With the festive season in full swing – in our home we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas – there is a lot of focus on gift giving, and now we have a child I feel like that has ramped up a notch. I feel like I can’t look anywhere for adverts for the latest “must have” baby toys, books, and clothes. I can absolutely understand wanting to do nice things for the little people in your life that you love so much, but I also worry that there can be too much of a good thing.
We have tried to make an effort since Frida was born to be quite picky and strict about the sort of toys we buy her, preferring open-ended, non-gender specific toys made from natural materials, particularly Montessori or Waldorf inspired items. Even with this criteria in mind, I feel like she has a lot of them! We are in the process of turning her “room” into a mini-playroom (easy as she sleeps in the family bed so no need for a cot) and in the process of sorting and arranging I have been surprised at just how much stuff she has already. She’s only eight months old!
I have been reading the fantastic Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (recommended by the fantastic Davina from Seeds and Stitches) and what he writes about toys really resonates with me. He writes that having too many toys can lead to too many choices for children and can lead to a feeling of overwhelm, compared with a smaller selection which invites deeper play and engagement. He suggests radically decreasing the number of toys your children have access to, getting rid of those without “staying power” and putting some others in a home “toy library” that you can rotate.
He asks us to consider with a toy whether it is something a child can pour imagination into (for example bricks which can be a fort or a tower or a zoo enclosure or a mountain), or whether it is “fixed”, meaning too finished, too detailed, and only capable of one thing (you press this button and it makes this sound) or so complex it can only break.
He suggests that the toys to go on the “discard pile” should include broken toys, toys that are developmentally inappropriate (for example ones tied to a particular age range or tv show), conceptually fixed, toys that “do too much or break too easily”, very high stimulation (with flashing lights and mechanical voices which fuel adrenaline), annoying or offensive toys, toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge, toys you are pressured to buy, toys inspiring corrosive play, and multiples.
Wow! It sounds like quite a lot. It’s not all doom and gloom though – even when you remove all of these items, there are so many lovely things for babies and children to play with. Companies like Myriad Toys, Little Acorn to Mighty Oaks and Natural Connection all sell some beautiful open ended toys, and you can also make fun ones yourself by filling jars and bottles with materials. Simple scarves, dolls, and sensory items are all brilliant for babies of this age, and Frida really enjoys playing with natural materials like twigs and leaves (perfect for tearing up and scrunching). Wonderful Montessori website The Kavanaugh Report has a great blog post on Montessori toys from 0-5.
Frida is eight months and her some of her favourite toys at the moment include:
- Grimms stacking bowls
- A little trug filled with musical instruments (rattle, maracas, tambourine, castanet, bells, traditional African shaker)
- A basket with three little jars filled with bright wooden beads / lentils / rice
- Frida Kahlo doll (I also love this so much!) and a little Waldorf inspired “baby”
- A remote control to a colour-changing light we have, my purse, spoons, mugs…
For the festive season we have bought her some Holztiger farm animals, and a set of Grimms wooden cars. These are beautifully made and we think she will play with them for a good few years to come.
We have been really lucky as we have communicated our toy preferences to our families and they seem to get it, and have already bought Frida some beautiful toys we know she will cherish for years to come. Its’s a bit harder when it comes to extended family or family friends, who perhaps don’t know how we feel. I have to admit that we have given some gifts away to charity or to others who would appreciate them more. Naturally this will become harder as Frida gets older and has her own wishes about what she plays with and owns, but for now I don’t feel guilty about making what I hope are positive choices for her.
Gosh that was a long post. How do you manage the onslaught of toys at this time of year? Do you go with the flow and embrace the toy chaos, or do you also try to be picky about what your children play with?