Sunday, May 09, 2010

Toys for My Kids

One of my friends commented on my clothing post and asked for my toy philosophy.  I was going to respond in a comment back to her but found I had more to say than I thought.  This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and I much less certain about my thoughts on this but I'll share where I'm at right now.  My toy philosophy is still evolving.

I think it's important to remember that I homeschool my kids so our home environment is also our school environment--that fact influences my thinking on this subject a lot.  Also, this is what works for me - I don't think everyone should or will want to do it the same.  The goals of my toy philosophy are to limit mess potential and clutter and promote creative and imaginative play and learning.

1.  Keep toys contained and locked.  When kids are little (babies and toddlers) clear plastic bins with lids are sufficient.  When they are able to open the bins then moving the bins to a locked closet is a good idea.  I don't have a linen closet but I do have a toy closet.  It's more important to me to keep the toys inaccessible without my help.  I bought a wire closet system to fit my space and then measured the height of toy bins and set the system up to fit my containers.  I'll post a picture if I can find it on my other computer.  (Can't find the usb cord for my camera right now - so annoying!)  This closet contains 90% of Isabel's toys and materials for craft/science projects and I installed a flip lock at the top.  In addition, she has a dollhouse, tinkertoys, and blocks in her bedroom closet.  We keep most of the dollhouse furniture in the closet.  We also have games at the top of the coat closet.  Having most things in the locked closet really limits her ability to make a mess.  I usually only let her have 1-2 containers of stuff out at a time, even when friends are over.  On ideal days I remember to have her clean everything up before dinner.  On many days it sits overnight and she has to do it in the morning before we have devotional.

The twins toys are in bins in their room and it will be time soon to figure out a closet option for their stuff - maybe an armoire for their room as I don't have any more closet space.

2.  Only Keep As Many Toys As You Can Contain.  At least twice a year, usually around birthday and Christmas, we go through Isabel's toys and get rid of tons.  I put a few things in the storage shed for younger siblings to use someday but most of it gets donated.  I try to purge before her birthday and Christmas so there is empty space waiting to receive her new toys.  We only keep as much as will fit in the toy closet.  She knows the drill now and has learned that you don't really miss the toys you get rid of.  She's also learned how to prioritize her toys.  We purge without tears or trouble.  During the rest of the year we have the 1-in-1-out rule.  If she wants to add a toy to the closet it has to fit or she has to get rid of something to make room for it.

3. Don't Keep Junk.  I don't know where it comes from but junky little toys seem to appear from nowhere and inundate our home.  You know the kind - little, plastic, useless toys that break quickly and clutter your home.  I think Fast Food Restaurants (yes, I do go to them every now and then, less lately), The Dentist, and Birthday Parties are most responsible.  I give Isabel 48 hours to play with these type of toys and then we throw it away.  She's used to this and doesn't have trouble with it.  I also make sure that I never, ever buy these types of toys.  It's tempting when you are filling stockings, easter baskets, and birthday party bags but I refuse to do it!  I don't want them in my home and I doubt anyone else does either.  I consider them a waste of time, money, and space.

4.  Buy Books, Bandaids, and Art Supplies Instead.  I hardly ever buy toys.  The last time I can remember buying anything was over a year ago (Tinker Toys).  Grandmas and Grandpas have so much fun buying toys for the kids that they keep us more than stocked up.  When I'm shopping for Christmas, birthdays, stockings, and easter baskets I buy books, art supplies, and other things that I wouldn't normally buy my kids like over-priced character bandaids and fancy character toothbrushes.  Santa is famous for these at our house.  I also buy the music for ballet suites on CD for Isabel - she loves these.  I find these things get used a lot more and add to my kids' lives rather than cluttering and overwhelming them.  My kids are not used to getting much besides books on a regular basis and I only get a very few things for birthdays and Christmas so I think they appreciate gifts a lot.  I love the chapter about Christmas in Little House in the Big Woods.  It really puts things in perspective for me.  Those kids had nothing but they didn't feel poor and they truly appreciated their Christmas gifts.  They understood what makes a happy life and it wasn't things.

5.  "Dull and Lifeless Toys".  This is a new idea I'm still mulling over but I think I agree with it for the most part.  I got it from a TJED 2010 Forum lecture by Keri Tibbetts: A Journey Through Core Phase.  Tibbetts only gives her kids a small assortment of what she calls "dull and lifeless toys."  This means no batteries, lights, sounds, or buttons.  She even says no to toys that come in a set with lots of pieces and are scripted or designed to be played with a certain way.  She believes that kids will supply the creativity and activity to make the dull and lifeless toys fun.  By giving children scripted and entertaining toys we stifle children's creativity and their desire to do the hard work necessary to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.  This is really important for me to consider as a homeschooler.  As I said, I'm still thinking about this one.  I want to listen to Tibbetts lecture a few more times to really understand her argument and consider it.  In her favor, she has a nine year old who learned to read at seven  and two years later read and enjoyed Ivanhoe, something I have yet to do.  She attributes this to the environment she's created in her home - I think she may be right.

