by Rachel Dunstan Muller
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Original Article: Click Here
Originally Published: November 2012
When I was a child, I had a best friend named Mary Jane who lived just around the corner. Mary Jane had her own princess-themed bedroom and two playrooms overflowing with toys. She must have had every Barbie accessory available in the late 70s, not to mention an Easy Bake oven that I coveted.
We had a lot of fun playing at Mary Jane’s house—but we had even more fun playing at mine. My toy collection was modest, but I had a big, unmanicured back yard that was perfect for tree-climbing, fort-making, and hide-and-seek playing. When the weather forced us inside, we made things with materials I kept in a shoebox. These weren’t fancy craft supplies. My shoebox held salvaged materials like rubber bands and cardboard tubes. We lost ourselves for hours working on our creations. I may have a selective memory, but I don’t remember ever complaining of boredom.
As the gift-giving season approaches, I’ve been thinking about my own children’s massive toy collection. It’s not that we spend our Saturdays at the mall. Most of my kids’ playthings were gifts from extended family, hand-me-downs, or things we picked up at garage sales. They didn’t cost us much financially, but lately I’ve been considering their other costs.
As parents, we give our kids toys because we love them, because it gives us pleasure to provide them with good things. We want them to have what their peers have—we certainly don’t want them to feel deprived. But there’s a line between enough and too much of a good thing. An overflowing playroom is overwhelming for a child—not to mention the stressed-out parents trying to keep on top of the clutter. Furthermore, too many choices can take away from the enjoyment of play, and discourage creativity and imagination. A constant flow of new toys also sends children the message that they need “stuff” to be happy—a perfect recipe for fostering materialism.
And then there are the significant environmental costs of manufacturing, packaging, transporting, and eventually land-filling each child’s personal mountain of playthings. For toys with lasting play-value the costs might be justified. But what about all the plastic gizmos that lose their novelty after a few days, and end up broken or gathering dust?
If your children—like mine—have far more toys than they need, there are strategies that can help you manage their collections. And if you’re a new parent starting out, these tips can guide you in building a sensible collection from the beginning.
Choose quality over quantity. Think about a toy’s quality and play-value when you choose it. Blocks, building sets, paints, crayons and play dough all encourage creativity, and won’t be outgrown quickly. Simple toys that can be played with in many ways are better than ones that have a single purpose or flashy “gimmick.” If it has batteries, it likely falls in the latter category. My siblings and I didn’t grow up with piles of toys, but that made the ones we did have more special. My parents still have some of our original playthings, which are now being enjoyed by a second generation. Because they were well-made, there’s no reason they won’t be used by the next generation as well.
Rotate toys. If your children like the toys they have, but just have too many to be enjoyed properly, consider putting half of them away. When you bring them out a month from now, put the other half away. You’ll be cutting your children’s clutter dramatically, while providing them with “new” toys to get reacquainted with. A child’s old toys are much more exciting and special after an absence.
Choose pre-loved toys. Avoid the financial and environmental costs of brand-new toys by giving your children quality pre-loved ones instead. Accept hand-me-downs from cousins. Organize swaps with friends. Shop consignment stores, thrift stores and garage sales, or look for bargains on Craigslist. When your children have outgrown their treasures, pass them on.
Make toys for or with your children. The web has some great ideas for DIY toys, from the simplest to the most sophisticated of projects. Do a search on Pinterest, and you’ll have enough inspiration for years. Your projects don’t have to be fancy. My father once brought home a box of assorted wood off-cuts, and they became material for towers and countless games of “Blockhead.” Paint pebbles to make pet rocks. Or take a large cardboard box and turn it into a fort or playhouse. The more you involve your kids, the better.
Provide your children with creative materials for their own projects. My six-year old daughter loves to make things, and we keep her well stocked with supplies. She has some basic things like scissors, crayons, masking tape and glue, but almost everything else comes from the recycling closet. It’s amazing what can be made from toilet paper rolls and yoghurt lids if you have some imagination!
Give children experiences. Twenty-first century life is hectic—it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving our children things instead of time. But children need our time and attention more than they need toys. My family wasn’t rich in money or “stuff,” but we were wealthy in other ways. My mother took us to the library regularly, and read us mountains of stories. My father did puzzles and played board games with us. Sunday afternoons were reserved for family excursions. In decent weather we hiked or beachcombed, and when it was bucketing outside we visited museums and art galleries. It’s not a coincidence that we remain a very tight-knit family now that my siblings and I are adults.
Take or send children outside. The great outdoors is still the best playroom of all. Children are physically and emotionally healthier when they have frequent access to nature, to run and climb and explore. And it’s healthy for us adults, too. We never outgrow our need for play!
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.
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