More on Toys


Our good friends, John and Lila, recently sent us a book for Christmas, called The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule.

Elizabeth just read to me the passage below about toys (pp. 29-33), and it really brought a lot to mind.

Firstly, it reminds me of the Rousseau-influenced post about toys I wrote sometime last year, and this may be part of the reason they thought the book would be well suited to us.

It also follows well both Erika’s comment regarding the best toy being a water bottle partly filled with beans as well as Basil’s newfound fascination with kitchen items.



Our lives today are full of more and more “stuff.”  The things we have around us and the things we see in our daily lives all greatly affect the way in which we create.  Before you bring toys into your home, I encourage you to think about the following questions and apply them not only to new toys coming in, but the toys already in your home as well.

Is It Beautiful?

Do the tools and toys around you evoke a feeling of beauty?  By choosing carefully what toys you bring into your home, you can encourage a love and appreciation for good design and craftsmanship.  Choosing to surround ourselves with beautiful design can be a great source of inspiration.  Choose toys that are handcrafted, when possible.  Search out toys that feel good to touch and hold and are visually pleasing.  Think beyond the big-box store for your children’s toys and look to antique shops, thrift shops, your local woodworker, and “natural” toy catalogs (see links below).  Finding toys that will hold up to lots of use and play—versus poorly made toys that will break easily—will encourage your children to value human work and experience over consumption.

Is It Simple?

Many modern toys are sophisticated and technologically complicated, which certainly have their place and importance in our lives.  But the downside is that they can often eliminate a need for imagination when playing.  If there’s a toy that does it all for you, there’s little room left for creativity.  Think about selecting toys that can be used in a multitude of ways and that evoke imagination and creative expression.  Many classic, simple toys of the past are full of these creative possibilities.  Look beyond the plastic dolls that “do everything” and head toward a simple cloth doll that can grow with a child or a big basket of wooden blocks that can be a toddler’s stacking tower or a child’s fort.  Toys that grow with a child will encourage even more imaginative play; the way they use the toys will change over the years.

What Is It Made Of?

Can you tell how a toy is made?  While there is certainly room and a need for some manufactured plastic in our lives, we also need to make much more room for simple, natural materials.  Does your children’s toy selection show an adequate representation of nature?  Is there wood?  Cloth? Natural fibers?  Not only do these toys feel good to play with and connect children to the outside world, but they are also often strong enough to last a lifetime and even more.  I think we should consider our toy materials in the same way that people talk about whole foods: the closer to the original source, the better.  Can you picture your toy growing somewhere on the earth?  Wooden blocks, felt balls, and cotton dolls are often some of the best toys.

What Senses Does It Use?

Do the toys in your home evoke the use of many senses?  We experience the world through our senses—with our ability to see, hear, feel, touch, and taste—and children are particularly sensitive to this as they discover the world with fresh eyes, ears, and so on.  Try to include at least one toy in your home that represents each of the senses.  And the ones that encourage play while using more than one sense?  Even better!

How Is It Organized?

In our own adult creative lives, it helps the creative spirit tremendously when things are accessible, easy to find, and available.  Beginning a project seems much less like a monumental feat when the materials are readily at hand.  If too much time is spent looking for what you need, creativity often goes by the wayside.  Keeping toys organized in baskets, boxes, and on shelves (all within easy reach for little ones) helps so that children know just where they are when inspiration strikes.

Is There Too Much?

When it comes to playthings for our children, I can’t emphasize enough that for creative play, less really is more in regard to toys.  Between generous gifts from family members, hand-me-downs, and accessible inexpensive toys, it is quite likely that our homes are cluttered and full of playthings.  A sad product of our modern world is that our children are taught early on to over-consume and to want more, more, and more.  Chances are that they do not need more toys, but fewer.  When there are too many things around, there’s little room for imagination.  Clean out some of the toys you have now that are not used often, and think more critically about the ones you let into your home.  Tell family members your philosophy and ask them to share it when they make purchases for your children.  Rotating toys in and out of the play space can also be a helpful way to use fewer at a time, and it can provide a “new” way of looking at and “old” toy.

The author cites these websites as sources for natural toys:

We haven’t really explored these sites aside from seeing how incredibly expensive their toys are.  The author’s tack seems a bit more sensible – make the toys yourself.

One of the most memorable toys from my childhood is a Gameboy.  This wasn’t just any Gameboy, though.  My father made it out of wood and nails.  It was painted with fake buttons, and it even had wooden cartridges for the different games that could be inserted.  Talk about using imagination!  I remember taking it to school in 2nd grade and asking friends if they wanted to try it.

We haven’t made many toys yet for Basil (this book provides lots of suggestions), but we’ve improvised with canisters, Tupperware, and measuring spoons and they are more engaging than many store-bought toys he’s received.

Reflecting upon the gifts received at Christmas, one really stands out as a winner in most of the categories discussed above:

Basil really loves this toy right now, and he doesn’t even understand how he’s “supposed” to play with it yet.  It’s made of wood and is indeed beautiful.  It has bright colors for the visual sense, strong wood for the biting sense, and round surfaces for touching and toppling.  He cannot resist smashing the tower over if he sees it stacked up, and once they’re down he either grabs a circle to chew on or chases the little red ball around the rug (it has a nice little hole in the top to help him pick it up, too).  Once he gets older he’ll learn how to stack them on the pole in different ways – according to sizes and colors – and they will have infinite uses when joined with other blocks or stacking materials.

Thanks, Yiayia Brooke, for the great toy.
Thanks, Erika, for the new toy idea.
And thanks, John and Lila, for the treasure-filled book.  Elizabeth told Basil tonight that as sad as she is to see him growing up already, she is excited for when he’s old enough to explore more of those activities.



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2 Responses to “More on Toys”

  1. Erika Says:

    I’m so glad Basil digs the water bottle idea! I loved this post, as it pretty much sums up my attitude about toys. After spending time in friends houses clogged with plastic crap, I try to think twice (or even three times) about buying anything new for Siri. So far, I have bought her three toys and her favorite was the cheapest and simplest: stacking cups. If kids are entertained by cups, why distract them with music and lights and an electronic voice telling them how to say “cat” in three languages? Just let the cups work their magic, man. (said in a drawling hippie voice)

  2. vagueperson Says:

    We also filled a big, cylindrical oatmeal container with a bag of rice – he seems to like moving big objects around.

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