I have just done yet another playroom declutter. I try to go through the kid’s stuff at least 3-4 times each year to make it easier for them to see and enjoy what they still like or may have stopped noticing amongst the masses of “stuff”.
If I could do it all over again the one change I would make to our toy and plaything selections is I would have invested in less items, but higher quality. It can seem daunting when faced with the choice between doll houses ranging in price from $30 to $500. You also never know what items your kids will play with for years and which will be abandoned shortly after purchase. Just because the neighbours have got 6 years out of their trampoline (justifying the $1000 spring-free version) does not mean your own children will use it more than once a month for two years (in which case the $200 version from Target is just fine).
So without a crystal ball we make choices for, and with, our kids about what enters the home (and outdoors).
As I cleared a few more piles of toys, puzzles and games I made some notes on what still stands the test of time in our home. This is not an exhaustive list and I have left off arts and crafts (as that is our number one activity here and deserves it’s own post) and outdoor toys and sports equipment.
Top categories of toys & games that have lasted eight years:
Dress ups and accessories: even at 7 and almost 9 years old these get played with regularly. We have everything from character Princess costumes to foreign items bought on holiday to capes and doctor kits and open ended accessories (including decluttered bits from my own wardrobe).
Tip: When they outgrow dress up clothes keep a few smaller items on hand for visitors to your house. Dress ups can be an activity that friends of both genders and all ages including siblings can enjoy together – a great level playing field.
Toy kitchen and add-on sets of accessories: One item I wish we had spent more on upfront. We owned a smaller plastic kitchen that was used from ages 2-5. Seeing it would be an ongoing hit, we sold that and upgraded to a larger wooden kitchen big enough for several kids to play together (still being played with by almost 9 year old). The kitchen is a hit with both genders and has led to endless games of “restaurant”, “Master Chef” competitions, and very extensive outdoor sessions for picnic games.
Tips: Use recycling items to create your own props (ie egg cartons, cleaned out jars). You can create felt food quite easily for gifts or craft sessions with older kids (As a non-crafter I still managed to make fancy cookies and lollipops that have lasted years.) A larger kitchen doubles as storage for the food and accessories.
Doll house and extension accessories: for additional pieces I highly recommend items from Djeco, Early Learning Centre, and Le Toy Van- all are well made and worth the money, even having a good resale value if you are like me and try to recoup money later on.
Tip: If you have the space a taller doll’s house will have greater longevity as it is easier for 2 or more kids to enjoy it together and use dolls of varying sizes. Even an upcycled bookcase or cardboard creation can make a great doll’s house.
Building toys including:
Blocks – you can never have enough
Marble runs – wooden, plastic, big or small, even made from cardboard tubes
Magnet sets – ball and rod kits for older kids
Lego – a classic that lasts forever (we brought back childhood pieces from my husband’s home recently). Younger kids can be started with bigger block sets like quattro and duplo.
Tip: It can be expensive to build up a collection of lego so always accept offers of hand me down supplies or grab bargain lots on ebay / garage sales as they can be cleaned and used for decades longer.
Games and Puzzles: My personal favourite way to spend time with my kids. There is so much to gain from playing board and card games beyond all the fun we have. It gives us great opportunities for everyone to learn about taking turns, being a gracious winner and handling losing nicely. It has also let us teach the girls never to give up as many games change course suddenly and just as they are feeling defeated they gain ground and realize it’s “anyone’s game.”
Our favourites (we have a big stash) over the years include: Pictureka, Trouble, anything by Orchard Toys for preschoolers, Monopoly Jr, card games like Snap and Memory.
Tip: add to your collection as the kids age so that they stay challenged and interested, but also know they will sometimes revert to simpler games.
Figures and pretend play sets:
This covers everything from farm sets to plastic or wooden people and animals, generic or characters.
Extension activities are endless as figures can be used for bath play, creating special “worlds” and scenes, involving other toys (especially those listed above in building toys). A great sensory activity my kids love is taking a baking tray, covering it with mounds of shaving cream and then adding in figures to make everything from a polar landscape to a fairy world all while smooshing and writing in the cream.
Tip: There is so much written opinion out there about keeping toys open ended, avoiding commercial merchandise etc. As much as I think simple, non-branded toys are wonderful trust me that most kids will not be inhibited by favourite sets. Barbie and Polly Pocket are just parts in a world created by the children – a world where a panda bear can drive a car and Barbie can fly. My kids are two of the most creative kids I have ever met (most of their hours are spent drawing, writing stories and doing pretend play) and apart from excluding my most hated toy on Earth (Bratz) I have let them explore their own interests which range from Sylvanian families to Littlest Pet shop and My little ponies.
Each of us will have some toys that we stand our ground on and refuse to let in, but mostly I hope you can see that kids will create whatever comes into their minds whether they use Barbie or a roll of toilet paper and a bunch of stuff from the recycling. My friend, who gave her boys dolls to play with and banned toy guns, still found them naturally making guns out of blocks and sticks. Kids will explore and learn most from pretend play, however it comes to them.
What toys have you found to be worth the investment and/or stood the test of time?
Find your simple,