Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Have Toys

Dear Reader,

This article by Linda Dobson reminded me of why I dislike toys. Now, I have to confess we do have a fair amount of toys around here. I have tried to pare down in recent years but there are still  a lot about. I have four kids with loving relatives. My oldest two were the first grandson and granddaughter on both sides of the family so we did get inundated. And even though they now have cousins, the gifts still continue. And my kids want things. They get allowances ($1 per month per year of age) which they can spend. And occasionally there are things I can’t resist either.  

Mrs. Dobson’s article is about the value of play so you might think it odd that I would use it as proof that my kids should not have too many toys. But if you read it, you will see that she makes the case  (or the source she quotes makes the case) that the marketing of toys has actually led to decreased creativity in kids’ play and therefore has negated its valuable effects. It used to be kids has fewer toys and also fewer organized activities. They would go outside and use what they found and make up games. These days children have a lot of toys. And they toys they have have a lot less value (though they cost more). So many toys these days make noise. This is a major reason I hate them. When our house was full of baby and toddler toys, I often wondered how little ones learned their ABCs or 123s before they had all these electronic devices. Could it be that their parents actually had to interact with them to teach them these things?!

I am always amazed by the many uses my kids will find for simple objects–cardboard boxes and tubes, sticks, rocks, string. The list could go on and on. Sticks, for instance, make good swords and guns (I guess the toy weapons debate is a whole nother issue but we’ll just let that one go for now). So how is a stick-sword better than a simple toy sword? Well, for one thing the stick can also be a magic wand or a tent pole of many other things. Once you make a toy and make it look like a sword (or some other object) then it becomes that in the child’s mind. It is type cast. A really creative child will find more uses for it, but it is harder. It is less likely to happen.   

What kind of toys will I put up with? My five year old daughter still has lots of dolls and their paraphernalia. I wish she had less of the accessories, but many have come because the relatives wanted gift suggestions and these were the most harmless things I could think of. Now a doll may be a bit like that toy sword in that it inherently leads to certain kinds of play, but I have to admit it is play I like. Beanie says she wants to be a mommy when she grows up and in this society that is something I hope she manages to hold on to. So I am not adverse to encouraging it. In general, people or animal shaped toys like dolls, stuffed animals, puppets, and little people are good in my opinion. They are somewhat type-cast but they also lead to many scenarios. My 10 and 8 year olds will still play for long periods of time with little people (of which we do have a lot). They become characters in ever more complicated worlds with their own stories. We also still have duplos which mainly get built into structures for the little people. I like building toys too–wooden blocks or legos or k’nex. We have all three of these. In general, I like having more of one kind and not lots of different kinds because then the pieces can all be used together. But we still have both legos and k’nex. I wish we had more of the simple blocks and maybe doors and windows and baseplates. We have a lot of the sets which are designed to be something. My kids like these, but I find that again these sets limit creativity. If a set is meant to be, say, a ferris wheel, then it becomes a ferris wheel and never becomes anything else.

So what would I recommend as good gifts for those relatives who must buy something? Books are good of course (good books which is a whole nother discussion again). Museum memberships. Money for classes (I know this contradicts the whole give them free time thing but a certain number of classes are okay IMO). Craft supplies. My 8yo is a prolific artist. One of the great things about craft supplies is that they get used up so you can ask for them again next year. Again, a selection of simple craft supplies like paper and glue and pipe cleaners can be better than a set that makes one kind of  thing only. As my kids get older there are some bigger things that I find valuable. Like a musical instrument, rock tumbler, microscope, etc.

Even with these ideas, I find that I scramble for suggestions every Christmas. So if you have any more great ideas, pass them along.


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