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Posts Tagged ‘toys’

Several weeks ago a friend said,

“My kids are probably excited about winter coming. It means I’ll start doing craft projects and reading to them again, instead of just yelling at them to go back to their movie so mama can work outside some more.”

The words could as easily have come out of my mouth. Although there are plenty of good wholesome times when the kids join me outside, helping with my projects or playing blessedly independent games alongside, there are as many times when I am out working in the yard alone, occasionally checking for their glazed faces through the dining room window.

Although we don’t get typically get snow until November, in many ways winter here in Cordova begins in September (if not August) with monsoon style rains and hurricane force wind. Not easy weather to work in the yard.

As you may remember from my last post, this was the first summer in a long time that I had tried to take on any significant projects, and I definitely bit off more than I could chew. When the weather called a halt to my projects, and the total sum of my summer’s accomplishments became evident, I was forced to accept that I hadn’t gotten even half of what I’d planned to do done.

After the disappointment wore off, I have to admit to a feeling of relief. True I hadn’t fulfilled my great expectations, but I had gotten something done, I had moved forward. And now, with winter setting in, I could finally let go those expectations. After a summer of feeling perpetually, almost frantically behind, I could finally relax.

For the last month I have been stretching with pleasure into the simple routine of playing with kids, cleaning the house, and cooking dinner. The luxurious feeling that nothing of import needs to happen, I can allow my days to be filled by the basic maintenance of family life.

I’ll get bored soon enough. But for now, my kids are reaping the benefits.

With the extra time of early winter, and in the anticipation of it’s long totality, I have been making some good stuff for indoor play. It started with turning the cubby hole under our stairs into The Bat Cave.

bat cave

We all have electronics sitting around unused in a box upstairs, right? We think we need to keep them for later, but really, they are already obsolete. The kids love clomping on this old chattery keyboard, the “monitor” behind it is a framed printout. And the old phone on the right was an instant hit after I spray painted it gold!

With the bat cave under my belt, I was motivated to finally make the indoor “playground” I’ve wanted for years. And it was so easy, I am kicking myself. All I did was nail a good 2×4 up across our wide hall (make sure you nail into studs though!) and hang some ropes down from it. There are two long ropes to hold a swing, and two shorter ropes to hold a hanging bar (which is pulled out of the way in this photo).

indoor playground
The climbing rope, on the right, had been there for awhile, and is no more than rope through an eye bolt. Although the rest of this playground needs an open hallway to make set-up easy, the climbing rope just needs a wall with a findable stud. Check out this youtube for how to make a simple harness.

I cut two sizes of 2×4 for the swing seats, so that there can be someone swinging and someone using the hanging bar, or move the ropes about a bit and fit in the two-kid swing for extra fun.

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After the thrill of an indoor playground leveled out, I made this play kitchen out of a big cardboard box. I was surprised at how excited the kids were, my 4YO boy couldn’t stop gushing and he played on it for hours that first day.

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And yes, my boy likes to wear pink and purple striped tights. A lot. Gotta problem with that? He also turns everything which can be held in his hands into a gun, including his penis, so I’m sure he’s quite healthy.

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Speaking of removing external suggestion to allow your child’s authentic self to blossom, let’s talk toys.

I’ve been thinking about toys ever since the first ones started arriving in the mail, 3 months before the due date of my first child. When I was despairing the already accumulating stores of kid stuff, my mother-in-law said something to the effect of, “Oh, someday your whole house will be strewn with Fisher Price. And you know what? You’ll love it.”

Actually, almost five years in, I don’t love it. I love having my kids home with me, I love watching them explore the world and I adore watching the development of their independent play. Certainly, I have come to appreciate the relief and redirection of a well-timed gaudy plastic noisemaker, but overall I consider toys an entirely overdone pain in my ass.

a basket of questionably necessary toys, waiting to get dumped on the floor

Do kids need toys? I honestly don’t believe they do. Well, let me re-phase that. I don’t believe they need purchased items which were designed solely to be toys. In the dynamic environment of the DIY household, kids will make toys out of anything and everything. Often, even when there are myriad designated toys littering the floor, my kids will be running around playing with a piece of cardboard and a tin can.

