea parties where she does hilarious imitations until her sister laughs so hard hot chocolate spurts across the room. Like most kids, her bedtime routine involves stories, but not those she reads in books. Instead, she lies in bed and acts them out with Create-A-Scene play sets (Smethport Specialty Co., $9.99, ages 3 and up) that she brings to life with magnetic playing pieces. The different sets trace the emergence of her many loves: the railroad, dinosaurs, ballet, horse shows, and the beach.
At 2 years old, my son has not had enough experience to find the toys that will hold his childhood memories. But as his mom, I have had enough experience to know that there are two types of toys. There are the toys that interest our children today and maybe for a few months. They are the toys that are on our children’s wish lists. They are cool. They are in. They are the latest.
The others our children often don’t even know they want. But once they get them something magical happens. They love these toys so much that years later they pass them on to their children to enjoy. Noah, his ark, and the blocks are all in my children’s toy closet. (Tragically, short haired Barbie was gnawed on by an overenthusiastic puppy several years ago.) It’s tough to find these gems that will remain popular for generations but as parents we keep searching. Because they aren’t just toys, they’re symbols of a happy childhood.