Katetakes5, fretting efficiently over her Christmas lists, is anxious to identify the top five toys of all time. Parent bloggers are invited to spare each other a fortune by listing their soundest investments in infant pleasure. This troubles me. My six-year-old rejoices in jay cloths, Post-it notes, cotton wool pads and twine. They form flaccid sculptures under his bed and have cost me half a dozen Hoover belts. My nine-year-old's wish-list would enrapture the auditors at Claire's Accessories. I'm the only one who plays Sylvanian Families in our house. But below are five ingredients that have, over years, made child-rearing that much easier.
Hoops The sort you see in Victorian etchings being bowled along with sticks. Modern descendents are rainbow-hued and pleasurably pliant with built-in rattle sounds and twinkly spangles. Ours have functioned as fairy rings, skipping aids, lassoos, bridles and ground-hugging boomerangs. They are the highlight of home-made assault courses and, when whirled round the midriff, handy for dislodging Mummy's fleshy extras.
Hobby horse Yes, the Victorians were in to these too, but a century and a half hasn't dulled the appeal (only added a neigh when you tweak the right ear). A pink unicorn and his chestnut companion have been stabled beneath the kitchen table for the last five years. They have galloped their owners to school and doubled as Harry Potter broomsticks. Now they are easing my daughter through the first longing pangs of pony madness and, at £4.99 when I last endured Toys R Us, they are usefully cheaper than the real thing.
Orchard Games Any and all of these inventive board games, but 'Tummy Ache' wins in the vicarage. 'Looks like Mummy's cooking!' cries my little one gleefully when he draws from the card pile a maggoty stew. It was mastered aged three and remains a reliable after-school time-slayer. It's portable, suspenseful and, most valuable of all, it makes a helping of broccoli desirable.
Build It Construction Set My husband gets a man in to hang a towel ring, but he and the six-year-old have conjured ducks and trucks and robots and dinosaurs from these chunky plastic bolts and screws. It's two dozen toys in one when you wield the outsized spanner, and, three years after its arrival from The Early Learning Centre, it still keeps both boys peaceably out of my way.
Slide I'm not sure if this is allowed because it's big and expensive and does not enhance a herbaceous border. Our basic blue chute rewarded my daughter for her first successful potty trial. Seven years on it's still in weekly use. It's also a social ice breaker: test a guest with a challenge to sample it. If they rise to the occasion you've found a worthwhile new friend.