When I was a kid, we celebrated Father’s Day by leaving dad alone.
Don’t get me wrong—we woke him up at 5 a.m. with homemade breakfast in bed (that he graciously choked down), showered him with DIY gifts we’d made at school (How many cardboard tube tie racks can one man own?!), went to church, visited the grandparents, and were home by lunchtime.
At which point, dad would lay down for a nap because he worked nights, and often carried two full-time jobs to keep the roof over our heads, so he needed the extra rest just to survive.
A Very Melissa & Doug Father's Day Playdate
Fast-forward to now: I’m lucky enough to be a work-from-home freelancer, which happened organically over the past few years as we were dealing with the Covid pandemic. So why on Earth would Melissa & Doug ask ME to write a Father’s Day blog? Glad you asked!
I worked as a freelance copywriter at ToysRUs/BabiesRUs for four years before becoming a full-time staffer through 2018, so I had access to every possible toy you could imagine at the concept store on campus.
During that time, I also became a parent, so my daughter Violet literally grew up as a ToysRUs kid—she was even featured once in the BabiesRUs social media feeds as a toddler, running around after stealing my wife's cell phone, screaming like a banshee while filming herself singing opera!
Having that much access to toys and baby products, and researching everything as an outgrowth of my job, I became a fan of Melissa & Doug’s toys even then, because their products especially always stressed the importance of child development.
I wanted Violet’s toys to pull double duty—yes, they had to be fun and engaging, but she also had to get SOMETHING out of playing with it.
Growing up, I had a ton of wooden toys myself, so I naturally gravitated towards trying to get as many products as possible made from natural materials, and that was something that immediately came to mind with Melissa & Doug’s toys.
(I also had a ton of toys with annoying sounds and blinding lights, so as a parent, I wanted to AVOID those types of toys as much as possible—her aunts, uncles, and grandparents have her covered there :)
I guess I’m something of a toy subject matter expert, and I suffer from a severe arrested development disorder, so I still have what I call “kid-brain” even after five decades on this planet. That’s why, when Melissa & Doug asked me to write a Father’s Day blog, I jumped at the chance (little did they know what they were in for).
My Ultimate Father's Day Daddy-Daughter Playdate
Okay, so here’s what the Ultimate Father’s Day Daddy-Daughter Playdate looks like at our house:
1. Nature Hike. Start the day with a long walk/hike at Ramapo Reservation, a huge natural park space that’s right nearby—nothing better than being out in nature together just seeing what’s around: birds, deer, squirrels, foxes, etc. Sometimes we even bring snacks or a little picnic, but mostly that’s to throw at the bears so we can escape if need be!
2. Get Crafty. Come home for arts and crafts time! (We had some EPIC coloring sessions during Covid lockdown.) I’ll make printable coloring sheets based on themes we like or subjects she’s working on at school. Maybe we’ll break out the paints and canvases, maybe sculpt with some modeling compound, or even try something we saw on a YouTube art video.
3. Cook Up Some Fun. We start prepping for lunch with some pretend play in her kitchen—it’s just natural that once we start pretending, she wants a REAL snack or meal, so inevitably, she winds up helping me in the actual kitchen.
4. Free Play Time, Baby! Whatever Violet feels like doing; I let her take the lead. Sidewalk chalk, go to the playground, kick a ball around or throw a Frisbee, dress-up time, dance-off, wrestling, musical jam session, dolls…I’m game for anything, and I like giving her some agency over what we do.
5. Bedtime Routine. Tubby, cuddles, story time, then bed…Let’s do it all again tomorrow!
Violet's "Hot Toys" Summer Preview 2023!
Violet helps me a ton with my Melissa & Doug work—she's my focus group of one when I need kid opinions about toys. Here are her specially curated selections just for you! Don't miss these Violet-approved "Hot Toys" you can get from Melissa & Doug right now!
I like my burgers bloody, and hot dogs blackened—Violet is the exact opposite. Luckily, we never clash over cooking preferences when it comes to PRETEND cooking!
This baby has all the bells and whistles I want on the real thing: grill, smoker, AND pizza oven. What's not to love?! Bonus: I NEVER have to scrub it clean. Plus, it helps Violet practice valuable cooking skills, which will come in handy later in life.
