Limiting Toys

January 7, 2010

When my son was about nine months old, I learned an obvious lesson: his happiness had no relation whatsoever to the amount of toys that we had. In an effort to keep him entertained, I had scoured Craigslist and the neighborhood consignment stores for the very best toys. I found some good things that he still enjoys, namely a Fisher Price Laugh and Learn house and his toy trucks. But I quickly discovered that the majority of toys did not hold his interest for more than five minutes. He was much more interested in normal household objects, particularly those that we might consider trash (empty boxes and such). I resolved not to buy him any more toys until his birthday.

I ended up going a step further and I didn’t buy him anything (other than books) until Christmas. The Christmas gift was partially born out of guilt as I imagined him watching David and I open gifts from each other. I knew that Calvin would be totally oblivious to what we were doing, but it didn’t seem quite fair to leave him out. I decided to take the opportunity to give him some toy blocks, based on an excellent post at peaceful parenting about the many benefits of this simple toy. He also received a few gifts from his grandparents and his aunt, and his dad recently bought him a harmonica. That will probably be it for quite a while.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who are polar opposites when it comes to toy consumption, and yesterday I found some of them on Facebook. I was browsing around when I came across the Christmas pictures of a friend-of-a-friend. This person has a son younger than mine – perhaps 9 months old or so. I was glancing through the pictures in the album when I suddenly came to a halt: there was a picture of the Christmas tree in the corner, and stretched out in front of the tree there was a ten foot-long, two-feet deep array of new toys for the little baby. I couldn’t believe how many toys this kid got – and this was just the loot from his parents. I have two siblings and the three of us together never received this quantity of gifts.

I’d post the picture but that seems like a violation of netiquette. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I started feeling very sorry for this kid. Too many toys is a bad thing. I might have believed this in theory long before having a kid, but now that I have observed Calvin playing it is something that I believe wholeheartedly and that I try to practice. Most toys quickly turn into a pile of plastic crap. Kids get tired of them – fast. My son is much happier when I allow him to find his own toys – things like wheels, a tin he can roll, a spatula, a tennis ball, my alarm clock, and the various things I keep in my nightstand drawer. I’ve removed harmful objects and I’ve looked a few cabinets so that he can have free roam of the house. Sometimes he needs a little guidance, but often he can occupy himself with the fun everyday objects that he finds.

We still often break out the blocks, the balls, the trucks and trains. But I have learned that less is more when it comes to toys.

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