Is your home overflowing with toys already? Are you or your child’s caregiver constantly picking up toys that seem to lie here, there and everywhere in the house? Are you getting more and more injuries from tripping over toys? Or do you wonder what sort of toys to buy for your child, what is good and what is not?
Throughout your child’s first few years, you will be faced with the challenge of buying toys, and managing the mess they make at home. It is also a challenge on your bank account, unless you are really very rich. As in everything in parenthood, different people tackle the issues of toys management differently. I will share with you how we tackle toys epidemic at home. As a homemaker with no domestic helper, toy management is an issue close to my heart. I cannot say that I am an authority on this subject, but I can share with you a few principles I adhere by, some of my convictions on this subject and some of the things that I do to keep myself sane.
Basically, toys management can be sub-divided into buying toys, keeping toys, and discarding toys.
I don’t profess to have any expert opinion on the type of toys to buy or not buy. This is pure sharing of what I do at home. If it helps you, I am happy. If not, do whatever you are comfortable with!
Firstly, I seldom buy toys for Dominic. Then, when do I buy toys for him, you may wonder? When I know that that’s the toy I want him to have. This means that I must have a certain conviction that it is a good toy, or at least, it is something I don’t mind him having. Hardly do I buy toys when I am held hostage by his whining and crying at the toys department.
One guideline that I try to adhere to is this: Dominic has two toy boxes bought from IKEA. On top of that, he has a little boy’s table with storage capacity underneath. The guideline is that he shall not have more toys than these three containers can contain. When the toys start overflowing, I will do a housekeeping and either keep/give away some of the toys that he has outgrown, or discard some of the damaged or meaningless ones (like toys from MacDonald’s Happy Meals). Of course, big toys like his tricycle and cooking stove that cannot fit any of these containers are not counted within the quota.
Now with more than 1 child, naturally, 2 toy boxes will not be enough for all their toys, especially when I cannot retire baby toys. The toys terrority has expanded but the principle remains the same – we try to contain the amount of toys by containing the space toys can take up in our house.
There are some toys that I avoid buying :
1. ‘Rubbish toys’ – e.g. toys from fast food restaurants (unless they come free) or from $1 ‘tikam’ machines.
2. Soft toys – major dust collector with little use.
3. Fad toys – toys that come and go for the moment, usually spurred on by movies and TV programmes. E.g. beyblades, Pokemon cards, figurines.
4. Toys related to vice and violent, or questionable values – e.g. superhero toys, swords & guns, Barbie dolls/Ken, jackpoit machines.
5. Toys that will cause unnecessary damage to the house & furnishing or take up too much space – e.g. garden slides.
6. CD Rom or other computer, playstation, nintendo games – serves no purpose but cultivate anti-social behaviour and contribute to bad eyesight. Content of games are often questionable too.
These are the contraband items. But there are still other toys that I don’t buy because there is no necessity to buy them obviously.
I want to put in a small section on Educational toys because it is something close to my heart also. These days, almost every toy you see in the market claims to be ‘educational’, including those puzzles that require you to take apart 2 pieces of metal.
Now, what is really ‘educational’? These toys either answers to your child’s stage of development or contribute by teaching your child concrete skills and knowledge. They can be as simple as stacking cups and lego blocks to interactive CD ROM games. I am not here to recommend you to get one of those Mozart CDs, or Black-Red-White mobile, etc. Whether or not these toys are really useful, it really depends on individual. Your mileage may vary. On the other hand, between getting a meaningless Batman toy and an educational toy, I will definitely vote that you go for the more useful one.
A lot of parents do not realise that the usefulness of an educational toy depends a lot on how you use it. In my opinion, a lot of Singaporean parents are very reluctant to buy toys that would need their involvement. I may be stepping on some toes here but having been in the trade of selling educational aids, I can safely conclude that the majority of the local parents prefer to buy a toy that they can chuck it to their kids, saying ‘there, go and play with it yourself and don’t disturb me’ and hope that their kids will be self-taught while playing with the toy. Hence, the popularity of CD ROM games (which I will come to this later).
