One toy that these two lists — and nearly all good-toy rosters year after year — have in common is some variation on an age-old favorite: the block. Amid all the Furby Booms, Nerf blasters and LeapPad kiddie tablets, the block abides — solid, stalwart, dependable.
Better than dolls or balls — too much gender baggage. Better than puzzles and yo-yos — too hard for tots or too easy for teens. Better than toy guns or video games — enough said.
From basic, straightforward unit blocks (introduced in America by educator Caroline Pratt a century ago this year) and the geometry-inspired Froebel blocks (created for some of the earliest kindergarteners) to up-to-the-nanosecond smart blocks called ATOMS (supported by a Kickstarter campaign and introduced just last month), blocks are a constant in our lives.
Blocks are durable. Young people can stack 'em, whack 'em, kick 'em, lick 'em, chomp 'em, stomp 'em and pound 'em into the ground. Most blocks can withstand the punishment.
Creativity. Blocks can teach us all kinds of things in the arts and the sciences. Writing in Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 17th century philosopher John Locke suggested putting letters of the alphabet on cubes so that children would learn to build words and read by playing games. A recent study in the journal Child Development, according to World Science, shows that playing with blocks may help young people "develop math and spatial skills, which support later learning in science, technology and engineering."