The best toys for kids

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During my first pregnancy, a close friend and recent new mother came to visit our small, pristine apartment and remarked with a glean in her eyes that toys would soon take over each room (cue maniacal laughter). I couldn’t fathom how a tiny human could take over our space and didn’t think much of it. Fast forward to 2017 – I have two daughters, my oldest is four years old and my youngest almost two. Toys fill both of their closets, our family room, cabinets in the kitchen and some have even found their way to my husband’s man cave downstairs in our bigger home.

My husband has a secret passion for throwing away toys so if I don’t regularly donate our stash it will end up out of the house in one way or another. Initially, it was hard for me to let go. I would think of my youngest’s fondness for a particular toy or ones that were a special gift, but I started reading more about the effects of too many toys on kids and the benefits of less. Also, the daily tidying up of toys gave me more than enough reasons to reconsider.

Here’s what I learned.

Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, advocates for less toys. His research shows that limiting the number of toys encourages deeper play and engagement. A German study called “Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten” (the nursery without toys) found the same thing. The nursery schools that participated were asked to remove all toys from their classrooms for a period of three months. Educators found that prior to removing toys, the environment was more hectic with more disagreements and competition. After the toy ban, children played well together and were found to be more creative and self-confident. Role playing and imaginative play took over as the children used blankets and furniture to create caves and camps. The children also spent more time on conversation as they came up with new ideas and projects.

I am not suggesting that we gather all our children’s toys and toss them in the nearest trash can, but we can decide which toys will benefit our children best. Here’s how.

What toys to keep and what to throw away

Ask yourself these five questions before purging or purchasing.

  1. Does this toy encourage imaginative play? If yes, keep it. Children are bursting with fun ideas and toys should help them explore. Dress up clothes are great and encourage pretend play. Kitchen equipment along with kid-sized cleaning supplies are a good way to involve children in our daily tasks. Blocks of any kind are also wonderful for encouraging creativity as they build and tear down one design after another.
  2. Does this toy make noise or have flashing lights? Over the years, high-tech toys have become louder and more stimulating as advertisers try to grab our attention. Throw the label of educational on these culprits and we feel pressured to buy these new-age toys. I don’t know about you, but my education didn’t involve bright lights and music (although that would have been kind of cool). These toys where the first to go in our home and I instantly felt more relaxed. The exception is musical instruments that don’t require batteries.
  3. Is the toy a part of a franchise? Chances are there will be an endless barrage of licensed toys and your child will want all of them. In most cases, after the initial allure wears off or when inevitably a new show or movie catches their eye, these toys will be easily thrown into the never played with pile.
  4. What material is the toy made of? Wooden toys have a better tactile feel, so children are better able to engage with them, they are safer, better for the environment and not to mention are nicer looking than their plastic counterparts. It’s not always easy, but just say no to plastic.
  5. Is the toy broken or have pieces missing? There is no use keeping anything that you will likely not get around to fixing. If you do intend on fixing a toy, place it aside until you can do so. If there is a key piece missing, and you can’t find it, let the toy go. If your children are anything like mine they will keep asking where the missing part is. Save yourself the frustration – get rid of these toys first.

Rotating toys is okay

Take an inventory of your toys and if there’s still too many, put a few away in storage and rotate them on a regular basis. Also, if there’ something you or your child just can’t get rid of for sentimental reasons, place these into a memory box. I allow myself to keep a few clothes and toys that tug at my heart strings and remind me of my children’s milestones.

At first, I reluctantly got on board to pairing down toys but now I’m a firm believer that less toys is more. As if to prove my point, last month something remarkable happened. After a long day of tantrums and meltdowns including my own, my daughters took wooden lacing blocks out of the puzzle cupboard and sat on the floor and started making towers. That moment I finally got it – toys should support play, simple as that. They don’t need to be loud, or trendy or have 50 plus pieces. Children will make do with just about anything and the less distractions they have, the more imaginative they can be.

The larger message of constant consumption or the feeling of never having enough is slowly seeping into our homes and into our minds. Let’s put a stop to that one toy at a time. Start now by sharing with me how you trimmed down your children’s toys and the effect it had on your home.

When slowing down is the only option

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These days the pace of life always seems to be speeding up, making it feel nearly impossible to slow down. The to-do lists are long, demands are high and expectations are even higher. Especially the ones we put on ourselves. How can I stay on top of things? Am I doing enough? Should I do more? These are the questions that run through my mind regularly.

I wrote this post slightly hunched over, being careful not to move too much so as not to aggravate the excruciating pain in my lower back. I’m beginning to think I am asking the wrong questions.

After hurting my back a couple weeks ago, I came to a full and complete stop. I ignored the warning signs – my lower back had been aching for some time now but I pushed the pain aside to focus on everything else I had to do.

I should have listened to my body.

On the day of the incident, I was frantically running around trying to get my daughters ready for daycare while preparing for an interview later in the day. I quickly bent down to pick up a hair tie off the floor and couldn’t get back up. I was lucky – my husband hadn’t left for work yet and took over while I made an emergency appointment at my chiropractor. After the appointment, I went shopping for a back brace where I hobbled along completely hunched over while the elderly customers at the medical supply store gave me questioning stares.

It shouldn’t have come to this. But it did.

I was forced to slow down and here’s what I learned.

  1. Just breathe – It’s day two of my back injury and my girls are screaming over one taking the other’s socks, my back is aching and my husband is late for work. I pause and take a few long deep breaths (pranayama – thanks 10 years of yoga). The pain is still there, the girls are still screaming, and my husband is still late, but I got this. One step at a time.
  2. Prioritize – On day one of being hurt, after barely being able to warm up leftovers, I take pain relievers and decide to lie down for a bit. I end up napping for three hours. I had no other choice but to take care of myself. What if I made myself a priority before this happened?
  3. Let go – After my three-hour nap I asked my husband if we should make pasta or stir-fry for dinner. His response was to keep it simple – chicken fingers and fries it is. Easy to make, easy to clean up. I let go of my need to do too much.
  4. Be present – On day two, my girls are late for daycare and will miss the morning snack, so I slowly grab bananas and crackers and we eat on the kitchen floor because sitting on the floor is all I can manage. My four-year-old says, “Mom, we are having a picnic.” I realize how rarely I just sit with my girls at breakfast. I’m usually hounding them to finish their food while I make a smoothie and throw on some clothes. I need to just be.
  5. Stretch it out – Before having my little ones, I would stretch every night before bed and at work throughout the day. Now stretching was a rare activity. The only thing that helped the pain was child’s pose so here I was stretching again. Note to self,  stretching matters.

The biggest lesson of all was being grateful. As I grabbed on to counters and banisters around the house for support and found myself not being to reach the top shelf in the pantry, I realized how much I took for granted – going up and down the stairs multiple times a day, picking up my two-year-old, putting on clothes, taking a shower, washing the dishes, walking upright and the list goes on. Yesterday this was so easy and today it wasn’t. Before I reserved being grateful for the bigger things – my family, food and health to name a few – but I realized being grateful for the smaller things matters just as much.

It took a back injury for me to realize I’m not the Energizer Bunny, but I know now, and I won’t forget it.

It’s time to go slowly.

The demands of small children are many and relentless at times, but mamas we matter too. Take steps however big or small to make sure you’re slowing down and taking care of yourself. Start now by sharing with me what has helped you slow down.

Creating your tribe

We live in a world where we’re increasingly having babies away from our hometowns, which means often without the support of long-term friends and family. This is exciting because we have a chance to create new friendships, but it can also be daunting during a time when there are so many new changes happening in our lives.

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