I guess I'm struggling right now with the fact that my little boy LOVES toys with music, sounds, and lights.  I do see though that by playing with these he uses no creativity and does no work, just gets entertained.  I don't want to stifle his natural ability and desire to think and play creatively.  Also, this might break the Grandparents hearts if I asked them to not give us battery toys anymore.  I've always been skeptical of "educational" toys, videos, and computer games.  They seem much more like entertainment to me than education. Hmmmm......

Update:  I did decide to go with dull and lifeless toys and the result was pretty amazing.  I wrote about it here.

8 comments:

Sea Star said...

Toys are a problem at our house too. My kids have way more then they should and they are a distraction. After reading Keri's Headgates e-book, I did purge of a lot of our toys. There are still more to go but I know if I did it all at once my kids would loose it. So we are slowly getting rid of things. I don't know if I could ever talk them into getting rid of Legos. Keri points out that she considers them scripted but my boys don't build the objects the set is supposed to make. They come up with their own. They do love the mini figures though. Star wars and Indiana Jones are favorites around here.

I feel like we are headed in the right direction but still have a long way to go!

Rae said...

Just a thought for Liam as he gets older. My boys love track systems (i.e trains, cars etc). There are a lot of pieces (we keep in bins) but they use their creativity in putting the track together in different ways. They find that one way may not work so they have to re-work it to make it right. They are being their own engineers. Then they have the satisfaction of watching the car or train go whether it is by pushing or batteries.

Erica said...

Thank you for posting your ideas on TOYS. I swear the toys in our house are breeding or something...seriously they seem to be multiplying. I actually try hard to be a minimalist in this area, but have found that things can quickly become out of control again. I love your 1 in 1 out rule and Santa also brings us bandaids and toothbrushes in our kid's stockings as well. Recently I read a book by John Rosemond in which he says that if a toy was not in production prior to 1955 it's probably not worth buying. The more I think about this, the more I agree with this...We LOVE Legos and while we don't have Tinker Toys, I think they meet some of the same needs...Anyway, could go on and on...thank you...your ideas have inspired me...gotta go clean out our toy closest. :)

Oh, by the way...what do you put in goody bags at your kid's parties? I am not a fan of lame little toys, but I also don't love coming home with a bunch of SUGAR!

Jennifer said...

Thanks Rae, I'll think about that.

Jennifer said...

Erica,

I love the toys before 1955 idea. I agree with you on the sugar thing. For stockings, easter baskets and party bags I do a very small amount of treats. I fill up the rest of the space with post-its, crayons, little blank notebooks, stickers, bandaids, etc. I've also considered skipping the party bag and just getting all the guests a cheap copy of a classic book. Dover thrift titles are as inexpensive as $1.50/book. I look at their website to find what I want and then call my local bookstore and ask them to order like 10 copies of a Dover Thrift title which they will do for free. Then I don't pay shipping. I do this for Christmas gifts for adults too...Dickens Christmas Carol is only $1 from Dover.

Pugsley said...

In defense of legos (and possibly other "scripted toys"), my brother was/is a lego fanatic and he is now a successful architect and one the most brilliant and creative people I know. I think it's okay to let kids follow directions (and I've even changed my mind about coloring in the lines). The most creative people in the past and present (writers, musicians, artists) learned the rules before they could effectively break the rules. Picasso said something to this effect: "When I was young I could paint like the masters, but it took me a lifetime to learn to paint like a child." I've gone on a really big tangent, oh well...

Jennifer said...

That is something to think about Alyson. Thanks.

Lance said...

Very interesting food-for-thought! I couldn't get girls to play with something as it was "desinged" to be played with if I tried! But I've always loved that. It does get interestsing when the recycling bin and trash cans get involved in the play...but oh well! ;) We got rid of our huge doll house because they would much rather play the real thing using the doll house figurines as random props for their purses (ie. keys, combs, etc etc) What you didn't post here that I loved when we talked about this was the idea of having ALl the toys in one big bin. Nothing categorized and allowing them to take toys outside. It's always made much more sense to me to let them take their dolls and other "props" outside with them because it added fuel to their imaginations but sometimes the clean freak in me would feel conflicted. Now I feel more validated in that orginal thought so I think I will just go with it and tell the clean freak to "let-it-go". As for the toys in one bin, I'm mulling that over more and more. That's how we have Ella's Baby toys and it works great...who says you can't do it with older kids toys! :)