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Child’s play

August 30, 2013

I used to work in a toy store.  Two actually.  When one closed, I got a job as a manager at another.  I knew all the latest video games.  Beanie babies and Pokemon were all the rage.  Little boys were all about Tech Deck finger skateboards.  We had boutique items like Madame Alexander dolls and Lionel trains. All the classics sold well: Barbie, board games, Nerf.  Matchbox car collectors (yes they exist) knew when our shipments came in and lined up to go through our boxes.  It sounds like a fun job but it makes you feel like all kids are monsters.  It also gave me very specific ideas about toys for my future children.  I did not want to spend $30 on a nickel worth of plastic.  I did not want to go on epic quests to find the last piece in a “collect them all” set.  I did not want to be constantly tripping over cheap Chinese junk.

Ruth and Dolly

Ruth and Dolly

And here I am.  A new mom.  My daughter is just now at the age (10 weeks) when toys have started to interest her.  She stares, follows with her eyes, and makes attempts to bat at them.  I have a tendency to over think a lot of things and sometimes get political when there’s no need to, and the topic of toys is no exception.  So here is my manifesto.

TOYS SHOULD…

  • Encourage imaginative play.  I like toys that give kids an opportunity to make believe.  Imagination seems to me to be like a muscle.  Many people never develop theirs, or they let it atrophy at some point.  It’s a shame because the ability to pretend and to think creatively and abstractly is such an important thing.   Examples of toys in this category: dress up clothes, food and kitchen sets, occupation sets (doctor, tool kits), puppets and dolls.
  • Be mostly gender-neutral.  As I’ve stated before, I’m very against the “princess culture” that is so popular right now.  I also have huge issues with Barbies and Bratz.  I don’t like how many toy stores are divided in half into boys’ and girls’ departments. Boys can and should play with dolls and girls can and should play with cars.  I don’t want my daughter to have a room full of pink plastic.
  • Foster creativity.  Arts and crafts are important.  Making things with your hands.  Getting messy.  Feeling textures.  I plan to always have PlayDoh, crayons, glue, string, glitter, fabric, popsicle sticks, and unlimited paper around.
  • Teach music.  Making noise is a big part of being a kid.  Almost everyone had a Fisher Price xylophone when they were little, and maybe a tambourine and a little drum.  I like those kinds of toys (and you can remind me I said this when I have a migraine and my daughter is pounding on a toy piano).
  • Get kids active.  I was never athletic or interested in sports (still true) but certain things were fun to me, like chinese jumprope and tetherball.  I’d like to see my kids be more active than I was, and learn things like teamwork and coordination through sports.  Our garage will be full of balls, pads, helmets, nets, gloves, and bikes.
  • Teach construction.  My favorite toys for kids are things like blocks and Legos.  Whether they follow complex instruction sheets or construct their own creation, building toys are great for teaching kids things like attention to detail, following a process, and design.
  • Be non-violent.  I don’t like toy guns or action figures that are used to simulate fighting.
  • Teach kids how to play.  While the kind of play that kids invent as they go along is great too, things like board games show kids how to work under established rules, how to strategize, how to take turns, how to win and how to lose.

One common observation of kids is that they can occupy themselves with a tube sock or a wooden spoon for hours.  Or that they’d rather play with the box the toy came in than the toy.  Kids are great that way.  Everything is a toy.  Everyday things are fun, like making cookies with Mom or helping Dad pull weeds.

I know my daughter will end up with Barbie dolls, just like she ended up with princess bibs, despite my feelings.  I had Barbies as a kid and suffer no harm for it.  However, I do have control over what my own toy dollars buy.  So I plan to purchase art supplies, musical instruments, building blocks, games, sporting equipment, and lots and lots and lots of books.

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