Toys are pretty big favorites around here. And it’s seriously not just Olivia. Sometimes, I can’t wait until Olivia goes to bed so I can try and construct fanciful towers out of her building blocks (she likes knocking my towers down). We all enjoy the creative outlets that many toys bring, and the excitement of exploring a new “gadget.” Not just the one year old in our midst.
I also love watching my daughter play and explore her world. Toys really do help with development- playing with toys stimulates creativity, they help develop fine motor and cognitive skills, and they help children learn how to interact and react to their environment. They are really really important!
Yet, not all things that are labeled “toys” are necessarily beneficial. And something does not have to come from the toy section of the store to necessarily be a good toy. Like most other things in the jungle of baby-gear out there, toys do not have to cost a fortune to come by, and they also don’t need to be spilling out of every nook and cranny of your house to ensure that your child grows and develops happily.
What Is A Toy, Anyway?
I don’t really know what the “official” definition is, but I’m just going to make up my own anyway. I honestly think a toy is just something that is safe for a baby or child to interact with- something that sparks their interest or curiosity or creativity.
It can be the typical stuff: a doll, a ball, a set of legos, a paintbrush and paper. It can also be the not-so-typical stuff. I mean, we have all seen babies more fascinated by the tissue paper that their Christmas gift came in than the actual “toy” itself. Children can be entertained for hours by the simplest things- like a box or a fistful of grass clippings. How about kids who create their own worlds by turning couches or overhanging trees and bushes into full-fledged forts?
What If Less Really Is More?
A lot of the baby and kid’s industry is built around toys, toys, toys. The industry is constantly pumping out new toys, touting the wonderful skills a child can learn by picking up the latest hunk of plastic the industry has churned out. And it is so easy to get sucked into it- I mean, half the time I’m interested in seeing how the toy works and what the toy does!
But I really and truly think that more toys does not equal a better life for baby (or kid). We’ve all seen the kid with way too many toys complain of being bored. What the heck, kid! You are surrounded by stuff that is supposed to keep you entertained!
I personally think that the reason kids get bored so easily these days is precisely because they are drowning in piles and piles of toys, and particularly toys that don’t really foster creativity and imagination. How is it that there are many kids in the world, including our own grandparents when they were growing up, who are perfectly satisfied with just a ball and a stick? Or a train and a teddy bear? Or a few mixing bowls from mom’s kitchen?
I posit that these children can be content because they have been challenged to rely mostly on their own creativity and imagination rather than rely on “stuff” to fill the void of boredom. You can’t easily be bored if everything is an adventure and all you have to do is pull out your never-ending imagination (which children are particularly good at doing)!
Making Toys Count
I guarantee if you start to think of toys not just as stuff to keep your kid occupied, but as stuff to help foster your child’s own thinking skills and creativity, you’ll save money. You’ll be able to look at regular, everyday objects and find new uses for them, allowing your child to explore and play, without the cost of expensive plastic toys. And when these every day objects lose their appeal, as all toys eventually do, you won’t really be out anything. It’ll be on to the next adventure!
Most of the toys Olivia owns have come from other people. Olivia was showered with fun toys before she was born, and our friends and family have enjoyed giving her toys at Christmas and her birthday. It’s fun to see the personality of the various gift givers in the toys they pick out for Olivia, and it is very special! Every has a connection to someone Olivia loves.
The only time that we have personally gotten Olivia conventional toy was when I wanted to get her an excer-saucer. Olivia has always been an incredibly active child, and before she was able to stand upright on her own, I knew she would enjoy an excer-saucer. Instead of purchasing one brand-new, though, I asked around to a few of our friends with slightly older children to see if they had an extra one we could borrow or buy. And what do you know? Some friends of ours gave us theirs for free, along with a little musical train that Olivia can push or ride. How fun!
Every time Olivia gets a new batch of toys, we rotate out the old ones, and put them away for her future siblings to enjoy. We have also donated some of her toys that we just really didn’t feel impressed with enough to hold on to for round two. This way we do not have this crazy overwhelming clutter of toys- and it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean up! It also keeps things fresh for Olivia.
Besides that, though, I love having Olivia “help” me in the kitchen, playing with a set of stacking mixing bowls and a whisk, or letting her “sort” the Tupperware. She also loves “sorting” the laundry and dish towels. I’ve watched Olivia spend 15 minutes playing with a piece of paper before, no joke. Or she’ll become entranced by an empty box. She has recently discovered the joy of putting things in, and taking them out. Olivia is so very curious, and it is fun to explore our world together, allowing her free-reign of things, as long as they are not potentially dangerous to her, even if it means a little bit of a mess to clean up after!
Our Toy Criteria
Although Olivia would probably find contentment with non-conventional toys to play with, it is still fun to get her more conventional toys! So when we are looking for something to get, or people ask us what sort of toys they should get for Olivia, there are a few things that we like to keep in mind:
- We prefer non-plastic toys. One reason for this is that plastic degrades and releases toxins into the air. I know they make BPA-free stuff, but really, the whole BPA thing is fairly recent and I wonder how much more we have to learn about the effects of plastic on our bodies and our environment. We don’t totally eschew plastic, but we try to limit the amounts we bring into our home if we can help it.
- We prefer wooden toys. Not only do I feel like wooden toys are more safe (although the paint is a consideration), I also think that wooden toys allow for more creativity. They are much simpler, and the most common wooden toys are things like blocks or pegs or shapes. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with wooden toys.
- We prefer things that don’t make a whole lot of noises. You know what I mean? We don’t really like toys with a million buttons that talk and sing and are just plain obnoxious. But it’s not just because they are obnoxious. It’s just that if Olivia is going to learn songs, I prefer to teach them to her myself OR have her listen to real music, not just kiddie music. Whoever said that Bach or Beethoven has to be simplified for babies and kids? And I prefer to talk to and interact with Olivia myself- not have a bunch of plastic things talking to her an teaching her language. I mean, we do have one or two musical/talking toys, but it is just one or two, and so playing time is limited.
- We prefer toys that bring out creativity and thought. Things like blocks, or bubbles, or dress-up clothes. Or a set of cars or trains. Or animals. Things that have multiple uses. Things that Olivia enjoys now, but will also enjoy in five years!
How About You?
I’ll leave you with a great link I cam across- it’s a blog called I Can Teach My Child. Just as the name suggests, this blog is dedicated to equipping parents (like myself!) to be able to teach children at home, including through use of play and toys. There are many great posts about homemade toys, deals on toys, or re-purposed toys, and I’m sure you will find some inspiration there!
So with that- what is your definition of a toy? How have you kept your child engaged and fostered creativity with toys, conventional or otherwise? What criteria do you look for in the toys that you buy or bring in to your house? Leave a comment!