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27 May, 2008


Every child has them. You can’t avoid them. Well meaning friends, family and distant acquaintances will bring your child gifts of soft toys and all assortment of rattles and doodads upon the announcement of their birth. It’s as if our society welcomes the birth of a child by indoctrinating them from the moment of birth into the philosophy of “STUFF”. Don’t get me wrong, practical gifts of clothing, manchester and the occasional toy are an enormous blessing to a new family putting together a nursery or just meeting the growing and changing needs of their “bundle of joy”, however no child needs 27 stuffed animals, 46 ratttles and 52 assorted other “toys”.

As your child gets older, the toys inevitably get bigger, or have more pieces, or have small hard pieces that get trodden on in the middle of the night. Today’s children have more toys of their own than could be found in a small country town one hundred years ago.

Toy Philosophy

How do you control the toy clutter? How do you decide what stays and what goes? What is your toy philosophy?

We have had our share of bad toy purchases. Over the years we developed a philosophy (at first, unconsciously) about the toys we allow in our home. It generally works well and is necessary given the restricted space we have.

Firstly, I detest battery operated toys. Yes, we have some, but we don’t purchase these for our children. I hate the lights and sound and “press a button and it will do this” limitations. The electronic noise drives me crazy! At this point in time I think that between our two preschoolers they have one battery operated toy and a small torch each.

Secondly, and more importantly, we have a strong preference for open ended toys. Open ended toys inspire imagination and require a child to be present and active in play, as opposed to the passivity inspired by many single function and electronic toys. We have a large selection of wooden train track pieces, a container of assorted vehicles, a container of “people and animals”, dress ups (with a particular emphasis on “doctors things”, just what the kids like and have been given), a dolls house with furniture, Duplo blocks and, more recently, Lego bricks. For more artistic endeavours we have playdough, crayons, pencils, textas, chalk, paints and assorted crafty odds and ends. We have plenty of books. We also have puzzles and board games – our family are quite enthusiastic about our board games!

Baby Toys

Our five month old baby has a basket of her own toys. Already there are some definite favourites. She loves the Alimrose Designs“Bush Baby” she was given by her godmother, which is a “doll” and rattle in one. She also likes the Knot Doll I bought her for Christmas.

Toys for Preschoolers

Our most played with toys would have to be the figurines from our “people and animals” box. They come from a variety of sources but our favourites are Schleich models (which are hardy enough to withstand rough play but are intricate and accurate and just beautiful to look at) and wooden animals and people such as this bull I bought our son for Christmas.

Playdough is another favourite around here, although I don’t get it out as often as the kids would like me to. Dress ups are also popular and range from old clothes belonging to adults (either as is or modified) to character-oriented purchases, however the kids get the most use out of very basic materials such as a play cloth or fabric remnant.

This month there’s been a lot of talk on blogs I read about toy clutter and how to keep control of it. 43 Folders talked about the masses of clutter that children attract and Unclutterer talked about setting limits on gifts.

There can be a tendency to become a gift nazi. Really, life is too short to get hung up about every item that comes into your home or every gift the children are given. We have a few simple rules for what we let our children have. For toys it is no Barbie/Bratz dolls and no guns/weapons at this point in time. For clothes it is that they must cover the shoulder and have some sort of sleeve. That’s it. Since we have a few very basic rules they tend to get respected.

If we’re asked for suggestions for gifts, we will generally suggest something practical that the kids need or want, something consumable (such as playdough or paints), something that adds to a set they already have (such as Duplo or train set pieces) or something they can experience – a season pass to a venue or tickets to something.

One suggestion that frequently comes up is that of rotating toys. I, personally, think that is a bad idea because it reinforces the need to fill our lives with stuff. Kids are truly entertained with very little – the cardboard insert that came out of a sheet set became a surfboard the other day or a large box becomes a cubby house or a space ship. Children learn to occupy themselves instead of living this culture of constant entertainment or boredom.

We have limited space and therefore have to limit the amount of toys the kids have. However, they are an active part of the decision making process. They chose to keep toys I would gladly see the back of but they are their own people and my job is not to “control” them.

Stepping back and focusing on the essentials helps bring some perspective to the situation. Read the comments on the aforementioned blog posts to see how worked up some people can get about this.

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