I’ve gotten a few years of motherhood under my belt now, and in that time, I’ve had a lot of experience with church nurseries, doctor’s offices, day care centers, and visits to other homes with children. It amazes me to see which toys survive the crucible of time and tiny hands. I was in the church nursery just this past Sunday and was amazed to see the same type of toy cash register still hard at work that I’d had as a child. It brought back fond memories from my own childhood, including playing with the toys at Grandma’s house. My aunts would peek in on all of us and smile to see their old playthings in use.
Then I remembered the time I searched all over the place for a cash register like that one. It was when one of my children was going through a phase; obsessing over playing store. I bought the best one I could find but that thing didn’t even survive her. It’s “sturdy plastic” that I’d hesitated over at purchase fulfilled my worst fears, becoming cracked then broken in less than a year. Outside of the opportunity of being recycled to make mosaics from the broken plastic, this kind of poor construction and waste is happening with way too many of the toys on today’s market. Even when they don’t break, they wear so badly that you don’t want to keep them! Twenty years from now, will my children run into anything that they recognize? Will my grandchildren be able to breathe new life into the same playthings that delighted their parents? I don’t know, but in over a decade of child-rearing, I’ve learned the the truth of that old maxim, You get what you pay for.
Rather than thinking of the here, now and immediate, I’ve learned to think of gratifying my children on a long-term basis. Almost nothing approaches tragedy to the minds of little children as the demise of a beloved toy. O what scenes of bereavement have played before my eyes for the loss of Ella Elephant, Popper-Pop Gun, the Merry-Go-Round jewelry box and DJ, Lizzie and Flo the CARS Cars. You’d think sackcloth and ashes were in order from all the hullabaloo!!! Everyone wailing over the arms that got twisted off the musical clown toy, and yet I can still go home and find the apple toy that all my siblings and I played with still fully functional and in one piece. Since there’s more quantity than quality in today’s toy market, I’ve learned to stop and consider what I really want before I buy in the first place. (Even in searching for images, I could find the apple toy all over the Internet, but I couldn’t find the clown anywhere.)
1. Consider buying wooden toys and puzzles instead of cardboard and plastic, so if they’re used as hockey pucks, teething rings or play food, they’ll still be around next week. Wood is a natural material and many of today’s better-made wooden toys have non-toxic finishes. Sure beats China.
2. Avoid any stuffed animal that can not survive the dinner table, the mud puddle or the washing machine. We especially like toys with long arms, legs, tails, trunks, etc because the children can tie them to swings, wagons, bike handles or whatever. Do not allow favorite toys to leave the house unless you somehow have a duplicate… or are willing to never have them come back again.
3. I know the market is flooded with them, but from age 0 to 5, try not to buy battery-operated toys. Imagination, creativity and time spent with the toy all seem to decrease when the batteries do all this developmental work for them. I’ve found this to be especially true for boys. Educational toys are okay, but some of them still go distractingly overboard, in my opinion. Avoid the colossal waste of time that is video games, thus sparing yourself a heckofalotta headaches later. Your kids friends will be more than happy to share their Wii systems with your children.
4.Instead of expensive fancy plastic building sets, consider the merits of good old-fashioned wooden blocks. My boys have spent hours and hours more time playing together with our wooden blocks, then they ever have with their Legos or K’nex. They never seem to fight with blocks, either, but work cooperatively to create their masterpieces. Modern building sets have their limitations, too, while I’ve found that the only limitation to wooden blocks is not having enough of them.
5. Rather than entertainment, what children really want is time. Time to talk, play and cuddle.Time with YOU. The best investment I have ever made in my children are the books I selected carefully for our home and the time we spent reading them. Character education is so important in the early years that I won’t waste my time reading them anything which isn’t of true, lasting benefit to their hearts and minds. Every moment counts. What they read comes out in what they play.
6. Today’s children don’t want fake versions of real tools any more than my daughter wanted that piece-of-junk cash register. If my son wants a tool set, I give him a real tool set – hunting all over, if I have to, for child-sized items. If my daughter wants a play kitchen, I sew her an apron, buy her real cookie cutters and rolling pin, and then we bake in the kitchen together. Real rakes, real brooms, real equipment doesn’t break their enthusiasm and confidence because they never discover that they were wasting their time with something that never was real in the first place… which is why we don’t have fake vacuums or fake lawnmowers in our house either. For a real nurse or doctor kit, I’ve even bought real stethoscopes. They’re not much more expensive.
7. Resist the temptation to let any object or entertainment be your replacement or a babysitter. We bond to what we spend our time on or with. Consider if you totally agree with the messages of the media you purchase – played over and over and over – to be a part of your child’s core value system… they will quote from it and remember what they see and hear now forever.
8. Homemade and handmade are not dirty words, if the item is well made. Sometimes these toys mean far more to a child because of the love that went into them. One of my aunts made me a rag doll and two stuffed animals as a child. They were such beloved and favorite toys that when I ran across the pattern for the very same mouse animal I’d had, I made them for my little nieces and nephews last Christmas. So, seamstresses and woodworkers, despair not!
9. Less IS more. Less is more. Less really, really is more. Kids need time just to be kids… the unique, wonderful, hilarious kids that they are!
Here are some of our top picks for durability and quality from our own experience; my candidates for ending up in the survivor toy box. Remember, though some may be expensive, they’re good toys. I’ve been able to find some of them at more affordable prices in good used condition on Craigslist or eBay.
Plan Toys Miracle Pounding Toddler Toy
Plan Toys Alligator Pull Toy
American Girl Dolls
Brio Train tracks and NON-ELECTRIC trains (until age 5)
Standin’ Tall character education series
Pre-2004 Fisher Price Little Peoples
These get the posthumous Medal of Honor for giving Toyland their all:
Educational Insights Phonics Firefly : lasted 13 years through 3 kids
Wee Sing video series (Used VHS tapes were given to us when another family was done, and we completely wore them out. Get the DVD’s)
Vitec Kidizoom camera : loved all day, every day, by one of my boys
My oldest child is already in her teens. I can’t believe time flew so fast. I am glad I can look back and see where I tried to make those fleeting moments quality moments that counted for something. I know we live in a virtual age, and maybe that’s my fear. When the dust has settled and my children have all moved on, I am hoping the Velveteen Rabbit and I ( maybe a little worse for the wear, but still here) can look back with satisfaction… and remember the love that made everything Real.