Something happens when someone older than me starts to tell me a story. Maybe because the instance is rare, whatever the reason - I become curious...I lean in.
Recently, I was talking to a grandmother. When I brought up the subject of toys, her words took wings.
She told me of days when, "...kids used their imagination a lot more. We pretended . . . we made mud pies, we played with a cash register and play money and used my mother's canned goods to shop. We loaded up our wagons with stuff and called it our shopping cart. I got a puppet once, and we gave puppet shows constantly. We didn't have as many toys as today. We had a doll, a wagon, a bicycle, an Erector set, a tea set maybe, but you didn't have a lot. My dad would sit and play marbles with us. You took better care of your toys because you didn't have so many. Toys were better quality because they had to last a long time. We had terrific fun."
Fast forward to the year 2007. Toys, Toys, Toys. Everywhere! Crowding the aisles of stores, overflowing the toy box, a predictable presence in every child's drive-through meal. We've gained a lot in convenient access to toys, in quick gratification with their use, in high-tech entertainment, but without a conscious effort we could lose something more special. More rare is the real, pure joy that is found in a creativity-inspiring toy.
The good news is that purely fun and meaningful toys are still accessible. It is possible to find toys that endure the progression of time and wear the medal of "favorite toys" for your children AND your grandchildren. Overloading with too much is not necessary. Thinking through your toy purchase with the points below in mind, children will be rewarded with quality playtime no matter what their age!
Try thinking of toys in terms of:
Versatility - Can the toy be used in combination with other toys or objects to inspire creative play? (i.e. blocks & action figures, dolls & a tea set, balls caught with an insect net or bounced on a drum, animal figures & cardboard boxes, spy toys & jump ropes)
Independence - Does the toy empower a child so that the child decides what to do?
Social Interaction - Does the toy allow people to have fun together? Can more than one child enjoy the toy at a time?
Imagination - Does the toy allow for imagination away from themes shown on TV or in the movies? Can the toy be played with in different ways or beyond the intended purpose?
Physical Movement - Does the toy require the child to move?
Strategy & Challenge - Does the toy appeal to the innate desire we have for thinking just a little bit "out of the box" and beyond our natural level? - e.g., games & construction kits.
Self-Expression - Does the toy allow the opportunity to showcase the child's unique talents or interests?
Reality & Fantasy Balance - Does the toy promote a balance of reality and fantasy? Children can develop skills and imagination simultaneously by creation of an art project on a pirate theme, investigating with spy toys, or acting out real life scenarios with puppets.
Relaxation - Does the toy encourage a kid to relax? Soft cuddly toys, a non-competitive, simple game, or texturally interesting plaything.
Call me simple, but when I'm 80 here are my aspirations: I want to be playing alongside my grandkids, leaned up against the sofa with a big pile of wooden blocks, building spaceships with Geomags and weird creatures with Zolo, hurling superballs into Dado Cube castles with our catapult, rearranging furniture and moving our Calico Critters around in the three story wooden dollhouse, taking in a rowdy run of Blokus, pounding colorful balls with a wooden mallet, watching silliness with the Bilibo, and after we're done, I want to watch my grandkids curl up with my son's favorite UglyDoll "Uglyworm" and my daughter's beloved "Too-Dee" for a nap.
Among the parts of my legacy, I want the addition... "and when kids were at their house they played."
Along with all your wisdom and valiant efforts at a good example, leave a legacy of play for your family. The enjoyment of one of life's simplest pleasures...the pure, authentic appreciation of a gallant good time with an unforgettable toy.