In actual fact, when buying a toy, be it really educational or not, the most important thing is that you must spend time playing together with your child! Instead of seeing toys as something that small children play with, today, change your mind and see it as a tool that helps you spend quality time with your kids. Isn’t this what every parent professes to do, or wants to do? Then get into action and start playing. Don’t say that it is boring or that you have no idea how to use the toys. The most innocent, boring looking educational aid can give you the greatest mileage in educating your child. E.g. in the case of counters and manipulatives, most parents are clueless what to do with them. What I have learned through my own experience is that as you learn to play with your child, in the process, you will learn how to use the toys. But first, you must take the first step.
Compared to the seemingly simple and boring toys, some fanciful types that come with all kinds of sights and sounds seem to be more interesting and more useful. In actual fact, if you want to bring up a creative child, you should avoid things like CD ROM, and go for the basics. If I remember correctly, it was Tony Buzan, who said that a creative child will soon discard the toy and start playing with the box that it comes in because with his imagination, the box can become anything he wants it to be. That’s building creativity!
Even for books, I have encountered parents who told me that their children are just not interested in reading. Typically they will tell me that ‘give them a book and they will chuck it aside, so it’s a waste of money’. If you cannot bring yourself to play the educational toys, or read the books with your child, how do you expect your child to like them, especially after they have been exposed to a lot of sights and sounds from TV programmes and computer games?
Coming to TV programmes and computer games. In my opinion, and teachers and experts will probably agree with me, these things are not good for your child. You may wonder : isn’t educational CD ROM better since they appear to be more interesting and interactive? Firstly, I feel that educational CD ROMs are precursor to future computer games. So if you don’t want your child to be addicted to computer games, don’t go down this way. Your child will learn how to use a PC well enough without having to play with games.
Secondly, compared to the human brain, CD ROMs are boring. They are basically computer programmes written by people, and there are only this many variations within the programme. Computer programmes are dead. Human brains are alive. You will stimulate the brains more with things that your child can feel, touch, handle and make something out of. It’s the same logic as the toy & box example I mentioned earlier.
Thirdly, CD ROMs and computer games cultivate anti-social behaviour. Same for TV watching. Besides, they are also very bad for the eyesight.
Finally, I am sure this is a familiar scenario – parent buys a gameboy for the kid. The kid gets addicted to it. Then comes the control – can only play on weekends and holidays. But soon, the bargaining starts – if score 100 for the next test, the kid can play an additional hour of gameboy on a weekday. The battle never ends. Don’t even get into this situation of rules and bargaining. Just don’t buy such things!
If you want your child to be creative and intelligent, you should try to give him toys that will allow him to explore and make something out of. Good old simple things like crayons and pencils, play dough and craftwork, does much more than any toy cars and barbie dolls. Make a conscious effort to buy toys that will need your involvement and get involved! If you are not sure how or what to do, ask people, or find out from books, from the internet, etc. This is a great way for you to spend quality time with your child. And remember to have fun and don’t get too hung up on the idea of making your child the next Einstein.
Keeping Up with the Jones
Some parents feel that they have to get the latest popular toy for their kids because otherwise, their kids will feel inferior and left out when they see their friends having those toys. Personally, I do not agree with this ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality. Firstly, it is contrary to the proper stewardship of finances. Secondly, it inculcates the wrong attitude towards material goods. The child will grow up thinking that he must have what other people have, and as a result, he will have problem with financial discipline. Lastly, it also teaches the child that his identity is tied up with what thing he has. It is very unhealthy for anyone, adults included, to find his self worth in what things he owns.
Now that I have given my two cents’ worth on buying toys, I shall move on to keeping toys. This includes the actual storage, and day-to-day management of the toy mess.
My first key to keeping the mess down is : the fewer the toys, the smaller the mess.
