Sunday, 11 October 2020

How to Choose Toys for Your Children

I got asked this question often recently: what toys should I buy for my baby/toddler? And it's difficult to give an exact list, because children are so different from one another, some might like gross motor activities, while others prefer fine motor activities, others like destroying towers, others making them. In addition, some might like all of these, but in different periods of their lives (think of play schemas). So it's tough to recommend a specific list of toys.

I also feel like toys are overrated. We've bought expensive toys that E. barely looked at, but then we found leaves in a park that she played with for hours.

I perfectly agree with this quote from Simplicity Parenting: "Nothing in the middle of a heap can be truly valued. The attention that a child could and would devote to a toy is shortened, and eclipsed by having too many. Instead of expanding their attention, we keep it shallow and unexercised by our compulsive desire to provide more and more and more. Ironically, this glut of goods may deprive a child of a genuine creativity builder: the gift of their own boredom." What kids really need is a decluttered space to play in, lots of time to play, and a calm state of mind.

One piece of advice when thinking of buying a toy (fellow montessorians have heard this over and over) is to follow your child. This means that you shouldn't buy toys ahead of time ("Oh, this looks cool and I think that my daughter will like it when she grows and can use it"), but just see what your child in interested in doing and start from there.

It's perfectly ok to buy (some) toys, because not everyone has time for DIY projects in the evenings, when they should be resting after a long day at work, with the kids, etc.. But if you take a few minutes each day to observe your child, you will notice patterns in her play, see what interests her, and you can then provide materials to suit these needs. If your child likes transporting things, then provide her with empty baskets, bags, buckets, a wheelbarrow, and toys that she can move from one place to another. If your child likes arts and crafts, make an art station with crayons, paints, painting tools, stickers, stamps, etc. You get my point.

That's why I can't come up with a list that will definitely be helpful for all of you. I will try, however, to explain how we choose toys and what sort of toys E. has enjoyed in her first (almost) two years of life. I usually ask myself the following questions:

1. Can she use the toy now (based on interests, age, skill)? I've made this mistake SO MANY TIMES I'm ashamed to admit - I see a cute toy and can't help myself!

2. Can she use this toy for a longer time (is it meant for babies, or can she use it in a different way later?, Once she has mastered it, can she use it again, without getting bored?)

3. Is this toy open-ended? (If she can use a toy over and over again, and pour creativity into her play, then I will choose that over something else)

4. Is it durable and made from quality materials? (not every wooden toy falls automatically into this category!)

5. Can I make it myself and using better/safer ingredients/materials? (Playdough, slime, DIY projects from recycled materials)

6. Does it overstimulate my child? There are so many toys on the market that do too many things: the child presses a button and it pops a car out, the car makes sounds, has a remote control and lights, etc. But in the end, the child doesn't get to use her imagination and create a different scenario than the one it was intended for.

"The toys that strive to re-create a video arcade experience—complete with flashing lights, mechanical voices, speed, and sound effects—set the “stimulation bar” very high for your child. [...] So many things children experience today come with a rush of adrenaline. [...]Frequent bursts of adrenaline will also increase the cortisol levels in your child’s system, which are slower to build but also much slower to decrease. These hormones don’t differentiate between real and simulated stress. And the physiological effects of consistently elevated hormone levels are the same regardless of what triggers their release: so-called “entertainment,” or real danger." (Simplicity Parenting - Kim John Payne)

With these questions in mind, here's a list of toys that might fit more kids' interests:

- balls (big, small, textured, heavy/light, made of wood, plastic, wool, etc.)
- toy animals (figurines, that can be used in so many ways: with blocks, with playdough, with sand, in the bathtub, for counting, stacking, stamping, etc.)
- musical instruments (DIY or bought) (even when you have a baby, you can play for him and draw his attention to different sounds, kids can use them freely, or in musical activities
- scarves (the perfect open ended toy - I wrote a blog post about how your child can use them)
- child-sized cooking utensils - not used as toys, but they'll keep your child busy and learning through practical life activities (you can find a list on my blog,
- open ended tools and science toys: telescope, scoopers, tweezers, scissors, magnifying glass, pipettes, etc.

- building blocks and Lego
- resources for crafts: glue, paint, paper, paintbrushes, markers, crayons, stickers, stamps, etc.
- a few soft toys and dolls
- food and kitchen utensils (maybe real ones instead of toys?)
- outdoor toys (shovel, bucket, sand shapes)
- books, books, and more books (for babies, touchy feely books, #indestructibles, and Lift-the-flap books)

Don't forget to keep baskets, cardboard boxes and cardboard, gather things on nature walks (twigs, branches, pine cones, shells, leaves, acorns - but let your child use them under close supervision!).
You can also give your child a flashlight, blankets, boxes, and see what they come up with.

Even in a household with not too many toys, I recommend toy rotation - you can read in one of my previous posts about it.

Would you be interested in reading about where to start if you want to de-clutter toys? Or how we keep the toys that are out of rotation?

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