That said, we have tons of toys. My Man is a sucker for making the kids squeal with glee, and that’s the bang you get for your new toy buck. Even I sometimes fall prey to thrifted plastic junk just to see those first 10 minutes of toylove. Doting grandparents have contributed a mighty pile as well. In our culture you have to be a hard-edged grinch not to accumulate toys.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone takes in more toys than their kids’ need. The question is what you do with them after that 10 minute honeymoon has worn off?

I used to keep all the toys, and right down at kid level. I hated that passive-aggressive mom trick of giving stuff to the Goodwill when no one was looking, and I figured what’s the point of having it if I keep it hidden away in a closet?

I still hate the covert Goodwill trick, but I have absolutely had to stoop to it. You can only pick up so many toys off of the floor, over and over and over and over again. I started by filling up boxes and keeping them in the closet. They weren’t permanently exiled, just saved for a rainy day. When I would take one down, the kids would have a guaranteed 15-20 minutes of blissful toy reunion. When the thrill wore off again, I would put the box back up. I highly recommend this.

Lots of good creative toys like Leggos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, etc drive me completely insane if left accessible to the kids, though that’s the way I did it for ages. It appears that my kids’ favorite game to play with anything in the ‘many small pieces all contained in a box’ category is dumping out the box. A top favorite with Leggos in particular (they make such a great big noise!) is to then swish your hands in the pile really fast so that the pieces fly out into a completely distributed 12 foot radius. I was beginning to really hate those cheerfully colored plastic blocks. Then I finally realized that if the pieces are scattered helter-skelter across the house, they can never play with it anyway and really what’s the point?

That’s when I started keeping the Leggos, and all those ‘many small pieces’ toys, up on a high shelf. The shelf is in our girl’s room, and open to view but too high for little people to reach. We take the box down once every few weeks and, miraculously, our relationship with Leggos has been remade. Not being a part of their daily landscape, the kids see them in a new light. They appreciate them more for what they were actually made for—building stuff. And I happily learned that cleaning up Leggos as soon as their play session had dissolved (don’t wait too long, a stitch in time saves nine!) is easily done with a dustpan.

Puzzles are my pet peeve. For some reason puzzles are considered unanimously desirable. People were giving us puzzles before our first was even born. They’re made out of wood and educational, right? Surely us greenie NPR hippies would like them. Every kid play space that’s worth anything has a whole stack of puzzles. And what do kids under the age of 3 do with a stack of puzzles? Systematically dump each one out on the floor and then immediately lose interest so that you, the adult, has to put them all back together.

I’m 34 years old, I don’t want to spend my time putting together motherfucking farm animal puzzles.

There’s nothing inherently evil about puzzles, but they need adult supervision. If given one puzzle at a time, some 2yos will maintain the focus and desire it takes to put it together. By 3 they are starting to have a real interest, but I still don’t see the point of owning puzzles because once a kid has done the same puzzle 5 or 6 times, they are done. Understandably, they have mastered it and want to move on. Many good libraries have puzzles to lend, if your kid likes them.

My other pet peeve is single use toys. Things which have only one way to play with. In a great decluttering post recently Kyce mentioned having given ‘play food’ the boot, and I’m with her all the way. My girl was always very good at disregarding whatever the intended use was and just using any toy as a prop for her self-created play, but then why bother with those specific toys in the first place? Our kid kitchen has been through several reincarnations over time, but lately it’s come down to just a small stainless steel mixing bowl, a small skillet—both thrifted—a kid sized rolling pin, a collection of animal shaped cutters, and a big tub of homemade playdough.

So, I hate puzzles and play food, and can barely tolerate Leggos. What toys do I like?

I like the toys that I see the kids actually play with (not just dump on the floor) the most often, and the ones that require no parental assistance or supervision. Here’s a list of my favorites:

Figurines— both animals and people, they use these every day. Our boy will also use trains and trucks like figurines, carrying them around and treating them like animate objects.

Building sets—as much as they can get on my nerves, I do like the way they work kids’ brains. Like a puzzle that you design yourself. My Man got a wonderful set of magnetic building pieces, flat squares and triangles with magnetic edges, that have become one of my favorite purchased toys of all time. Babies love them because of the satisfying way that they click together and will just hold two of them clicking together and apart for quite some time. As they get older they can use them in ever-more complex ways, starting with flat, floor based patterns and building up to awesome 3D structures. They are also easy to clean up because they click right together.

