Toy catalogs make for good kid distraction

Remember the Sears catalog? Anyone? Anyone? I recall afternoons spent poring over the toy section and dreaming. Jennifer encourages her kids to do the same with the deluge of holiday mail-order catalogs:

Now that the holidays are coming up, we've been getting TONS of catalogs in the mail. Especially toy catalogs. I've found them to be a great distraction for my both my kids (3 and 8) when I need to get dinner ready, or even when we're at a restaurant. In the meantime, I'm getting some good ideas for what they want for when the holidays do finally hit us.

(Some funny games they've played with the catalogs include picking out which toys they think are for girls and which ones are for boys or picking out the toy that looks like the most/least fun, etc.)

You can reduce the number of catalogs clogging your mailbox by registering at

Related: Cut wrapping paper scraps and seasonal catalogs into paper snowflakes


  1. Peter says

    I think I would generally agree with this – my young daughter loves looking through catalogs. However, the main drawback is that she then starts wanting stuff she’s never heard of before. We tend to limit TV time in our house as well so her exposure to commercials and thus the “need” to have certain toys is also diminished (and ours too!).

    I’ll admit that they can be fun to look through at times. Just wanted to throw out the cautionary part of it – we need to also be on guard against the excessive consumerism/materialism that catalogs encourage, especially in our children who really don’t know that they’re being influenced that way.

  2. kirsten says

    i agree with the above – some kids get to ‘wanty’ for the whole catalog thing.

    however, they’re so fun to look at sometimes. my boys love the playmobil and lego ones especially.

    a game i used to play as a kid was opening the catalog to a random page and pretending i could pick just one thing from it. or giving myself pretend ‘shopping spree’ with a set amount of money. when i chose an item i had to subtract the price (math skills!).

  3. inthefastlane says

    We used the Toys R Us great book that showed up on Sunday for some crafts while I was making dinner. My three year old got to cut pictures and paste them (we used a glue stick) to a cardboard box. This kept him occupied for an entire dinner prep.

  4. Lisa J. says

    Just a thought. . . what if you encouraged your child to identify toys he already has? We do this a lot in stores. It takes the focus off of what they want, and hopefully teaches them to be thankfully for what they have.

  5. Celeste says

    We got the Toys R Us catalog and my son has been paging through it everyday. He love looking at any of the ads we get on Sunday and enjoys looking at the comics. He’s 4 years old. He does tell me what he wants from the catalog and points out what he has. I tell him that just because he wants it doesn’t mean he will get it.

  6. Shannon says

    I have found that my 17 month old son loves the toy catalogs, yet has trouble not ripping the pages. So, my husband and I will take a page that he really likes and cut out the pictures for him and paste them onto index cards. Then he can look at the pictures and carry them around with him without shredding them.

  7. L says

    Playing various catalog games, particularly with playmobile catalogs, was one of the few things my brother and I could do for most of our childhood without fighting. I don’t remember it making us want more things, but we did come away with very specific playmobile wants.

  8. harmzie says

    There is always the danger of having the kids want things that they’ve never heard of, but I’d rather that than the TV ads. At least in a catalog they have a *little* more difficulty making a dull hunk of plastic look *ZOWIE*!!! FUN!!! My favourite is the “Explore Store” Catalog – only seems to come out around Christmastime and the toys lean more toward the edumakashunul.

    While they always start off wanting everything, they (my kids) will usually settle it down to a few favourites that make “The List”.

    I really like the idea of making them think about what would be more & less fun and I think I’ll try that!

  9. Marita says

    My oldest (5yo) cuts out items from the catalog that she wants and pastes them into a book.

    Catalogs are also a great aid for speech therapy exercises. I cut out a bunch of men and women and boys and girls images from the catalogs, stuck them to plain paper and laminated them. So far they have been used to teach our 3yo “Man / Lady” “Boy / Girl” and now we are learning “He / She”.

    We are also meant to be practicing categories with her. Starting with “Zoo Animal” / “Farm Animal”. The speech therapist recommended using the Fisher Price Little People toy animals. But it was far cheaper just to cut out the animal pictures from toy catalogs and laminate.

    A friend of mine with an older autistic child cuts out pictures of what she needs to buy at the store and puts together a visual shopping list. Time consuming but it does mean she can go shopping with her child.

  10. Samantha says

    Reading these posts reminds me of a game my little sister and I used to play with the big fat Penny’s catalog. I think we just came up with it on our own, but we called it ‘I give you, I give you.’

    We sat next to each other and put the spine of the catalog between us. We’d flip the pages and whatever was on our side of the catalog was ‘ours’, but we’d have to give one thing on our page to the other person.

    We’d quickly flip the page and say I give you *that*, and we’d point to what we’d give the other person. So, I guess that’s where the name ‘I give you, I give you’ came from.

    Sometimes, we’d mix it up and we’d close our eyes and run our finger all over the page until the other person said stop. Then, they would ‘get’ that item.

    Looking back, I guess it was a good thing that we were so ‘giving’, however I don’t think the game probably started that way.

    It probably started with us (or me becuase I’m older) saying everything on that side is yours and everything on that side is mine. I’m sure there was a point where the things on my sister’s side of the book looked better, so I made up the rule to give one thing to each other. The closing the eyes thing probably came up becuase I didn’t really like what she was giving me.

    Maybe what I could take from this for my kids would be to just let the kids come up with their own games. It’s amazing how creative they can get sometimes.

    Thanks for the post to bring back those memories!

  11. Lina says

    My little one loves playing with catalogs, but I get the long list of Mom-could-you-please-buy-me afterward. It is much safer to survive her running around when cooking meals then to listen to never ending “Mooom, remember… you’ve promised!”

  12. Jennifer says

    Good and bad, my kids don’t get the extreme “gimmies”, they see stuff they like but they quickly forget about it. (I would love to buy them a toy that holds their interest, but so few, if any, do! Thankfully that also means they don’t keep asking for stuff over and over, which is probably why this works for us to begin with.) But still, Samantha’s version of the catalog distraction is AWESOME! Especially when there is only one catalog handy. I love that instead of looking at the toys and thinking about what THEY want, they’re looking at things and thinking about their sibiling. Worked really well for us.

  13. Jennifer says

    Checking the mail one last time before leaving on a major summer road trip (house already locked), my son found a catalog from Smilemakers (or was it Oriental Trade Co?). He said he really, really wanted to look at it. I couldn’t decide which was worse–start the trip with a fit or deal with the ‘gimmees’ afterwards. We had a couple things to pick up 20 min down the road, so I decided to let him keep it that long. I had brought along some old news magazines and ‘grown-up’ catalogs (Lands End, etc) and his plastic scissors with the idea that he would do ‘my’ projects–cut out people and clothing for them, then cut out everything they needed for their house or cut out items for each letter of the alphabet. It turned out that the cheap plastic crap catalogue kept him happy for nearly the whole 6 hrs of driving that day. ‘Mama! Here’s Dora!’ ‘Oh–Scooby doo’
    He can read fine, but apparently never gave a thought to buying any of the stuff those characters were printed on.