A good Christmas can do a lot to take the edge off of a bad year both for children and their parents (and a lot of families are having a bad year). It's the season to pick up a few toys, drop them by the fire station and make some people feel good about themselves during what can be one of the toughest times of the year.
If you're new to the Toys-for-Tots concept, here are the rules I normally use when shopping:
The gifts should be nice enough to sit alone under a tree. The child who gets nothing else should still feel that he or she had a special Christmas. A large stuffed animal, a big metal truck, a large can of Legos with enough pieces to keep up with an active imagination. You can get any of these for around twenty or thirty bucks at Wal-Mart or Costco;*
Shop smart. The better the deals the more toys can go in your cart;
No batteries. (I'm a strong believer in kid power);**
Speaking of kid power, it's impossible to be sedentary while playing with a basketball;
No toys that need lots of accessories;
For games, you're generally better off going with a classic;
No movie or TV show tie-ins. (This one's kind of a personal quirk and I will make some exceptions like Sesame Street);
Look for something durable. These will have to last;
For smaller children, you really can't beat Fisher Price and PlaySkool. Both companies have mastered the art of coming up with cleverly designed toys that children love and that will stand up to generations of energetic and creative play.
*I previously used Target here, but their selection has been dropping over the past few years and it's gotten more difficult to find toys that meet my criteria.
** I'd like to soften this position just bit. It's okay for a toy to use batteries, just not to need them. Fisher Price and PlaySkool have both gotten into the habit of adding lights and sounds to classic toys, but when the batteries die, the toys live on, still powered by the energy of children at play.