Classic toys such as Barbie, Furby and Legos are making the lists of the hottest toys by several retailers who are polling customers for the upcoming Christmas season. It stands to reason, then, that other classics such as ant farms will still hold their own when it comes to those all-important holiday shopping lists.

Ant farms might seem low-tech, but they offer a considerable amount of what the toy industry calls play value as well as educational benefits.

Play value is defined by the level to which a child can engage with a toy. Building blocks are a vivid example. You can make houses, bridges, castles and more using your hands and your imagination. Meanwhile, a single-use toy like one where you push a button and it does one thing holds a child s interest only briefly and is soon abandoned.

Ant farms and other toys that require children to really participate in using the item have a much better chance of retaining a child s interest longer. If they come with good quality written materials, these toys help children learn.

In the case of ant farms, manufacturers are starting to use an edible, translucent gel in place of sand. The sand-filled varieties provide a much more hands-on experience because you first have to assemble the farm and then pour in the sand. Without the edible gel, you'll also need to feed the ants regularly. When your ants arrive, you need to put them in the refrigerator for several minutes to calm the nimble and lively little creatures down. That is important because if you open the vial of ants immediately, they re going to scurry everywhere rather than let themselves be placed neatly into the ant farm.

After that, you must take a tunnel tool (a rather fancy name for a stick) and poke some holes to make starter tunnels for your ants. It helps if the sand has been moistened beforehand. Many kits come with a water dropper because once the ants are inside, you must add water for them every few days.

Most children love hands-on activities, and taking charge of the water and the crumbs of food will be an exciting task, rather than just the mundane maintenance of attending to a pet.

After that, you get to observe your ants as they tunnel away, remove any waste and keep busy. Many ant farms recommend that you open the lid periodically to allow some fresh air in despite the existing air holes, which is something a child could do with supervision so ants don t scramble out.

The best ant farms offer things like specimen trays and detailed information about ants so that a child can remove an ant and inspect its anatomy.

Ant farms might appear at first to be a stodgy relic from the past, but many parents are looking for toys that will actually keep their child interested and active   without a touchscreen or a social network. Parents want value for their hard-earned money, and children want something to do that interests them.

The gift of an ant farm could turn out to be the kind of thing that will fulfill both desires.


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