Dolls & Toys — 31 August 2000
Bargain Toys – But at What Cost?

Ask Kytka Archives: August 31, 2000

I am looking for quality toys at low prices. Any ideas?

Okay, I am going out on a limb here BUT, you asked…

I looked at the links for the toy sites you sent and I saw the “bargain prices” you referred to. Here is a quote from one of their items: “Outfit your dollhouse from top to bottom with this play-packed set. Includes 40 pieces, from beds to barbecue to benches. Sized just right for the Carry Cottage. Ages 3+. #701130 Carry Cottage Furniture $14.00”

I have this food for thought to offer…

Who on earth can manufacture and afford to sell FORTY pieces of furniture for fourteen dollars? — passing along my opinion and/or judgment without knowing the facts — but it seems that this stuff has to be either manufactured in some “slave labor” country or is really just junk…

I don’t know, perhaps I am reacting too strongly but are we not involved with the “Waldorf” way for wanting playthings and materials which speak to the gentle soul of our child? Natural, gentle, simple playthings?

outside fairy house

It’s difficult to go on about commercialization, materialism, consumerism here, in this medium of cyberspace… but IMHO, the BEST idea is that less is more and the furniture which parents create for their children out of scrapped branches are probably best… a close second would be a creation from a local artisan, a grandparent or neighbor and/or finally, a cottage industry business where you can actually phone up and speak to the real person who created your child’s toy… all the while supporting a (most likely) stay at home family, struggling to make ends meet… living the simple life.

Okay, I am showing my personal and previous “catalog owner” roots, but this isn’t about “me”… it is about what our children are playing with…and what we are teaching them by the choices we make each and every time we make a purchase and bring something new home… We have a responsibility as parents to introduce them to a better way than the way we we have been programmed to “shop & buy!”

A Parent Shares:

The question isn’t usually what toys to acquire, but what toys to get rid of. Most mainstream programs for children have way too many toys. Besides being messy and disorganized, it sets the kids up for a life-time of materialism. I’d get rid of anything sharp, broken, or ugly. I’d also get rid of things that don’t foster creative play.

Books: I wouldn’t accumulate a lot of books for this age group (toddlers, right?) because their eyes aren’t mature enough to scan them. If you love books, you could have a few of your more beautiful ones around for them to look at the pictures, or maybe a few board books, but toddlers don’t take good care of books, so I’d get rid of them in general, or put them away until later.

Plastics and other synthetics: These don’t promote the healthiest development in children. It’s hard, but purge the plastics. (There are, of course, exceptions – for instance I like plastic slides (outdoors) better than metal ones for safety reasons. I also prefer plastic shovels for outside because they are durable.)

Take your clues from the places where children thrive.

The Beach: Children don’t need toys at the beach. Just water, sand and maybe a shovel and pail – maybe a ball as well. To bring these elements to children, be sure your space has access to water (a large bowl or tub full of water outside is fun) and earth (a sand box or better yet, a hill of sand – or just the dirt in the yard). Water and dirt are difficult in pre-school/day care settings because usually there are too few adults to help clean-up and change clothes, but in parent/child classes you can get away with it. Sand is nice because it’s relatively clean. Have plenty of shovels and pails and stainless steel bowls and such to play with in the water and sand. Kids this age can’t be asked to share constantly, so have lots of the same thing. (Lots of the same shovel, for instance.) Access to the outdoors and this sort of play are essential. Even in cold weather, large amounts of time can be spent outside if the children are dressed well. Yes, and I’d get some balls.

The Woods: No toys needed here either. Kids love to build forts and play imaginative scenarios in the woods. To bring these elements to the children, I like to see programs with all sorts of odd pieces of wood outside. Maybe some logs or stumps. Maybe some planks (well sanded ones are best). Maybe some tree limbs. Things you can help them move around to create castles, or barns, or houses or stores or an endless amount of things.

The Home: Just regular things around the house are used by children for play. Do you remember making huts out of all the couch cushions as a child? Or draping sheets over the table to make a house? To bring these elements to children, I love to see furniture in programs that can be used by the children when they play. Chairs turned on their sides. Tables that aren’t too heavy to move around. Large silk and cotton cloths have endless uses for creative indoor play.

Round it out with items from nature, such as pine cones, stones, feathers, seed pods. Children find endless ways to play with these.

Think Tools rather than Toys: Some of my favorite “tools” for children are: child sized mops (the kids love these – I like the ones with wooden handles and cotton yarns – one source is A Child’s World – it’s a Montessori catalog), rolling pins (lots of the same one so children aren’t asked to wait or share), child-sized baking dishes (real ones) such as pie tins, bread pans, little whisks (I happen to like these, but they aren’t necessary), a washing board.

Just Toys: I happen to like well-made, wooden dump trucks (but I don’t let them go outside). Also things you’ve made, or someone else had made for the children – dolls, doll clothes, ropes (from finger knitting), knitted animals, felt balls, etc.

Suggested Reading:

* Special Thanks to Kim for sharing her views & suggestions.

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