Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Toys...what to do?

Toys for my children is an issue that I have long struggled with. When my first child was born, I was clueless. I was mainstream and thought that cheap, China made, plastic Wal-Mart toys were just the thing that one bought for their babies.

Somewhere during my son's first year I discovered the "natural movement" and rid our house of 98% of the plastic toys (there was still some plastic, the wheels on the wooden trains, etc.). I read about the dangers of plastic toys. Treehugger.com says that "PVC (aka polyvinyl chloride) seems to be everywhere we look. Some beach toys, teethers, dolls, and even (gasp!) rubber duckies are cheaply manufactured with the environmentally dubious material. A dioxin-producing powerhouse, PVC releases toxins into the environment all the way through its lifecycle from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, chemical compounds that make the PVC plastic more flexible, which initial studies have linked to both cancer and hormonal disruption."

So then I went a little crazy with the wooden toys (gasp! ME, go crazy with something? Never!) They were just beginning to become popular so they were even found in places like the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart. My house again became over populated with toys, albeit wooden toys. My children and I were slowly becoming overwhelmed with stuff but it was hard to stop when I was finding very expensive toys for less than a dollar at thrift stores. I started weeding out the flimsy, cheap wooden toys but we still had a lot of toys.

Then came the toy recalls. I feel like I should preface that sentence with some classical piano music to make it sound more dramatic....Don Don Don Daaaaa. It finally dawned on me that just because a toys is made of wood, that does not make it any better than a cheap plastic toy. You need to know what kind of wood is is made of, where it was made, how it was made, what kind of paint is on it, etc.

I also began to realize the importance of "non toys". My children still have a lot of toys, despite my endless pruning. But the things they seem to enjoy the most have nothing to do with actual toys. When children play with natural toys their imaginations are being awakened. They are using simple materials, that are readily available, to create their own world. A stick can be a sword, a magic wand, a mixing spoon for a cauldron...the possibilities are endless. They are not limited by the design of an executive who designed a one dimensional product simply to make a profit.

Beside that, when I buy toys for my children I think about the "play value" of the toy. I don't want a toy that is going to do all of the work for my child. I think such toys dull the imagination. Why buy a farm set where the cow moos for your child at the push of a button? Why not buy a basic set where you child can moo for the cow...or if she wants her cow to bark, it can bark. Or even better, why not let her use materials found in nature...that interesting piece of wood can be a cow one day and be carrots for her pot of "soup" the next. Does your baby really need to be surrounded by loud, flashing, blinking, beeping toys? What does this do to the developing brain? To the developing imagination?

Photo of my son making soup in his toy drum

Another thing that I do to encourage my child's imagination is to give my son dolls and my daughter tractors (as well as the other way around). I don't limit my children's play based on backwards (in my opinion) stereotypes.

It is hard and often frustrating to be so diligent in today's world. My children do not watch a lot of tv, yet they are still bombarded with the American idea of "You NEED this product to make your life better, to make you better". My son already knows that if he sees it advertised on television that there is a huge chance that he isn't getting it.

So this has been a wake up call for me. I am again purging toys, even the wooden ones. Any toy that comes into my house now has to go through my mental checklist. I try to buy natural wood toys, toys without paint. I also check to see where it is made. If it was made in the US or Europe I allow it. Things seem to be of better quality from these places.

One need not go to the boutique toy shop on Main Street in order to purchase good quality toys. In addition to using what is found in nature, I have found most of our toys at the local thrift stores or re-sell shops. I have also traded for toys on online parenting boards.

1 comment:

tired of smiling said...

I am an occasional reader.
i referenced this post in my blog here:

I love that you had the guts to get rid of the unwanted toys. I'd love to hear how that's going now, almost a year later.