The Perfect Toddler Toy No One Uses

My toddler is weird. She is 1.5 years old and she is always fascinated by the ‘wrong part’ things. T-Bird was 6 months old on her first Christmas, do you want to know what her favorite present was? The wrapping paper. The paper that wrapped the presents, not any of the actual presents. Let me say this: If you are spending more than $20 on your 6-month-old’s present then you my friend are a damn fool! The best present you can give a 6-month-old is a ball of wrapping paper wrapped in wrapping paper (you can then wrap that paper in yet another layer of wrapping paper if you’re into the whole ‘inception-russian-doll’ school of present giving).Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 10.29.20 AM

My daughter’s first birthday shall is referred to as the “Great Manufacturer’s Tab Obsession of 2016.” We had a Birthday Party for our daughter, we told everyone not to bring toys, and everyone brought toys anyways. For my next birthday I should have a “don’t bring me $1,000 in unmarked $20 bills” and invite the same people.  My daughter had piles and piles of toys: books, backpacks, age-inappropriate “Frozen” paraphernalia to give you an idea. But what was her favorite? Did unavoidable “Frozen” allure fall upon my daughter at the ungodly age of 1? What about the animal blocks? Maybe the small library of books would win her favor?

The group of presents she liked the most were the presents with manufacturer’s tags. That little white tag on the bottom of the stuffed animals, that is the apple of my daughter’s eye. Think of the man hours that went into conceiving, crafting, and designing, the Mt. Kilimanjaro of toys in our living room. They were all wasted. My daughter preferred to experiment with the government mandated, black and white tag. Sisphyus all of them!

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Daddy’s Hobby Spreads

I go through hobbies like shoes. Some last longer than others. Clash of Clans, that was a long one I played everyday for 2 years then abruptly stopped. Remote Control Helicopters, that hobby lasted about as long as a pair of thong sandals you get while on vacation. I’m on a magic/slight of hand hobby right now. How long before this hobby vanishes? No one can ever know, I just enjoy the wave of interest while it lasts. I’m practicing a card trick that destroys cards as you do the trick several times. So I have random playing cards strewn around my apartment. Waking to the bathroom in the middle of the night will probably get the seven of spades stuck to your foot. When we clean our couch a couple of years from now I’m sure we will collect enough errant cards to build a house of cards taller than our actual apartment.

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It is in the middle of the “Great Card Obsession of 2016” we discovered our daughter’s favorite thing. A deck of cards. My wife and I were trying to find safe objects for our daughter to decorate our Christmas Tree with. 90% of the ornaments were either breakable or sharp or both. That’s when I noticed the queen of hearts stuck to my wife’s slipper. Could our daughter could just decorate our tree with playing cards?

If you think about it, playing cards are the perfect toddler activity. They’re cheap, the opposite of fragile, it’s not end of the world if they put them in their mouth, easily replaceable, widely available,  and cards have lots of distinguishing qualities for toddlers to explore. Taking the cards out of their box requires a lot of acute physical manipulation. When the cards are out of their box it’s fun to spread them out, then try to gather them back in a stack, and even more difficult to put back in their box. Cards are numbered! When children get older they can begin to learn sequencing! Not to mention all the magic you can do with cards to ignite your child’s imagination and stretch their reality.

To the people who think cards are inappropriate for children: I am so sorry your second cousin lost his families mortgage payment on a poker game, I know, I know the river screwed him. I would say your second cousin’s real problem lies in cash management, expected value assessment, and mitigating the volatility of poker through long sessions of mistake free play. It wasn’t the card’s fault it was your cousin’s fault. But if cards are still a trigger for you and send a shiver down your spine, fine. Your kids don’t have to play with cards. But mine will.giphy

Expectations for Child Card Play

Card Pro Tip #1- Just get a normal deck of cards and leave it where your kids can find it. Don’t get cards made for kids (they exist), or make a big ceremony of giving them the cards. Instead leave the deck on the edge of a table, or the arm of your couch. Somewhere where they’ll genuinely discover them. Also don’t use your late Grandfather’s antique bicycles that he carried with him on his tour of north Africa and Italy in 1943, he played gin with Patton with those cards. Just buy a regular deck of cards that you have no problem letting your child(ren) destroy.

Phase #1- Ages 1-1.5 years. Your child discovers the deck of cards, you’ll probably have to show them how to open in and take out the cards. As soon as your child handles the cards they’ll probably just flop over the floor. That’s it! I just sat with my daughter and just picked up different amount of cards. Maybe I would gather some cards and assimilate them back into a uniform pile, just to show her. Let your child explore!

Going in the car or subway? Grab the cards!


Even at this early phase have your child help you clean up even if they can do little to nothing to practically help you. What’s important is your child gets in the habit of cleaning up an activity after they’re done.

Phase #1.5 When you choose the set of cards that you will let your child explore, write your child’s name on one of the cards with your child. That will be your child’s card. As they continue to explore the cards the might come across the unique card with writing on it and bring it to show you. Or maybe you can make an activity out of dumping the cards on the floor and asking your child to find their card.

Phase #2- 2 months after your child’s first interaction cards: Separating the cards into face-up and face-down piles. After playing with the cards for a couple of months I noticed my daughter doing this on her own. She would have a small pile of cards in her hand and place them in the floor all face-down or face-up. The only thing I did say “down” when a card was put face-down, and “up” when face-up. Currently my daughter is shouting “DOWN” when she places cards down.

That’s it for now! This is months of daily activity for a toddler. What are the next steps? I don’t know! Maybe finding all four cards of a certain value when she gets a little older. Maybe separating all the red and black cards? Those seem like the next steps, but I have not reached them yet. I would love to hear other ideas in the comments!

Extra Credit!

If you’re interested in learning some elementary sleight of hand, learning to make a card vanish is fun for your child to see. You can teach them to say “gone” when you make the card disappear into thin air. Another fun trick to work on is the “ninja flip”. Basically you take your dominant hand face up, and put the deck of cards facedown in your palm. You thumb should be on one long side, and your four fingers on the other. Now use your thumb to edge the top card into your other four fingers. Put your pointer and pinky above the card, while your middle and ring finger tucked under. Now if you push down with your pointer and pinky the card will bend. Now release the pressure in your pointer finger and flick out with your middle and ringer finger, this will send the card flying through the air (please practice this without your children around before showing it to them, and gain some control over where the cards will fly when you do this trick. We don’t want any cards hitting your children in the eye). On of my daughter’s favorite activities is sitting on a chair watching me flick cards off the top of the deck and exclaiming “AHH” every time a card pops into the air, like I didn’t know it was going to happen.