Choosing Toys

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If you walk into any modern toy store, you’ll be overwhelmed by an insane number of toys to choose from.  Parents ask me all the time: how many toys are enough? How do I decide which toys to buy for my child? Which are the best toys? Are there toys I shouldn’t buy? What if my kid falls in love with toys that I think have no educational benefit or that don’t match our family values?

There’s no one right answer to these questions. I’m not going to give you a list of “most recommended toys for all children.” But, I will give you some things to think about when choosing toys…

  • Don’t fill their lives with too many toys and too much entertainment. If every time achild expresses a whiff of boredom, we hand them a new toy, they learn to depend on new commercial goods to be happy. And they don’t learn the creativity that can be inspired by boredom and limited materials. Also, if there are too many toys to choose from, children tend to be distracted and over-stimulated. Having fewer toys helps build their attention span and focus. (Learn more here.)
  • Choose more open-ended toys. Open-ended toys are toys that can be played with in a wide variety of ways, such as a set of wooden blocks, versus closed-ended toys which are designed for only one thing, such as a superhero action figure. Open-ended toys are passive and require your child to be active and creative. (Learn more here.)
  • Choose toys which stimulate a wide variety of learning. If my child had only ten toys, I would want them to have some which stimulate each of the major intelligence styles: linguistic, mathematical, kinesthetic, artistic… Learn more at https://gooddayswithkids.com/2014/08/14/10-types-of-toys/
  • Consider your family values. Where will you compromise, and where won’t you compromise?
    • My son is in love with Shopkins. They are everything I hate in a toy. They’re cheap plastic, lots of clutter, gender biased, and encourage consumerism values not in alignment with mine. The slogan for Shopkins is “once you shop you just can’t stop.” But… we have lots of Shopkins. Why? Because he fell in love with them at pretty much exactly the same time as we introduced allowance and the idea of having saving money, gift money, and spending money. (Learn more about financial literacy.) The rule for spending money is that he can spend it on anything that he chooses. He chooses Shopkins. Right now, my appreciation for what he’s learning about math and financial decision making are outweighing my dislike of Shopkins.
    • I am very much a pacifist and have never held or fired a real gun. However, I spent many hours of childhood playing with toy weapons, and I do allow my children to play with things such as light sabers, toy swords, and nerf guns. However, we do not buy anything that looks like a real weapon or like a real person firing real weapons at real people. (i.e. no first-person shooter games in our household!) For lots more thoughts, read about Gun Play here.
  • Think about gender and toys. Many toys are marketed to either girls or to boys, or are marketed as gender neutral. What are your preferences? (Read more on Gender)
  • Ask yourself from time to time: am I happy with the toys we now own? Does my child enjoy playing with them and do a good job (at a developmentally appropriate level) of taking care of them? Do I feel like we have enough toys to feel abundance and happiness, but not so many that we’re all on sensory overload? If you’re happy with your responses to those questions, you’re in a good place. If you’re not, then think about what you want to change.
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