Where the Toys Are
I've learned a lot in my four years as a mother. But one of the best lessons I've gotten is where to buy the best toys and children's books. And sadly it's not Target or Toys "R" Us. Both stores feature rows and rows of toys but not a thing that gets my 4-year-old's attention. Thankfully the Washington region is home to some great stores that only sell toys and children's books. And those stores are even more enticing these days because of their personal attention to where the merchandise is coming from. (Note: Not all toys from China are bad.) Granted, you'll pay a little bit more but I think it's worth it. Here are a few of them:
Tree Top Kids: This local chain has grown quickly over the last year with several stores in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Take a trip to one of its locations and you'll see why people like it. The toys are unique and there are plenty of them. One of the two locations in Arlington has two levels and several different rooms, featuring infant toys, clothing, games, outdoor toys and everything in between. You won't find great bargains at Tree Top but I did see interesting art kits such as a Melissa & Doug stringing beads kit for $17 and a plate-painting kit for $12. They also featured a good selection of natural wood toys for infants, many for under $10.
Kinder Haus Toys: This Arlington toy store, which has been around for more than 25 years, is impressive. It's set in a large open space, which is great for finding certain sections quickly. But most importantly, the prices aren't painful. Some of the finds that caught my eye were a huge, wooden Melissa & Doug dollhouse for $40, Ravensburger puzzles for under $10 and Madame Alexander dolls for under $20.
Noodles & Noggins: This store will take you to sleepy Clifton, Va., which is a trek but worth the drive, especially if you can time it for when they have live entertainment for the kids. It's possible people are drawn to the small store for the culture of the place, with its almost-daily shows and chatty staff. "She's a godsend," said one shopper, of owner Jacquie Lambertson. Noodles & Noggins tries to carry unique products and keep close contact with the manufacturers of the toys they carry to make sure they're safe. They also have a large online catalog if you can't make it out to Clifton.
For children's books, it's tough to beat Amazon.com. The books haven't been broken in (as children's books in bricks-and-mortar shops often are) and most books are discounted. Plus there's free shipping on orders more than $25.
And then there are stores that primarily sell other things but have some toys on the side. While I personally have given up on most of these retailers for toys, one I can tolerate is Marshalls, where you'll find a small, messy section of toys and books tucked between men's clothing and luggage. Wooden puzzles sell for $5, books for under $10 and very few toys or games are more than $20. I also can't help but like Pottery Barn Kids' toys, which usually carry some hefty price tags. But the in-store toy display at the Tysons Corner location is a fun place for kids to sample the goods. Most of the toys are wooden and some are even educational, like a wooden puzzle that teaches six phrases in five languages. That'll run you nearly $40. The pretend play toys such as the retro kitchen sets are also pretty neat. Almost makes me wish I was 4 again.
Where do you buy toys and children's books?
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