They say three moves equals a fire. If that’s true, our house has burned down more than three times in our family’s short history. All those moves have forced regular purges of the kids’ toy collections. We’ve tossed boxes and boxes of things we wished we never bought. Things that broke easily or never got played with. Teletubbie doll with flashing tummy–chuck! Giant princess throne covered in fake jewels–chuck! Yet another ninja-like alien action figure–chuck!
There are only a few core play things that have survived the years. Things that cost very little. Things that get played with every day, month after month as the kids grow. We’ll share eight of our favorites here. Learn from our experience and save yourself time, money, and clutter.
:: It goes without saying that every child should have access to bookshelves filled with lovely titles. But not every parent considers the value of audio books. Provide your kids an easy-to-use tape/CD player and stock a shelf full of titles of all levels for them to enjoy. You’ll have hours of productive reading time every week. Children enjoy listening to classics well beyond their reading or vocabulary level. My three year old insisted on listening to Charlotte’s Web in its entirety over the course of an afternoon.
Because tapes are out of style they’re easy to find second hand inexpensively (or even free). They’re also easy for children to operate, not to mention scratch resistant. You can also find audio titles available for check out at your local library.
Nothing beats a parent reading to their child. But when I hear my kids listening to Roald Dahl or E.B. White reading their own tales with theatrical expression, I know they’re enjoying the next best thing.
Provide a pillow and blanket by your audio station for comfort and enjoyment. Your kids will do the rest.
:: Every child should have a doll house. Yes, even boys. I waited for years of thrift shopping before I found our dream doll house. It’s sturdy, wood, handmade, and full of charm. Big enough for several children to play with at once. It cost me eight dollars.
Children’s play is really work. They mimic the world around them in order to learn about it. Children live in a house themselves and love having their own smaller version in which to explore the drama of everyday life.
Don’t worry if the house you find is empty. The joy of furnishing and decorating it with your kids will be half the fun. Make tiny beds and sofas with cardboard, fabric, and your glue gun. Make tables from old spools and juice can lids. Rugs and blankets are easy to cut from bits of fabric.
:: We play with puppets almost every day at our house. Some of the kid’s favorite puppet personalities have literally become members of our family. Pedro the Mexican marionette and his side-kick Goofy are are as real and as dear to my daughter as her brothers.
Children respond to puppets like nothing else, surrendering to the magic of a little personality that comes alive with a little movement of theirs or their mama’s hands.
We have developed an extensive collection of puppets over the years. None cost more than a dollar. They’re easy to find at thrift stores and garage sales. Marionettes are our favorites.
:: Making music is a magic kind of play that never gets old. Every child should have a basket full of musical instruments to play and bang. We’ve found all our instruments second hand from our lap harp to our dulcimers. But some of the best instruments are handmade. An oatmeal can makes a great drum. Old pot lids make fantastic cymbals.
Of course once you’ve stocked your music basket and set your kids loose, they’re going to want an audience. Be an enthusiastic concert goer. Challenge your kids if they’re incessant noise … ahem … I mean music is too much for your ears. “Play me a sad song. An excited song. A monster song. A princess song.”
:: A collection of sturdy wood blocks is the ultimate open-ended toy and worth the investment if you can’t find a nice set second-hand. Our children, regardless of age and gender, return to ours again and again.
A set of wood cars to cruise down the ramps and through newly built towns is also nice.
:: Every child should have a doll. Forget Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids. Purchase or make your child a soft doll with natural materials. It should feel good to hug. It will become their best fried. People think of dolls as cute. But they underestimate their potential for real play. The facial features should me minimal to keep the toy open-ended.The child should be able to decide through his/her imagination what emotion the doll is experiencing. That’s hard to do with a plastic face that’s permanently smiling at you.
If the doll is made to look like your child, the connection will be even stronger. I’m always happy to see a doll loved, literally, to pieces around here.
:: Every child should have a collection of dress up clothes with a mirror nearby to see themselves in. We’ve developed our collection over the years by thinning out our own closets and by visiting thrift stores. Children love pretending to be someone else. It simply never gets old.
:: A play kitchen is the perfect place for children to pretend to be like mom and dad. Mixing, cooking, and serving their own food is something my kids do every day and don’t tire of. Our kitchen was found for five dollars second hand. The cupboard is a family heirloom. Play food is easy to find. Or try your hand at sewing some of your own. Some little aprons and chef hats make play time even more fun.
What are the classic toys at your house? What play things have stood the test of time?