I love playing with my kids, but I also like toys that engage them for a little while without me, so I can
get some important work done hide in the pantry and surreptitiously eat chocolate in the dark, completely alone. Extra points to toys that feed the imagination, build STEM skills, get kids moving, or encourage artistic expression. That list is why toys such as jigsaw puzzles, Lego, blocks, trains, dolls, teddies, puppets, carts and bicycles are classics – and why many families already have some of each.
Yet each year, by some mysterious and uninvited means otherwise known as advertising, around holidays one starts thinking again about new toys, novel toys, more interesting shiny clever things to bestow upon our beloved offspring. And if you don’t feel that buy-stuff pull even one tiny bit, I’m willing to bet at least one of the well-meaning grandparents, aunties or uncles does. No matter what you do, more toys end up flowing steadily into your finite home like a leaky tap dripping into a bucket. (And you tip some out. And it fills up again. And you tip some out. And it fills up again. Repeat.)
I guess we were conditioned young – I remember coming home from school of an afternoon, grabbing the junk mail in the letterbox, fetching a drink and sprawling on the floor for the next hour poring over all the unsolicited catalogues from toy megastores. I don’t think I wanted it all, but I wanted stuff for sure. Marketing. Clever.
As a grownup and a mother, I like to think that, when adulting well, I can be a little more discerning than a child, and no longer fall for every kids’ toy that makes big promises. Technically we have far more than enough stuff in our house already, yet going cold turkey and having No More New Toys Ever feels unrealistic. The second child has birthdays too. Or other people convince your children that Santa exists and the next thing, you’re wondering how many of the things on the “list” you should humour. I’m human, and I’m sleep deprived. I fight what feels like a losing battle against confusion and consumerism Every Single Time I do the groceries. (Should I buy four cans of tomatoes even though I only need one this week? Did they just put the prices of tomatoes up last week to make it look like they are cheaper this week? Argh! It’s hard to make small stupid decisions all the time.)
So when the creepily intelligent online search and advertising algorithms kept telling me that I needed to buy Tobbles Neo for my baby, I started to believe. We didn’t need Tobbles Neo. He didn’t need Tobbles Neo. I didn’t need to be
picking up tripping over yet another seven pieces of hard plastic each night. And yet I slowly absorbed the message and it seems that eventually, somebody else (?) inhabiting the body that controls my fingers pressed a “buy” button.
See, the reviews said it had won four awards (2013 Toy of the Year – Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair; 2013 Major Fun Award, Toys; ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids Award 2012; Parents’ Choice Silver Award 2012). It was going to encourage sensory exploration, hone fine motor skills and develop visual spatial acuity. Seemed reasonable. Looks pretty. Looks cute. It has rainbow! And it was for a birthday! Even a one year old needs a birthday present of his own, right? Right?
And now he has it, does he play with it?
Sort of. Sometimes.
Has it been worth it to us?
The thing is, this toy is quite well made, and the pieces do feel nice. They feel suede-like in a matte-finish kind of way. They are weighted but not magnetic. (I was obviously so blinded by the hype that I thought they were magnetic, but they’re not.) They really look like they ought to do something more than just stack and spin. It’s kind of annoying in an “I should have realised that before buying them” kind of way. Honestly – and laugh at me if you want – we already currently have a stacking bath toy and a stacking wooden toy. Stacking toys are so ubiquitous that we probably have had four or five of them pass through our hands in the last six years, and I didn’t buy a single one – people love giving them to us and babies grow out of them pretty fast.
Granted, Tobbles Neo has cleaner lines than most and is appealing in a nonkid kind of way; not tacky – until it inevitably comes into contact with jam toast – and there are no irritating noises or flashing lights, glittery surfaces or scratchy joins.
The pieces are also painful when thrown at your head, if your sweet and beguiling infant becomes a toddler with surprisingly good aim. Best experienced when lying in bed, half-awake, in morning’s first light.
Granted, the stacking pieces get used as “fruits” when my six-year-old plays shop. The base piece gets used to balance “an orb” (a ball) in magic imaginative play. When actually stacked, the weighted pieces clunk together in a satisfying way and they do wobble and spin intriguingly for a few seconds at a time when the tower is knocked over. The whole game is over in less than 60 seconds and my baby wanders off to do something else, taking one or two pieces with him to deposit on the floor of a different room, for me to trip over later in the dark. I call it the Item Relocation Game.
Tobbles Neo might be good for:
- a first grandchild
- babies who don’t have any other stacking toys yet
- parents who feel the need for all toys in the home to be aesthetically pleasing
- people who don’t mind buying a fancy stacking toy that won’t be developmentally needed for very long
- professionals who need an attractive child-friendly desk toy at hand to amuse the small children of their clients
- those who want designer toys which will look good lying around even if they don’t end up being played with
- toy libraries
Tobbles Neo probably isn’t much good for:
- parents of toddlers who like to throw things (weighted things -> your head/window -> bruises/smashed glass)
- natural-materials-only purists
- people with hard flooring – I’ve heard the pieces can break into two at the join line if dropped on hard floors
- parents who don’t want or trust any toys made in China
- people who only buy second-hand – I couldn’t find any second-hand at the time, so it seems that either everyone else is overwhelmingly pleased with their purchase, or there are others out there feeling as silly as I am that they bought this thing brand new!
I don’t hate Tobbles Neo, but I probably shouldn’t have bought it. I could have saved the money for something else that had more play longevity and versatility for my family. Others may find it suits them. I don’t want to put you off. You might really like it.
If you are thinking of buying Tobbles Neo, you might want to check out other reviews: Fat Brain Toy Co Tobbles Neo. See what other people said about it, not just me…
And do tell me what you think!