Nov 21, 2015

Top 5 Open-ended Play Toys Ideal as Christmas Gifts


When selecting toys for kids, parents tend to focus on price, safety, and the recipient’s age. But another important and often overlooked consideration relates to the kind of play that can result from the toy. Because the quality of the play is what truly matters and amazingly, simple toys do offer more play opportunities to kids compared to complex toys.

A complex toy like an Elmo toy, which comes complete with buttons a child can press to make him talk and sing is pretty much all there is to it. The play is more straightforward and close-ended, limiting play as well as the child’s creativity. Compare this to simple toys like building blocks and dollhouses where the play is up to the child’s mood and creative interpretation.

Personally, I believe the best toys are those that come without batteries simply because open-ended toys result in open-ended play. So I guess the founders of playhao - a toy shop at Forum the Shopping Mall - share the same beliefs as me.

playhao - good (好) play, geddit? - was started when the founders became parents themselves and realised that some of the world's best toys are not sold in Singapore. So they did the next best thing. They searched and curated what they feel are the best toys and playhao was born.

Frankly stepping into playhao is already an experience in itself. The toys are not your usual toys that can be found in a regular toy department. Rather, all of its toys are highly versatile, open-ended, and designed with a focus on what the child can do, rather than what the toy can do.

A huge part of playhao's toy inventory is dedicated to wooden toys, which are produced by artisan toy makers. I, for one, love wooden toys because they are perceived to be safer, sturdier and longer-lasting than their plastic equivalents. More importantly, wooden toys usually require more manual play whether it is pushing, pulling, turning, stacking or connecting.

playhao selects the toys they carry in store based on their play value, educational value, material used, workmanship, construction, durability, safety and design, etc. In fact, every brand it chooses has a story behind and develop children in different facets of life.

For every toy in the shop, playhao had played, tested, and had serious discussions with children of all ages, parents, educators, designers so as to showcase the best toys and tools in the world that are stylish, smart, safe, and which both parent and child will enjoy playing, grow intellectually, socially and aesthetically.

And judging from the time that Ale spent in the shop playing the many samples made available for kids to play freely with, it has further reinforced my belief that open-ended toys are best suited for my monkies.

Here are the top 5 open-ended toys at playhao that have since been a hit with them:

1. Tegu Building Blocks

A great twist on the classic block set, the building blocks have magnets embedded within which allow kids to build some crazy cool creations.

Because of the magnets, Tegu let kids build complex designs and structures that can move, bend and stand up to rough play. In fact, the boys were the ones who were more excited about the blocks when they realised there were magnets involved!

Almost immediately, they made a ton of abstract designs just to see if gravity would hold... and most of the time, their designs worked.

What the monkies seemed to like best is that these blocks, once configured into a design won’t fall apart. The magnets hold the designs in place, and that means the designs are only restricted by one's own imagination.

A big part of the Tegu story is how they make them. Founded in 2006 by two brothers, the company is named after Tegucigalpa in Honduras. Chris and Will Haughey wanted to help a country and its people, and they quickly discovered that Honduras was home to beautiful tropical hardwoods which could be sustainably harvested. Inspired by classic European wooden toys, they started their toy business to address unemployment, neglected natural and human resources, and the need for entrepreneurship in Honduras.

Verdict: I like the fact that they are a safe, non-toxic, long-lasting and most of all fun, toy. The monkies adored them and are playing with them often, so the blocks are an excellent investment and also make for great gifts.

2. Modarri Cars

The award-winning Modarri cars take everything you thought you knew about boring toy cars and flips it on its head. It is the toy car reinvented.

Each Modarri modular car includes a chassis, hood/windshield, seat pan, seat, fenders and frame, hex
tool, four wheels, front suspension and rear suspension. The sleek design, modularity, use of the tool
and suspension features make Modarri totally unlike any other toy cars in the market.

Part of the fun Modarri offers is open-ended play where kids will be able to build a toy car, break it down, and build it a new way. The monkies had the three-pack of vehicles and had so much fun swapping wheels, roll cages, fenders… practically any and every car part and coming out with their own unique car!

Aside from the endless creativity, I also love that Modarri took the extra step to make it as easy for little builders as possible, especially by installing keeper washers on the screws that hold the cars together, ensuring you will never lose these important little pieces.

But for me, the beauty of the Modarri car is that it drives like a real one - the steering works just like a real car with wheels that grip and suspension that allows you to turn, race, jump and more. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the way that you steer your Modarri cars makes it even cooler. Place a finger in the driver seat to steer, push in the direction you want to go and have the car navigate tight turns, figure 8's, wheelies, drifts, and anything else you can imagine.

Verdict: Durable, finger-powered toy cars with interchangeable parts, real steering, suspension, rubber tires and NO batteries needed - this is perhaps the best way to describe this wonderful car.

3. Cuburo Tricky Ways

Cuboro are known for their wooden marble runs where the tools for play consist only of marbles and a track. The interesting thing is that the track is built out of individual wooden blocks with curves and channels cut into them, allowing you to create a track of whatever shape your imagination can conceive. The marbles are moved along strictly by gravity, falling from one level to another and cutting back and forth through hidden tunnels.

Cuburo Tricky Ways also features a similar marble track system but with a twist: it is a board game!

