My 7-year-old son recently conducted an interview with his Great Grandmother for a school project. He had to compare ‘Past’ and ‘Present’ by asking questions about her lifestyle as a child and comparing the answers to how we live today. Being a 7-year-old, his questions were naïve and the answers from Great-Grandma were equally simple, but the exercise proved to be very thought-provoking and left me considering just how much toys, play and society have changed in the past 90 years.
The part of the interview with 93-year-old Great-Grandma that most got me thinking was this:
Son: “What sort of toys did you have as a child?”
GG: “I didn’t really have any toys – my brothers and sisters and I (there were 9 of us) shared a tennis ball and a skipping rope.”
Son: Silence. Crickets chirping.
GG: “I got my very first doll when I was 12 years old.”
So that’s a grand total of three toys for Great-Grandma back in the 1930’s. THREE TOYS! In comparison, research from 2008 found that the average Australian household had over 100 toys.
Many parents today feel overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” their children have. Seemingly endless pieces of plastic shoved into baskets and toys with flat batteries stuffed under beds. Buying more toys makes them feel anxious and guilty – “Am I just adding to the clutter? Will this even get played with?”
Many of our customers come into the shop, look around and remark on how lucky children are today, how many toys their children or grandchildren have and how “they actually don’t need any more toys.” So how many toys is too many? How many toys is just enough? The answer will obviously vary from family to family, but we have put together some tips that may help you find the right balance for yours.
1. Choose Quality Over Quantity. When selecting toys for your own children or as gifts for others, it is always best to bypass the shoddy, cheap plastic junk (you know what I’m talking about!) and instead buy something that is a quality, well-made toy. Although quality products may cost more in the short-run and seem expensive at first, they will certainly last longer than cheaper, inferior options. It is also much nicer to be surrounded by fewer toys that you know are awesome, rather than lots of tacky plastic stuff that messes with your chi! Check out Grimms wooden toys for an example of beautiful quality toys.
2. Select Toys that will Last for More than One Child. When you’re buying toys, consider all of the children in your family and choose items that will appeal to multiple children. When purchasing higher-end toys it’s important that you get your money’s worth, so have a good think about whether a toy can be played with by a wide range of ages and both genders. You want to invest in toys that will potentially last for generations and offer timeless play appeal to children for many years. A beautiful example of this is a Brio train set. We have so many customers who add pieces to their 30-year-old Brio set for their grandchildren – it warms my heart every time!
3. Go for Classic Toys. Great-Grandma’s old toys may have been basic in modern terms, but they had a lot going for them! Classic, simple toys encourage imagination, creative play and basic skill development. You don’t want toys that do all the work (and play) for your child! Toys such as wooden building blocks, baby dolls and doctors sets are fabulous for imaginative play and developing skills that are developmentally appropriate, as well as fun and engaging!
4. Avoid Fads. Kids love to have (or repeatedly request) the latest “fad” toys. Unfortunately, interest in these crazes is often short-lived and the value of these products fail to live up to expectations. It’s easy for children to become wrapped up in the latest fad and sometimes it’s tough for parents not to give in! Seriously, how did we end up with 5 fidget spinners? Fads are all about instant gratification. One way to encourage patience, avoid fads and offer children an opportunity to learn about the value of money is to have children earn these types of toys by doing jobs at home. Often children will decide on their own that the fad toy actually isn’t for them. And if they do end up with it, they will tend to value it more as they have worked for it.
5. Reassess and Purge Regularly. William Morris said that if something is not beautiful or useful, it should not be in your home. This is also true with children’s toys! If something does not bring your child joy or contribute to purposeful play, it’s time to say goodbye. Set yourself time regularly to clear out the toys. Ask yourself “Is this toy adding positively to my child’s life? Is it played with regularly?” Throw-out broken toys and re-home toys that are no longer played with.
It’s unavoidable that your child will have more toys than Great-Grandma, but by consciously selecting quality toys that will last you will minimise waste, increase the value of play experiences and positively contribute to your child’s development.