I know it is time to get back into our weekly rhythm of posting and I know it is time to start answering questions on my long list of Homeschool Questions you have sent me – and I so appreciate the questions you ask!!! But I thought I would start by answering questions with one I was asked just this week: Firstly, What are our favorite toys? And secondly, how do we avoid ownership issues?
Question 1: What are our Favorite Toys? The first question is easy to answer… I wrote a post on Se7en of the Best Toys… a while back and since then nothing much has changed, except that our toy selection has become even more refined. And of the toys we do have we definitely sift from within the collection constantly.
When we moved into our home we had two kids and two bedrooms and since then our family has grown to eight kids, so space is at a premium. That being said, while space might keep our toy level under control… we wouldn’t have any more toys if our house was bigger. On principal my kids have more toys than some small nations in the world and it just isn’t necessary to burden them with more… more toys, more stuff, more responsibility, more burden and much more tidying up. Really we just do not have the time or the energy to maintain any more toys!!! We certainly have enough… no duplicates (we don’t have two let alone eight of anything – no matter how good it is!!!) and definitely nothing that isn’t totally loved.
I also think too many toys are just stifling… really too many decisions have to be made and it becomes overwhelming. If I had to be totally honest my kids would forgo all toys as long as they had sticks and blankets to build forts and something to draw with… they would be totally happy and content day in and day out… trust me on this!!! We do have many days when I banish all toys except these and we are all happier and free-er for not having to tidy up too much. And I can hear you say: “Huh? Toy Free Days?” Think of it as an unplugged week every now and then – It is really quite refreshing.
Meanwhile, how do we select our toys? Well they have to be completely open ended and durable and no millions and trillions of pieces. Open ended in the sense that they can be used for any number of make believe games, be it the same game over and over or a completely different idea every five minutes as the game expands. And durable, I don’t want to have miserable children because their beloved toy is broken as it comes out of the box. I expect toys to be strong enough to withstand independent play, and by that I mean a number of kids playing together without a hovering adult!!! Any toys with millions of pieces soon pale from the scene simply because nobody wants to pick them up, we just don’t buy them. I also avoid toys that have movie or even book personalities associated with them – play tends to get stuck in the script. If they choose to turn their Lego into the world of Alice in Wonderland so be it but they are not limited by it.
Here are our Se7en best toys:
- Lego: My kids were gifted a large box of lego years ago, and they have had their heads buried in it ever since!!! Lego clearly breaks the millions and zillions of little bits and pieces rule but that is simply because of the nature of lego… it mostly stays where they play with it and I like them playing with it… as long as all the loose pieces get packed up at the end of the day I don’t mind.
- Duplo: We have a ton of it and I don’t buy it anymore – there is sufficient to build a castle and what more could they need. Unless of course some galactically cool item comes on the market in which case something else will have to go.
- Wooden Kitchen: This was collected and built up over time. It lives in our kitchen and is played with continuously. Food, where it comes from and how to prepare it is a continuous theme in our house… while my kids help with every single meal it is nice that they can “cook” on their own sometimes.
- Wow Toys: I don’t have to buy these anymore, we have more than enough, so there is a one in two out policy going on here! These toys are fabulous: really robust and no batteries required!!! They all have really cute little features, they have been loved and loved and loved and they are still going strong.
- Zoobs: We bought the biggest box we could and they have been played with and played with and played with and my kids make the most amazing things with them… I haven’t progressed beyond DNA, but they have made galaxies, vehicles, outfits… amazing stuff with them.
- Wooden World: I love these… just can’t help myself!!! They are so cute, they are pretty simple and they don’t have too many little pieces. But they are a lot of fun and great for pretend worlds.
- Animals: My kids love plastic animals!!! They play with them a lot and they are not expensive and it is easy to add to the collection. We used to buy any and everything but again, with time we have become more discerning. No duplicates, and only nice ones that actually stand or pose.
- Blocks and trains and planks and things: These toys are not played with a lot, we have them because when you need them you need them… None of my kids have ever played with blocks for hours and hours. They do use them occasionally or for very specific building projects they set out to do… and if we had rainy days then these would probably be our rainy day toys.
And the Se7en + 1th Thing:
Folks often say to me: “For a child to share they have to understand ownership.” We have an advantage here of living on the edge of first and third worlds and as a mom I have found the issue of sharing is a cultural one and in the west we are setting our kids up to fail: They have their own bedrooms and their own stuff and their own lives. That being said everything is interpreted as “mine” and then they are told to share it… And here begins the eternal double standard between parents and kids: What’s theirs is mine and what’s mine is mine. No I am not two. But generally a parent will say: They may not touch my stuff and I will control when and how they play with their stuff… the irony of that is it is a very hard environment in which to learn how to share!!!
As you can see most of our toys are communal… and bought for everyone. For example, with the Zoobs we bought a box for everyone and there was no special occasion. If my kids do get something “big” like a Wow toy for their birthday it is theirs for a while before it becomes communal, once it is unwrapped and played with a bit then it becomes fair game. What about mega big things like a bike say… well all our bikes are hand-me downs and what ever bike fits you on the day you use… basically we have “a bike pool.” And this is where the question arose… in our week that was last week I had a photograph of one of my girls playing with her little sisters fresh birthday present. Within two days the present becomes communal, we don’t insist on this, it just happens… I guess they have figured out the more you share the more you have!!!
This doesn’t mean that my kids don’t have anything of their own… they do have their own special things: a collection of beanie babies from their Godparents, and a couple of other treasures. For their birthdays I prefer to give them something they will treasure, one of them has his own binoculars another has their own telescope or something consumable. They do share these but they aren’t open for common use, they have to be asked and another persons possessions have to be respected.
In the olden days when I just had two kids and they both wanted what the other person had I took the item away… and not for a short while… for ever. They knew I meant business, if it causes a fight it goes… and I have never had to do it again, the legend lives on and my kids know not to fight over toys. Also I expect my older kids to keep their special things out of reach of little enquiring fingers… if they are old enough to have a treasure then they are old enough to be responsible for it. I do have incidents when little people have crept into an older siblings special drawer, during one of those too quiet moments and generally I expect the older child to be more careful about putting their stuff away.
So that is in a nutshell our Toy Story… We only buy our favorite toys, especially toys I won’t mind playing with and our toys are all pretty much part of the great toy pool so no need to talk about sharing, they are by definition shared.