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about toys, no toys and non-toy toys

Thursday, November 26, 2009

welcome to my post about toys, in which i ramble on about the local school, recount our toy purge when we left canada, vaguely describe my kids' current toy collection, and share a link to Los Bicharracos, where you can get a 10% discount off beautiful hand-made wooden toys and learning bikes
(it might be a bit much to order toys from argentina if you don't live in argentina, but people have been known to do wilder things than that, so go ahead, i promise i'll think you're the coolest. it won't be expensive, given the exchange rates (plus that whole thing about cheap third world labour). you could also help him get the word out by becoming a fan of his products on facebook.)
and, in preparation for the season of obnoxious toy bombardment, i'd also like to share this excellent guide to commercial-free holidays: tips for resisting holiday hype, by campaign for a commercial-free childhood.


we just came back from the local kindergarten, hoping to take a look around and maybe enroll the monster for next year. we're still undecided. we're not thrilled with the private school he's in right now, which is also 30 km away, so we thought maybe we would save a whole lot of money we don't have and try the local public school here.

in theory, i love the idea. in practice, i'm still undecided. and in reality, it might not matter at all because there are no spaces left and a long waiting list.

if we somehow eventually get a spot, then i will write more about the school and our decision-making process.

but for now, get this:
the rooms (one junior kindergarten and two senior kindergartens) had almost no toys. almost no toys. considerably fewer toys than his current school, and next to nothing compared to his (public) daycare in canada.
i paid closest attention to the junior kindergarten room, which is where the monster would be next year. there was a play kitchen, a doll bed and some stuffed animals, a small bowl of blocks, a small bowl of lego-type pieces and a large chalkboard with coloured pieces of chalk. there was also lots of art work hung all around, and lots of mini tables and chairs.

so, without getting into the pros and cons of this school (and most importantly, its lack of proper funding and infrastructure), i thought i'd just say that the scarcity of toys at the school doesn't bother me at all. i'm told they do lots of crafts and lots of outside play time. they have music time and story time. sounds good to me.

it's not that i'm against toys or anything. it's just that i know that kids will find ways to play with or without lots of toys, especially for just three hours a day and with lots of other kids around.

i would love to hear any thoughts any of you might have on this.

kids will find a way to play with just about anything. often the least likely objects become favourite toys.

my monkey is obsessed with shoes. and jars with lids. give him a jar big enough to put a shoe in, and a lid he can put on and off, repeatedly, and you can almost write a whole blog post while he experiments with the endless fun.

and then there's the monster, who picked up this IUD applicator my partner had temporarily dumped onto the kitchen table when he came back from giving a sex ed talk at the local high school. it quickly became a favourite toy, until i managed to sneak it into the garbage a week or so later.

(my bilingual boys is hosting a giveaway for a $25 gift card at amazon. there are several ways to enter, including writing about what toys your kids actually play with and linking to one of her posts about toys. while i doubt that i will win the giveaway, i hope that i might win the 'Most Unusual Answer' title.)

what non-toy toys do your kids like?


a year ago today - the day before we said goodbye to canada and got on a plane for a very long flight to our new home - i had some of my favourite mama friends over for a toy grab while f. and i madly finished packing, cleaning, throwing stuff out and carting things off to the local goodwill (thrift store).

i had already packed up lots of our books, and a few essential and easily packable toys: some cars and trucks, a wooden train set, a (too large) fire truck, some music toys, a doll, and some puppets and stuffed animals. i say that these were essential only because they were the monster's most favourite toys, and we thought that bringing them with us would help make the dramatic transition of moving to argentina as easy on him as possible.

at that time, the monster was two and a half years old. that means that we had two and a half years worth of birthday presents, garage sale finds, thrift store acquisitions and grandparent indulgences. even though we tried to avoid toy clutter and the accumulation of 'stuff', we had a pretty good-sized stash. that day a year ago, my friends took away riding toys, sand toys, bath toys, a rocking moose, a fridge, a parking garage, cars and trucks, and lots more.

it was a major purging. (we also got rid of almost everything we owned, but i'll stick to toys for this post.)

the monster dealt with this significant loss of his things pretty well. we explained over and over again that we were sending our things on a boat, and so we couldn't send things that were too big. then we'd play the too-big game:
is this dumptruck too big to send? Nooo. are your clothes too big to send? Nooo. is the bed too big to send? Yes! is the parking garage too big to send? Yes!

in the year that we've been here, we have been successful in rebuilding a less cluttered collection of toys. our efforts to limit family members' excessive gifting of cheap and forgettable trinkets have met with limited success, but since we live far away, it hasn't become too much of an issue.

we have followed our kids' lead and tried to get them the kinds of things that they show a lot of interest in. in this family, that means:
  • balls, hockey sticks, bats, paddles, nets, and anything else sports-related
  • cars, trucks, trains, and did i mention trucks?
  • shovels
we also try to get things that we like to have available for them:
  • lots of books, in english and spanish
  • craft supplies (neither seem very interested in crafts, but i keep trying. the monster loves cutting with scissors. and these 'soccer players' made out of pipe-cleaner see lots of action on a green piece of construction paper with a tape ball.)
  • puppets (buenos aires markets have the best puppets, EVER - see above)
  • dress-up stuff
  • wooden blocks
  • letters and numbers

and, we are very lucky to have a super-talented brother-in-law who has made my little guys their most special toys. you can check out some of his stuff here. the website is just getting set up and is still only in spanish, but if you're interested in anything, you can write to him in english.
if you mention that macondo mama sent you, he'll give you a 10% discount. (isn't that great?)
aside from all this Stuff, and when the weather and bugs cooperate, the best toys of all for my kids are:
  • the river
  • the beach
  • the dirt pile in our backyard (a happy outcome of an unfortunate sewage problem that required a lot of digging)
do you have any non-commercial toy or play suggestions? please share!


Deborah said...

Our children are somewhat under-toyed - a deliberate strategy on our part. But well booked, papered, pencilled, crafted, gardened, musiced... They all have excellent imaginations, and on long car trips, they often occupy themselves by telling stories to each other.

Value for space and money toys in our house: wooden blocks, Lego, craftwork.

macondo mama said...

Deborah - I think under-toying your kids makes a lot of sense. And I love the image of my kids being a little older and telling each other stories in the car! For now, they get giggles out of making spitting noises...

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