The most oft-recited “nugget” about kids, besides that they don’t let you sleep, is that they’re expensive. Calculators exist so you can estimate how much money you’re going to spend on them in a given year. (Oddly, most of these calculators don’t include health insurance which is, so far, the only thing we’ve spent a massive amount of money on.)
Making choices about toxic materials in children’s stuff is also often met with, “That’s expensive. I can’t afford it.”
With the right mindset, it’s possible to have a happy kid without tons of plastic or tons of cash.
“You don’t buy plastic? What do you use?”
I have heard this question dozens of times with regard to our son, currently 16 months old.
Cotton, wood, stainless steel, glass, depending on what we’re replacing.
Glass bottles hold milk just as well as plastic ones. (Yes, the collar to hold the nipple in place is still plastic. If we are going to use bottles, there’s no avoiding that.)
His dishes and cup are stainless steel. We have one of each and give them a quick wipe-down after each meal or snack. We don’t use a sippy cup (all of the lids have at least one plastic component). Instead, he drinks straight from a cup. On the few occasions that he prefers a straw, we use paper straws.
But most of the time, people really just want to know what he plays with.
A few stuffed animals. Blocks. A pounding bench. Hand puppets. Balls.
A Leapfrog table. (That was from grandma and grandpa.)
But his favorite things to play with are household items.
He loves to scoop things from one container to another. (Two mixing bowls, a spoon, and some dry beans entertained him for an hour and a half one evening. Dry oats are also big fun.)
He loves to remove and replace lids. Two different-sized pots with lids keep him focused for a long time, trying out the lids on the correct and incorrect pots. Nesting the pots and trying out the lids that way. Picking up the entire pile at once and trying it all again five feet away.
A smattering of flour on a cookie sheet, along with a bowl and spoon to scoop into and out of. (We play with these outside.)
One of his favorite toys? The old tea kettle. I got a new one for my birthday and let him play with the old one, expecting to give it away on Freecycle a day or two later… and it has remained in his arsenal since then.
He loves to take everything out of the spice cabinet and then put it all back. Over and over.
Give him a bowl of water and permission to make a mess and he will have a great time. Two bowls last even longer, as he’ll pour water back and forth.
He doesn’t have a massive number of toys (though he still manages to make a significant mess with what he has), and we rotate the toys he does have, both to keep his interest and to reduce the mess.
And — how could I forget? — he, like every other child on the planet, loves boxes. He crawls through them, hides behind them, puts things in and out of them, carries them around (empty and not). He hits them with his wooden mallet (from the pounding table), hits them on the floor, wears them as hats.
Boxes are extremely versatile, never go out of style, and are easy to come by. We haven’t specifically purchased a box yet.
Fewer, but better
I have often heard people say that they can’t afford to buy well-crafted wooden toys.
While well-crafted wooden toys are definitely more expensive than their “affordable” counterparts, you don’t need hundreds of them. I’d rather spend $100 on two or three really good toys than the same $100 on a dozen or more plastic things that are toxic or won’t last or both.
The problem with toys that entertain children is that it primes them to need to be entertained instead of to be active. If all they need to do is push a button and then sit back and watch, their part is almost completely passive. Children will learn what “blue” is without a talking toy to tell them.
“I bought all these expensive toys and all he plays with is the wrapping paper and the boxes!”
So why not just give him wrapping paper and boxes?
“Because he needs toys!”
Seriously — if what he loves to play with is wrapping paper and boxes…
My boy has a rich life, full of objects of many sizes, shapes, colors, sounds, textures. He works on gross and fine motor skills and problem-solving. He delights in his discoveries. I have gotten countless comments about what a happy baby he is.
Let go of the belief that more is better, or that children need toys that light up and talk and play music in order to learn.
Instead, give them real objects (inspected for safety, of course!) and high-quality toys to play with. They’ll love it, they’ll be better for it, and you’ll be richer for it!
What are your favorite durable, plastic-free, worth-the-value kids’ toys – for all ages?
Comment and share!