This is quite obvious, isn’t it? Try to curb excessive buying of toys and you will have less to keep. This is especially so when your child is still very young and does not need many toys. This is also the stage where you will be the only person keeping the toys. So keep things to the necessary minimum
The second key is to train your child to keep his toys after play. When your child is older, he will be acquiring more and more toys. In other words, the mess is also getting bigger. This is the time to start training your child to keep his own toys. Always keep the toys after play is the motto! Make a game out of it and start by doing it together with him. Make it fun and not a chore. Dominic was able to keep his toys by 18 months.
The third key is to do periodic housekeeping. This is also to keep the mess down and the quantity of toys out ‘on the loose’ to the minimum. Keep/give away those toys that your child has outgrown. Throw away the unnecessary and the damaged. You may have to be quite ruthless in doing the housekeeping. The toys that you keep away for ‘cold storage’ (perhaps for the next baby, or for an occasion to give away to charity) should not be taken out again unless absolutely necessary.
The fourth key is organisation and proper storage. Buy a couple of toy boxes to keep the toys. And always keep the boxes in the same place. This makes things easier for your child also when he is learning how to keep his toys. The boxes of toys should be nicely kept in one corner yet easily accessible for your child at all times. The area where the toys are kept is usually the play corner of your child. Establish a place in your house as the ‘play corner’ of your child. Avoid letting him spread his toys all over the house by making the entire house his play area.
In terms of organisation, my preference is to generally organise by type – construction-type in one box, instruments & battery operated ones in another, etc. Your child may not be able to understand the organisation heuristics, unless it is very obvious – e.g. all the Legos into one box. So once in a while, you will have to go through the boxes (probably when you do your periodic housekeeping).
Someone once shared another way of keeping toys, which is also quite useful: have 2-3 boxes of mixed toys. Only let the child play with 1 box at a time. Rotate the boxes weekly. In this way, the child will not get tired of all the toys easily.
Lastly, control the size of the mess. When your child is playing, chances are he will be taking out a lot of different toys because his interest changes every 3 seconds. He could be playing with Lego one moment and his toy cars the next. In the end, what you will end up with is a pile of mess here and a pile of mess there. Control the mess by asking him to keep one set of toys before getting out another. At the end of the playtime, before he moves on to do the next thing (e.g. take his bath), ask him to keep all the toys away.
Finally, discarding toys. Make a point to do a thorough housekeeping of toys, e.g. every 6 months. There are roughly three categories of toys to be taken out of the toy box :
1. Toys in good condition and useful
2. Toys in good condition but useless
3. Toys that are damaged beyond repair
Toys in good condition and useful are to be kept for the next child, or given away to friends’ & relatives’ children (where appropriate), or given away to charity (e.g. Salvation Army thrift shop). Store them away nicely in a place where your child cannot dig them back up again.
Toys in good condition but useless and toys that are damaged beyond repair should be thrown away.
A word on giving away toys
Whether you give away old toys to charity or to other people whom you know, please make sure that they are in reasonably good condition. If the toy is battery-operated, include the batteries also, if possible. Please do not give away toys that are not working, have missing parts or too old or dirty. If you want to give, give graciously. Give things with some respect for the recipient, even if they live on charity. Otherwise, it will not reflect well on you also.
Since we are talking about toys, I might as well cover homemade toys also. You will be pleased to know that a lot of household utensils make wonderful toys for the little ones. They absolutely adore pots and pans and bowls and spoons. Just make sure you give them the unbreakable ones. For a period of time, when Dominic was little, he would hardly touch his toys and would go for kitchen utensils.
Besides household utensils, you can also make simple toys yourself. E.g. put some beans in a small plastic bottle with child-proof cap and you get a noisy musical instrument. A large cardboard carton (e.g. the ones that refrigerator or washing machine comes in) can be turned into a playhouse.
With a little more thought, you can turn normal household stuff into toys for your child. You will save money, and you will have less toys to manage.