Collecting and carrying devices—I’ve recently realized that not all kids are like this, but our girl adores anything she can put other things into. Bags, boxes, basket, buckets. As long as it has a handle. She puts together a seemingly random assortment of items and then carries it around. This was one of the first ways that I remember her playing, and she still does it all the time. I don’t really understand what she’s doing, but I understand that she likes it.

Playdough—we make our own so we never have to get our panties in a bunch about mixing the colors or leaving the lid off. When it’s all brown or dried out we just make up a new batch.

want to kick it up a notch? i have one word for you: glitter. glitter and playdough were made for each other, i just can't believe that it took me two years of playdough making to figure that out.

Art supplies—I keep the bulk of our art supplies in a closet. We break out the paints maybe once every couple of weeks. I buy big bottles of blue, red, yellow and white and then use a Styrofoam egg carton to mix up more colors. Crayons have never taken off at our house, colored pencils are tolerated, but pens and markers are the clear favorites. Since the 4yo learned how to control a pen, she has become quite prolific and so I leave the basic drawing stuff out for constant access. The house is scattered with little notebooks and random scraps of paper. It’s really awesome to see what she draws with her budding skills. I also have to put in a little plug for scissors. We got our girl a pair before she was even two. If you get the kid-safe kind, with the chunky rounded ends, there’s not too much damage they can do, and they just love cutting things up! I think it must give them a real sense of power to make a big piece of paper into lots of little pieces.

Kids’ Table—this is perhaps a given, but not to be underestimated. We have built up over time to one in each room!

Hidey Hole—some kind of tent, playhouse or kid sized space is almost always a win. We used to have a plain sheet stapled at the top to the wall and held out at the bottom by the edge of a bookshelf. They loved it. Then last Christmas I got them an Invent a Tent and although I’m not that happy about how well it’s held up, it has gotten lots of use and love. I guess a few broken pieces are to be expected.

the invent a tent configured as a bow picker (fishing boat)

Rocking Horse—our girl adored her big plush rocking horse when she was 2, it was one of those expensive items I would never have bought, but My Man splurged on it and time proved it’s worth. I got a cheaper one down here for the boy’s second birthday, but he hasn’t given it the time of day…

Now what about toys that aren’t toys? In some ways, there’s no point listing them, if you give your kids access to the (safe parts of) the household, they will pick out their own favorites. But I do find it’s good to remind myself just how much fun kids have with these most simple household items:

  • string, buy several rolls at once so you won’t have to be stingy
  • rope
  • tape, I have a friend who bought a case of cheap tape for her daughter’s birthday
  • kitchenware (our bottom cabinets get unloaded all the time)
  • laundry baskets
  • recycling (plastic bottles, etc)
  • cardboard boxes
  • coins

she played with this cooling rack on a string for at least 20 minutes

And what about the outside world? Oh my, that is another topic altogether! But I simply cannot leave the humble ‘stick’ out of this post. I heard it was finally given a place in the Toy Hall of Fame. Not to mention leaves for stomping and piling! Trees for climbing! Rocks, sand and water! All absolutely irresistible to kids of all ages, and not to be underestimated.

So, you’re convinced. Kids don’t need toys, certainly not near so many as we give them. But what to do about it? Can you actually get rid of them? Won’t someone call child protective services?

The first time I went on a major decluttering spree, I felt guilty. I worried. I kept all the toys I gleaned in a box in the closet in case anyone asked after them. Each time I’ve grown bolder, taking more and more toys away with each sweep. I keep watching to see if I’ll hit up against a wall where the kids don’t have enough left and get restless.

Nope.

The 4yo does occasionally ask for a toy that’s been boxed, and I happily drag it out for her. Once in a while she wants something that I’ve given away. But, for the most part, out of sight = out of mind.

Even with all of my decluttering binges, I still feel like we have way too many toys. I still think kids should (and would) be happy with just a stick, a bucket and piece of rope. But we aren’t living squirreled away in a log cabin in the Alaskan bush, we are quite firmly seated in the modern world. Toys are everywhere, and I only have so much say over the running of our household (25% of the vote if we are being fair) so I try to let it go.

Let it go, clean up the mess, and hide whatever I can get away with.

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Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday. A whole big FOUR. And she had a perfect 4yo’s birthday, everything she might have thought to want– balloons, streamers, bear cake with chocolate coconut ‘fur,’ all her best friends, and her favorite party dress.