The overall goal of Tricky Ways is to collect points by rearranging the Cuboro cubes on each turn to make the longest track possible for a marble as it rolls from the starting tower to one of the empty finish fields. On each turn, a player is allowed to manipulate (rotate, shift, or jump) up to 3 blocks to create a new marble run track that will successfully drop a marble into a new exit spot.

There are two ways to play Tricky Ways. The first simply uses the tracks on the surfaces of the cubes. The second way ups the challenge and makes full use of the 3rd dimension by allowing the marble tracks to go INSIDE the blocks and use the tunnels as part of the new track.

Sounds simple? Yes, it is extremely easy pick up but trust me when I say it is difficult to master. This is one board game that does not depend on the element of luck. Rather, you are kept thinking of the possible moves even when it is not your turn. I find it extremely engaging and challenging but the monkies were able to pick it up pretty fast, even Ale! In fact, Ayd has been trashing me since we started playing... but please don't tell anyone!

Verdict: I love how Cuburo Tricky Ways encourages exploration and creative thinking while still being a fun game that challenges kids (and even adults!) at the same time. This game will be apt for thinking kids who love riddles, or tough strategists!

4. Crazy Forts

I remember when I was young, I loved putting chairs together and draping my blanket over it to create my very own secret hideaway. Problem was everything didn't hold up for too long... and my mum needed her chairs back.

With Crazy Forts - a unique, award winning, building and creative toy - all you have to do is empty the box of 69 child-safe toggles and rods, and join them together to build a play space that you dream of!

I brought Crazy Forts over to my friend's place during one of our kids' play date and the girls immediately fell in love with it!

Very soon, they built a basic cuboid structure, threw bedsheets over it and voila, the girls' little haven was completed.

For that added comfort, they used a comforter as the base, drew the curtains and chased me out of the room!

A few moments later, I checked back to see what they were doing and this was what greeted me.

That's the amazing thing about Crazy Forts. It is powered by a child's imagination as kids can create a unique new play space every time with different configurations. I guess it helped that our set came with green rods and glow-in-the-dark balls too!

Verdict: For any child who needs a good place to hide or just for a place to get away and relax from the stresses of being a little adult, I absolutely recommend Crazy Forts. Okay, it is also great for parents who want to feel good about their building skills!

5. Lundby Doll’s House 

Now THIS is the biggie in the eyes of Ale.

The Swedes have applied their design skills to the traditional dolls house and the result is this gorgeous Stockholm Doll's House from Lundby.

I have to admit, I was not aware of the rich history that Lundby had in the doll house world. But I found out soon enough that the Lundby doll's house is a classic that has evoked play and tickled the imagination of generations of children ever since its launch in 1947.

Lundby's main point of difference that makes the range stand out worldwide is the fact that it is totally contemporary and provides an extensive range of furniture and accessories that ambitiously keeps up with the times and trends with fashion, design and interior decoration.

As excited as Ale was to start decorating her doll house with the accessories, there was still the tiny business of putting it together. Fortunately, the entire process was simple and easy enough.

It seems like a lot of pieces, but really, they pretty much just snap all into place. Then I added the screws to secure the house and it was all ready to move in!

The Lundby Stockholm doll’s house comes with the built-in Lundby 4.5 volt child safe lighting system which is what makes this doll’s house so desirable. Yes, you are able to decorate the doll house with lighting fixtures!

And the result? An extremely beautiful and realistic doll house that even made the brothers go 'Wow!'.

The Lundby doll's house designed and developed in Sweden to 1:18 scale, meaning fantastic detail and realism, even adults can appreciate.

The accessories are incredibly detailed, just like real items in the home. They are not toy-ish looking at all and are very well made. I was so impressed at how the stove lights up and all the cabinets and drawers can be opened to store things. Even the mini fridge opens too and that was where Ale stored some of the little canned food items.

The bedroom has a soft carpet, comes with clear sliding doors and is so very inviting... with the wifey remarking that even she felt like staying in the doll house!

The icing on the cake has got to be the pull-out drawer at the bottom of the doll house, which reveals a swimming pool that can be filled up with water!

From the day Ale has had the doll house, she has been playing with it every single day. Yes, that's how much she adores it but the bonus is the wifey loves it too as well. Well, that's the great thing about having kids isn't it? We can actually play with their toys as well!

Verdict: Role playing helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. It is an outlet for the fullness of their creativity, and it is an absolutely critical part of their childhood, which encourages imaginative pretend-play. The Lundby Doll’s House actively encourages imaginative pretend-play and is so cool I am not sure if there is an age you can grow out of them.

If you are looking for something a little different that offers more imaginative play this Christmas season, then check out the great finds at playhao. All its products' strength lie in open-ended play - Play which both parents and children will find pleasure in, learn from, form memories with.


Still racking your brains for that ideal Christmas present? Just for the festive season, playhao has launched its Santa's Helper personal shopping service for its customers. All you have to do is to let playhao know your list of children (adults also can!) and their age, and they will take care of the rest. A gift will be carefully selected, gift-wrapped and delivered! Can it get more convenient than that? To get started, email or visit playhao's shop for more details.

Useful Information

#02-15 Forum The Shopping Mall
583 Orchard Road, Singapore 238884
Opening Hours: 10am to 7pm daily 
Tel: 6592 0938 

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