Why It's a Violet-Approved Summer Toy: "I can't WAIT to put all the pretend ketchup on my hot dog-pizza-burger!"
I am an absolute ice cream fanatic! If a new frozen dessert place opens in NJ, we take a road trip. I once took 15 relatives to an ice cream making class on our summer vacation! In other words, ice cream is something we enjoy as family.
That's why the Cool Scoops Creamery is right up our alley: We can enjoy endless hours of pretend soft serve, scoops, AND ice cream sandwiches without putting miles on the car. Plus, I'm secretly training Violet to be an entrepreneur when I "pretend" to challenge her math & money skills.
Why It's a Violet-Approved Summer Toy: "My dad is an ice cream expert—he takes us all over to try different places every summer. Adding to my birthday list!"
I am legitimately terrible at mini-golf, so my hope is the Fun at the Fair version allows me to practice in the comfort of my own home before we hit the mini-links this summer.
Why It's a Violet-Approved Summer Toy: "We love to go to mini-golf in the summer, but it's always crowded with long lines. Now we can play at home—and I can hit the ball as hard as I want!"
BONUS: Violet's All-Time Favorite Melissa & Doug Toys!
All of what you’ve just read (hopefully!) helps you understand why Violet’s been on a steady diet of Melissa & Doug toys since before she could even walk. Here’s a rundown of her absolute favorite Melissa & Doug toys from the past seven years!
One of the first toys I gifted Violet for her VERY first Christmas—when she was only 3 months old—was the classic Wooden ABC/123 Blocks, because I just felt like that’s every kid’s first exposure to letters and numbers. Of course, all she could do was gum them at that point, but they went on to become a play staple through her toddler years.
When Violet started showing an interest in getting dressed by herself, she wanted shoes with laces like “the big kids.” So I gifted her the Wooden Lacing Shoe for her to practice. I was never prouder than when she mastered tying those laces within a week, practicing every single day till she could do it. Of course, now she only wants to wear slip-ons because tying’s too much work…
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dad bangs forehead on laptop keyboard.]
Our local library offers a host of Melissa & Doug toys and activities in the kids section, and Violet and I spend A LOT of time there. (We were even featured together once on a poster in the lobby!) The Lock & Latch Board was an absolute FAVORITE during her toddler years; she still shows it off to me every time we visit.
When I told Violet I was writing this blog, the FIRST toy she recalled was the Dust-Sweep-Mop play set, which she’s been using for YEARS and STILL plays with regularly. “I love to mop the front porch!” she admits—mostly because we let her slop water all over the place, and clean it up for her afterwards.
We’re mermaid-crazy in our household, so it was only natural I gifted Vi the Mermaid Magnetic Dress-Up Play Set once she was old enough to start playing dress-up. What goes with a tutu? Everything!
At some point, many kids become fascinated with horses, and Violet was no exception. The thing I remember most about the Take-Along Show-Horse Stable Play Set was how much fun we had coming up with new names for the horses every time she played with it. And she played with it EVERY DAY—for like, TWO YEARS. That’s A LOT of names to come up with…
I was always stunned at how much empathy Violet expressed for animals at a young age; she loved pretending to be a vet with the Examine & Treat Pet Vet Play Set, but hated giving needles to her plush animals because of the pain. Mom and dad on the other hand, she laughed maniacally when it was time for our shots!
Another M&D favorite at our local library is the full slate of train and railway sets; it dedicates a full table top just to train play! Violet will play with this for hours when we visit, although she enjoys crashing the trains into each other just a little TOO much…
We’re blessed to be a creative family, and Violet showed a very keen interest in making art from a young age. I gifted her The Deluxe Wooden Stamp Set - ABCs 123s one year to inspire her to keep making art and telling stories, but also because I knew she’d benefit from developing her C-grip and fine motor skills while playing, not to mention learning letters and numbers.
Watercolors took Violet's art-making to the next level, because it added a whole NEW layer to the activity by introducing water (which, for kids, instantly means something is a thousand times MORE fun). But when I also see her improving, learning new brush techniques, and trying to actually compose a picture, I always feel good about stocking up on a new Deluxe Watercolor Paint Set for her. (Just gotta make sure she’s got that smock on!)
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