Oh yeah, and lots and lots of presents. And lots. On and on, all day long. More and more presents.

Are holidays just cursed for me now? I used to love Christmas and birthdays before I had kids. They meant special rituals, glittery lights, people I loved, decadent food. Now they both mean stuff, loads if it. Mostly cheap plastic stuff from China.

I have old fashioned values about stuff. Like, maybe depression-era values. I think a kid should get one or two, maybe three presents. That sounds like plenty to me. Anything else turns their eyes into jelly doughnuts. Kids need fresh air, space to play, raw materials and household objects to imagine into games. Toys get played with surprisingly little, in the full scheme of things. In the meantime, the many pieces and parts get scattered helter-skelter and quickly become just something that needs picked up.

Not to mention the global oppression necessary to supply first-world toy stores with all that bargain priced junk.

I’ve written about this before, and although ranting is good, that’s not what I had in mind today. The thing is, when there is heaps of presents, at any holiday, I get extremely uncomfortable. I have to keep swallowing and swallowing. I mean really, it just about ruins the day for me.

Which seems like a big waste of my time, at best, and the beginnings of a complex in my kids, at worst.

I have lately been pecking away at the book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. I find her arrogance almost insufferable, but there is some very good stuff in amongst the bullshit, so I’m trying to keep at it. One of the things that struck me recently was a passage about community. She was refuting the apparently commonly (?) held belief that a close community, like a tribe, is better for kids. She basically said things are just different now. No point romanticizing the past. Let’s embrace the present as it is. Instead of mourning what we lost, let’s appreciate what the present has to offer, the unique benefits of a nuclear family.

This hit on something I’ve been stewing over lately, so I was intrigued. I don’t know if she’s right particularly about the community issue, but what struck me was the overall concept of embracing and appreciating what is, rather than fighting for what isn’t.

I have a renegade nature, I like to fight against what is. The world needs renegades for certain. But I’m a lazy renegade, or at the very least, extremely distracted. I’m not really going to put the effort into serious revolution. Instead I just spend a lot of time obsessively railing against the Way Things Are.

I know it’s good and important to fight for what you believe to be true, but at what point had you better knock it off and just relax into what actually is?

Am I just going to keep hating computers, and using them, and hating them, and using them and hating myself for using them forever? I mean, looks like these suckers are gonna be around for awhile. And more importantly, what about my kids? Looks like computers will be the foundation for their world. Should I raise them for that world, or the one I really, really wish would exist?

Should I just keep hating presents, alienatating myself from the people I love and slowly poisoning my holidays? Or should I accept graciously the reality of the situation and share their joy and excitement at all the fun new toys?

I want to share their joy. I want to show them how to live up to your values. I want them to be unencumbered by guilt and shame. I want it all. But it seems to come down to an either/or. Fight vs. Embrace.

I guess this brings me right back to that old dog, submission, and the perennial Alcoholics Anonymous prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

But even then, there’s only two admitted possibilities. Either you can or cannot change something. I think what plagues me most are the myriad gray tones. If my angsty holidays could change working conditions in China, I’m pretty sure I could live with the fight. Instead, for all my internal turmoil, all of my stern emails to grandparents and moralistically shaming My Man, I might save one or two toys. Keep them on the shelves for someone else to ply their child with…. Stupidly, more than actually effectively helping the world, I am just making the people I love feel bad.

I don’t have any answers. Just a big, fat, crucially important question. Which I suppose must be asked by each individual person, in each individual family and each individual situation.

How do you ask it?

 

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I think I might be gearing up to hate holidays. And that is so, so sad, because really I love holidays. But, pretty much every holiday since the Toddler was born has just brought me angst. My Man and I have the same argument every time, where we both want to provide her with the experience we remember and cherish, each obviously thinking our way is best.

It pretty much comes down to candy and cheap plastic toys. I hate both. I mean, true secretly I have a junk food tooth, but it’s certainly not something I want to encourage in my own kiddos. And c’mon! For breakfast?! Are you kidding me?

My little girl has had nothing, almost literally, but pure sugar in the past 24 hours. We went to an Easter party last night and she had a massive candy eating episode, then of course, My Man couldn’t resist seven different kinds of candy for her Easter morning. I’m sorry, I just can’t believe that’s okay, any day of the year.

And the cheap plastic toys. Why do they plague me so? Or, better said, why don’t they plague everyone else?

