A few people recently have commented on the collection of lovely toys we have now, and looking at these pictures from this week I know just what they mean. We do actually have quite a bit! And it is all very lovely. So, a little toy-sharing post. :)
I joke that with my first child I bought a load of stuff, with my second child I bought green and handmade replacements, and when my third was born I made a few bits and gave a whole LOAD to charity.
The story of our toy shelves is similar. With our first baby we were given a lot of plastic, and bought some ELC-type "educational" wooden toys. With our second, we got rid of all the plastic and started to swap out many of the wooden toys for more open-ended things and small-scale handmades. With the little one, well, we got rid of a lot more and I have mostly made new things myself. We probably still have a fair bit of sifting to do even now.
I love the sensory quality of wood. I love the adaptability of little building things and figures, and the odd role play tool (doll, sling, crib, playsilks, kitchen and pans, play food). I love the timelessness of simplicity and the years of joy that will be found in these simple games.
There are so many reasons to free the imagination from the paths of modern commercial toys. There are just so so many reasons to choose toys that have been handmade with love from natural materials. This is not a negative choice, a choice from fear about plastics and pollutants and "bad influences" - it is a choice FOR something wholesome and good. That's why we have one or two wonderful plastic toys still. (Lego from when hubby was small, and a Bilibo bucket.) We have to take care with the choices rather than thinking everything from one philosophy, brand or shop is all going to be wholesome (or necessary). :)
It is tempting sometimes to think that we need *all* of it though, or as I often find myself saying "just one more". To begin with especially the temptation was to go a bit overboard, and not really question the need for the purchases because they are "good" purchases. Especially when we first ditched the junkfood toys. Mostly, though, I think the balance in our house is a good one. We have things that will last us for many years, and about half of our toy space is taken up with things that we have made ourselves or that are purely collected bits of nature.
We have three wicker baskets that are filled with 100% natural "toys". One of shells, one of pine cones and large seeds like acorns and conkers, and one of medium sized flat smooth stones for building with. They are played with all the time, and cost nothing!
A good toy is something lasting, simple, and gives sensory pleasure. Does it look and feel pleasing? This isn't a question I asked myself when Jenna was small, but it drives most of my choices for them now. Caricatures and garish colours, harsh noises and smooth cold plastic are not for me - they have their place, but I can think of many things I would prefer to bring into my home. A wooden treasure box. A small polished bowl. A string of beads. A smooth stone (too big to put wholly in mouth, not big enough to injure feet when dropped). Large shells. A simple doll of bunched cloth. These are the things that start a baby’s journey out into the world of all those things the grown ups do every day. And they will last for many years, and be put to many uses.
Play isn’t something you can buy, and it’s not just an optional add-on to childhood. It is essential, the creativity and learning as our children physically engage in the world through their imagination and all their senses, it is just incredible to watch. If you give your child one thing this Christmas, give them the gift of time spent at rest with no plan or instruction. If you want to give even more, spend time yourself feeding their imaginations with wonder in the great outdoors and in telling and retelling stories and poetry. ;) We can all afford to give our children these gifts - in fact we can't afford not to.
One of my dearest friends, as a gift to his newborn son, wrote a story. Just a simple, wonderful, wholesome, sweetly funny story. Something about the love that bore that idea touches me every time I think of it – and the image of my friend earnestly reciting, to his grown friends, the story he wrote for his son… Some day all our children will recite that story to us. And I will bet on it making him cry. (Love you, Mr Symes!)
I can't claim to have totally stopped buying beautiful natural toys, but my allegiance has sort of switched to Etsy and other small scale artisans. Myriad still has the best all-in-one-place range of beautiful simple toys, but the postage is high for me unless I am planning to place a large order - and since we have plenty of toys, I can't remember the last time I wanted to place a large order! But here and there, in preparation for Christmas and birthdays, some little things find their way to me from here and there. Even shipping from the US is often cheaper than shipping from a company in this country - though it is much less green.
Some sellers I love:
And one I haven't ordered from (yet): Just Hatched (because I have to share the beautiful moon and leaf puzzles - and strongly suggest that if any of you are going to order from them that we could share postage costs)!
I actually think, though, that we are reaching toy saturation point here. What we have is played with, endlessly, and well-loved. I'm just not finding that *more toys* are adding much to the play value (though I am sure I will sucumb to more little wooden folk)!
I think, as scary as that seems right now, that my journey may be taking me towards purposeful simplicity and decluttering of my space... And this includes Christmas (although we have never spent very much on presents). I am aiming for one or two small presents in each stocking this year (apart from art materials and clothes) and a couple of small things to share between them in the treasure chest for later in the day. This means a budget for ALL gifts for EVERYONE on our list, of £150. Including crafting materials (that we don't already have in the house), children's presents, and stockings. Realistic? I hope so. :)
*** Disclaimer: I feel I need to add to this that I am not in any way criticising anything that, as YOUR children's gatekeeper, you allow into YOUR home - or actively choose to have their as it has value for you and yours. I am sharing my philosophy as some thoughts and feelings I have been puzzling out and some joys I have been experiencing in recently seeing so much creative play between my little three. :) So, there is no instruction implied in these words, apart from the following - LET THE CHILDREN PLAY! Thankyou. ;) ***