I now have teenagers, one about to leave for college. I can honestly hand out parenting advice with the wisdom of hindsight. At least, I feel I have hindsight for the elementary years. My current advice is about how kids don’t need very many toys. In fact, I am going to theorize that there are only 3 toys your kids need.. They hardly cost money, the toys won’t require their own room and the gift of mental development will give for years.
I need to first say, the following 3 toys were not the only toys my children owned. (See Gift Guides) I am not that hardcore. Also when my kids were younger I believed a better toy could achieve all the bliss I wanted for my kids.
For me toys had one goal: help my children entertain themselves. One of my siblings only believed in getting educational toys for her children. (And honestly her kids are crazy smart and inquisitive so that was probably a great decision in the long run). I choose to get whatever kept them busy because my sanity required it. For my family that was the best decision in the long run. BTW: sometimes the best toy for my sanity was the TV. I will admit that if I was raising kids now I would be that terrible parent who used the phone for entertainment and then said things like, “I don’t let him use that too much, just special times I need him quite like this.” —yeah those special times would come up every day without me realizing it.
Toys are expensive. I dedicated many birthday shopping expedition to finding the best toy. (my struggles to by gifts are for another post). I would either by too many gifts because I just want the birthday to be memorable. Or my cheapside would come out and I would get too few and too “dollar store” to be useful beyond the day of celebration.
First of the only 3 toys your kids need
This is the ultimate connection tool for a kid. I mean that literally. This will be used to connect the next items to just about everything. Beyond that some kids actually enjoy learning cats cradle. We spent one entire trip to DisneyWorld using string to play cat’s cradle while we waited in line. It took some time the kids fingers to get the hang of it but then they were off and enjoying. Aside from cat’s cradle my kids learned to finger knit (granted you need a whole skeen of yarn for that), string developed into the imaginary dog leash, the rolling ball of death. Also if you have a cat to add to the mix of string the kids will play until Felix lays down for a nap from exhaustion.
I can already hear someone saying, “If you just give you child string they will end up tying it around their neck and suffocate.” And you are right this is a remote possibility. But the value of string as a toy far outweighs this concern for me. Besides ask Steven Leavitt pointed out in Freakonomics, parents spend too much time worrying about things like whether the neighbor has guns in their home and not the fact more children drown in backyard pools every year. So I think sometimes the scenarios we concoct as parents are skewed by our worry.
Second of the only 3 toys your kids need
I know how so many of us just learn eventually as a parent the best toy is the item at hand. With so many times that we are in the kitchen making dinner with the kids underfoot the nearest item at hand is the blunt objects of the kitchen drawer. Wooden spoon being the safest. It’s used to bang on pots and pans (or anything else you’ll let them bang on). It becomes the weapon of defense in a battle. The Wand of magic for a fairy godmother. And sometimes it’s just a spoon giving soup to people. There was the time my son tied the spoon to string and took it for a wander around the house (strong message for, “get a pet for mom”)
Splinters and banging friends on the head may be the cautions of this item. Given my previous thoughts on danger (see paragraph two under “string”) just know the bigger danger is that your wooden spoon willnot return to the kitchen. When it does return the unknown goo on it will never come off effectively. So keep a spare for your the kitchen if you can.
Third of the the only 3 toys your kids need
The size of this one is up to you my kids liked ones that were small enough to fit in the spoon, but large enough you could tie it with the string well. For all the jokes about pet rocks, don’t underestimate the power of the rock as a toy. The rock becomes the hockey puck, the rock weights the string from the extended spoon for a one string guitar, the rock becomes the castle that you must save from the dreaded string blob with your trusty wooden spoon sword.
Will you child eventually throw the rock at someone? I don’t know. I am pretty sure mine did. But you see it turns out that it’s not such a big deal. Discipline given, message received. It doesn’t seem to have turned my children into rock-wielding monsters defending their territory with another pebble to the head of an intruder.
There you have it 3 toys. Maybe you won’t stick to just those three, but the kids will keep coming back to them again and again. Mainly because you spent gobs of money on the latest Stars action system and it doesn’t fit well in the side waist of their pants. I am sure this list could be added to, but these three items will get you at least an hour of play out of the kids when they are alone. Throw in a tinker toy set and you could go all day. But the tinker toys aren’t necessary.