To me, Easter means dying eggs, and then hunting for them Easter morning. I seem to remember we would each get like one chocolate bunny or something. I don’t remember us having these plastic eggs filled with more and more and more candy. And we would each get maybe one stuffed animal or toy. I’m cool with that, I can ride that wave. But a glut of toys and candy equaling a holiday sits like a rock in my stomach.

I guess this cuts to very heart of marriage. A subject I have been trying to find the right angle to approach on this blog for some time now. Marriage is the twining and fusing of two (usually disparate) family traditions, expectations, and general style. It gets messy.

As humans we are attached to our own way, which we always assume to be the right way.

This subject is never tackled in parenting books.

So, assume you’ve thought and thought and read and read and talked to everyone with any opinion, and finally sussed out your own idea of How Best to Raise Your Children.

Ooops. They’re not your children. Assuming there was a consenting partner, you then have to figure out how to balance what you believe to be right, with what they believe is right. Goddamn it.

And, get this. If you respect, admire and love your partner, which since they are the father/mother of your child, you’d really better consider, you have to give at least some credence to the idea that they might be right as well, or even (yeep!) instead.

Of course, in this particular case, I am right. Right?

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the hangin' bar

Just saw one of Riana’s old posts with a little video about kids and consumerism. Holy Crapola! I forget how extreme that all is, we lead such a sheltered life. I feel wicked enough setting the toddler down in front of a video once a day (ever since she stopped napping at 1 1/2!) I forget how much of America exposes their little kiddos to several hours a day of commercial laden TV. The toddler doesn’t know yet how bad off she is, with only a few baskets of toys, mostly second hand. She’ll figure it out though, TV or no TV. I grew up with hippie parents and all thrift stored clothes and toys, and it didn’t take very many years of school (even though it was an alternative school) to become mortally embarrassed by our lack. Sad but true. I did at least grow out of it, eventually.

We have a few baskets of little fidgety toys which mostly just get dumped on the floor and kicked around. And she has some larger toys that she seems to get more use out of– a plastic kitchen she plays with a lot, a little table and chairs (a real favorite, definitely worth the money and space), a rocking bear she never uses that I need to just get rid of, and a couple of riding plastic thingies. Oh, and some art supplies and leggos which she gets into now and then. But her favorite thing to play, hands down, is jump on the Big Bed with mama or, especially papa. She and papa can spend an hour on the bed, jumping, hiding under pillows, making a tent out of the sheet, or just pretending stuff. This seems to be her most fertile grounds for imaginary play, which she has just recently gotten way into. She has no qualms about size or relativity yet. Any item can be any other item. A pillow might be a boat, or a spoon. Once I put my fingers a certain way and said, look, it’s a giraffe (which it really in no way resembled), and ever since she asks one of us to “make a jaf” at least once a day.

Then there’s the things that weren’t meant to be toys. Tools are one of the toddlers faves. Especially the tape measure (although it would be the saw if I’d let her). I generally let her explore anything that’s not going to hurt her. In the kitchen I leave the bottom shelves for things that can’t get broken– tupperwares, mixing bowls, canned food. She really likes the cans, which she can stack like blocks. My yoga ball (never once used for yoga) had it’s day, when I was pregnant, and she needed to get out her rough-house energy. I’d sit on the couch, pinch it between my knees, and hold her hands while she jumped up and down on it, squealing.

I heard somewhere that the humble stick recently made it into the international museum of toys in New York. Ha! I hope they got sand, dirt, water and string in there too. Oh, maybe string is considered too dangerous for a toy nowadays.

Anyway, shortly after watching the kids and consumerism video, the toddler started trying to hang off the edge of the desk and then with a bright look in her eye said “I want to hang on my hangin bar!” The ‘hanging bar’ was an idea I had several months ago when she started trying to hang off of everything in sight, most of which was not made for hanging on. It’s just a sturdy dowel, hung with some rope from two screws on either side of the doorway to the kitchen (we just hang it up when she asks for it, ‘cuz, yes, it does block the doorway) This turned out to be one of my most brilliant mama manouvers ever, turning a problem behavior into a fun, healthy game, which also helps work out some extra energy.

This set me to thinking, let’s us mamas pool our brilliance. What toys do you find yer kiddos actually play with? What regular household items have been reborn as toys? What’s yer best yet mama manouver?

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