Christmas toys worth buying
Many homeschool families are single-income households. They do not have money to waste. Moreover, parents are increasingly working additional part-time jobs to make ends meet, so they need to be extremely smart about what they buy.
All parents want happy children on Christmas morning, but can you both please your children and make a sound investment? Are some toys worth buying? In this article, I present a guideline for parents to learn how to select Christmas gifts for their children that are worth buying; these toys have lasting value, are practical, and have multiple uses for fun.
What comes to mind when you think about your child playing? Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, says, “It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys. Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.”1
When you think about gifts for your children, keep in mind how you want your children to play, and what you want your children to gain from playtime, rather than the specific object.
Parents have to be on guard not to buy toys based solely on advertisements. Since 1955, when Mattel began advertising toys, most purchasing decisions have been based on the toy winning the advertising wars. Smart parents should not fall prey to a toy’s popularity, which is driven by advertising and designed to entice a consumer in its packaging. These kinds of toys often use lights, noise, or character tie-ins to a movie or television show; frankly, they are marketing products made by a corporation that wants to increase its profits!
Ever since the video game Pong became popular, parents have been gravitating toward digital toys for their children. However, these toys are expensive and do not truly promote many child developmental skills, nor do they have long-term usefulness for a variety of play activities. Children who primarily play with electronics are learning to play in cyberspace but not in the physical (real) world where they will eventually live and work. Electronics are tools to use in life and to enrich life, but not to foster play-filled child development.
This year, a few companies participated in sending toys for our review. Let’s use two of these products to learn how to determine if it is a “toy worth buying.” But first, I will explain what to look for in worthy toys.
Toys that have lasting value hold up to rugged play and, hopefully, can be passed down to younger children years later or sold after your child has finished using them. This is very important because you want to think of toys as an investment, not a one-time plaything.
Practical means you are actually doing something as opposed to virtually doing something. Something is practical when it is based in experience, like learning through trial and error. Practical toys subtly teach developmentally appropriate skills through use by building confidence and strengthening active play.
Multiple Uses for Fun
Toys should be open-ended so that a child can find many ways to play with them to inspire creativity. Toys should have multiple outcomes and the ability to be used in a variety of playtimes. These toys should promote unstructured play and encourage self-regulation.
The first toys I received were multi-solution, double-sided puzzles by P’kolino® (Pee-ko-lee-no). They are very well made so they had lasting value. They’re also practical because the simple rectangle pieces can be interchanged in several places of the puzzle to create patterns, solid colors, or mixtures. The puzzles extend play since the solutions are endless, instead of the standard “one-and-done” puzzle. These puzzles come in a robot, bug, or flower design. While substitute teaching a second grade class, I offered these toys as a playtime option; I was delighted to see how engaged the children were in making robots I had not even imagined. Some placed the smile upside down, which is something I never would have done. While you can only use this toy as a puzzle, its variety of construction makes it open-ended and extremely creative.
Magic Cabin (http://www.magiccabin.com) sent several toys to preview. The indoor hopscotch carpet is an excellent example of a worthy toy. Children, in general, do not get enough exercise. This practical toy encourages physical activity. It has a bright, colorful design and can provide indoor game time when the weather is not cooperating for outdoor fun. When I used it with students, a group of children continually gathered to take turns tossing the beanbags and jumping to pick them up. The mat is strong so that it will endure active children. I suggested the children use it for skip counting to prepare them for learning their multiplication facts. For example, a child would count 3, 6, 9 … through 30 instead of the usual 1-10. When playing with a toy like this, it is a wonderful opportunity for the children to make up their own rules and to find their own ways to enjoy it. The mat was never idle anytime I took it out for an inside playtime. Magic Cabin has many toys that fit the standards I set for finding toys worth buying. I encourage you to look at their many outdoor play toys too.
Not surprisingly, a box of assorted LEGO® [http://www.lego.com/en-us/default.aspx ] parts were the most popular and creatively used toy I witnessed this year. Any parent who has stepped on these blocks barefoot knows they are unbreakable and, therefore, long lasting. The specific kit design does not matter. A parent can save money by going directly to a LEGO® store to simply get a big sampling of blocks or by finding a secondhand assortment being sold by an individual. Children love the little people and the special pieces such as vehicle parts, doors, windows, and much more. These can extend play and make it more creative. It is a good idea to have one or two base boards so the construction has something to be built on. I filled gallon-size bags with a variety of blocks and special pieces, and a group of three children could play for an hour or more every day with one bag. As a teacher, I love seeing what the children create. This toy is so practical and has endless uses in play.
Homeschooled children are blessed with having much more free time to play than children who attend traditional schools. Parents need to select great toys to enrich playtime. Yale psychologist and researcher Dorothy Singer, reflecting on the attitudes of schoolteachers and administrators, laments, “Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time.” She believes parents need to cherish the time their children play and recognize its value. We must remember play is the way children work and learn; therefore, we can feel great about buying our children gifts to use for play that have lasting value, are practical, and provide multiple uses for fun. Properly selected toys are definitely worth buying!
Lindy Abbott is a veteran homeschool mother who has two sons in college and one daughter finishing high school. She has her degree in Early Childhood Education and is certified as an ESL/ELL teacher. She substitute teaches in her city schools in a variety of age levels and classes. Lindy also loves to write articles, Bible teachings, and poetry. You can read some of her works on http://lindylou-abbott.blogspot.com. She also volunteers as an international advocate and supporter for O.A.B.I. (Organization for Abused and Battered Individuals).
Copyright, 2015. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, Fall 2015. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.