'Lifetime' toys mean long-term savings, built-in diversity

One of the best times to buy children's toys is in the late summer. Then stores won't be crowded with Christmas shoppers and prices won't be at their holiday highs. There may be bargains on last year's favorites and perhaps introductory prices on the new crop of toys. Further, children enjoy a fresh input during the summer months when other interests begin to wane or friends have disappeared on vacations.

But even with ample time to consider a purchase, the choices can seem overwhelming while exploring the well stocked aisles of toy stores. Today's bargain often later accumulates in the outgrown or neglected toy collection. A few guidelines save time and money, as well as help to match the right toy to the child.

One useful approach can be adapted from the physical education programs in schools. "Lifetime sports," such as swimming, tennis, and running, are now emphasized as important ways to provide continuity and longerrange enjoyment of a skill.

"Lifetime toys" have a similar merit. While many things we buy for children may be appealing for a while, too often children quickly lose interest in them. Then we fell it's wasted money. A "lifetime toy" is one that has built-in diversity and exercises the child's imagination.It is not always the least expensive choice, but it lasts for more years than the packages that are labeled for a particular age group only.

The following stores are only a sample of where parents will find items for youngsters which will last many years. And if these "lifetime" toys aren't broken or lost, they may be enjoyed by another generation.

* Hardware stores. Small, good-quality tools are an excellent buy here. A hammer, saw, and drill, along with a variety of nails and wood scraps, provide a young carpenter with basic equipment. The proper workplace and parental supervision go along with these purchases to ensure safety. Small rakes, and brooms or feather dusters, are inexpensive items for when a child wants to play or to help as gardener or maid. And a flashlight with extra batteries is one "toy" parents will usually want to borrow.

* Dime stores. It's difficult to find anything to buy for 5 cents or 10 cents at these stores, yet craft supplies will usually be less expensive here than at an art or drugstore. Stock up on pens, colored pencils, crayons, paper, glue, ink pads, and rulers, rather than the coloring books and plastic toys. Don't forget picture frames so you can preserve the delightful artwork of childhood.

* Department stores. Buy supplies here for the young scientist, such as a magnifying glass, compass, magnet, and globe. A sleeping bag, tent, and other camping equipment are special purchases for those with outdoor interests. Some preschoolers are not too young to start a coin or stamp album or similar hobby.

* Bookstores. Consider bound books rather than paperbacks, since their quality is better and they'll last longer. The classics with good illustrations are an excellent choice. Even if children outgrow the stories, they can enjoy the artwork. Some "how to" art books, such as those by Ed Emberley, can be used by all ages, as can well-written books on crafts or cooking.

* Toy stores. If it's possible, guide your young comsumer toward the lifetime toys in this store, too. Kites, balls, jump ropes, badminton sets, puppets, Chinese checkers, and chess are a few buys with lasting value.

A good way to get oriented before a shopping trip is to review the lifetime value of previous toy purchases.

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