This is the season when everyone’s thoughts turn to gifts and playthings. Whether you are shopping for an old or a young child, you will probably add some playthings onto your gift list.

As you go about your shopping, evaluate your purchases according to the properties of interest, durability, and budget. You can maximize the satisfaction received by matching the gift to your goals.

I breakdown playthings into three categories; Trinkets, Toys, and Hobbies. All three have value, all three have a place in your gift list consideration, and all three can bring joy. Problems only arise when you purchase one type of gift expecting it to fill the role of another type.

Trinkets are inexpensive diversions that offer instant gratification. They are ready for play the moment they are unwrapped and rarely require more than batteries. Trinkets are great selections to keep the kids occupied during the family trip, or holiday get together; but they may not last much longer than that. Their advantages are low price and instant play value. Drawbacks to trinkets include lightweight construction that breaks easily and limited play options which may fail to hold a child’s interest for very long.

Toys, on the other hand, are meant to last and be appreciated for a long time. The sign of a good toy is sturdy construction and multiple modes of play that will capture the imagination. It is not uncommon for a child to enjoy a good toy for many months, even years, before outgrowing it and for that toy to hold up well during that time. Toys often require a little bit of assembly, or learning of basic operation, but they are quickly put to use. Most toys cannot be easily repaired if a piece breaks or gets lost but many toys still offer great play value even when worn or slightly broken. The advantages of good toys are their ability to last, both physically and in holding the interest of a child. You spend more for a toy but the value received is well worth it.

Hobbies are not only meant to last but to be repaired, rebuilt, and modified; they can lead to a passion that lasts a lifetime. Hobbies are characterized by the need to learn about the hobby and develop skills to derive the most enjoyment, and by the fact that the learning and development never has to end. Hobby items can take an hour or more to prepare them for first use and often require many hours or days just to get good at basic operation. Hobby items also require regular maintenance and adjustment for reliable operation but the parts needed for repair and maintenance are readily available. Hobbies cost the most but the cost is an investment that could lead to many years or even a lifetime of enjoyment.

As you might imagine, problems arise when the type of gift does not match the goals it is meant to fulfill. Buying a trinket and expecting it to last more than a few weeks, is sure to disappoint. Trinkets are great for quick immediate fun for a short period of time.

When buying a toy make sure the child is of the proper age; not too young to use it and not so old that the toy is quickly outgrown. Toys fit the bill for longer lasting value and support extended play and imagination.

Buy a hobby item if you know the recipient has an interest and is ready to invest the time in learning to use and maintain it. Someone looking for quick play and low price will be frustrated with a hobby item. Hobbies are great for starting or nurturing a long term interest and hobbies can often be shared between parent and child as a family activity.

The people at your local toy, hobby, and gift stores understand these differences and are eager to help you make a satisfying choice. Tell them what kind of gift you are looking for and how it will be used. They will guide you to a good choice of trinkets, toys, and hobbies to satisfy everyone on your list.

Have fun,

Steven