With the big mid-year toy sales on now, I’ve suddenly been thrust into a strange new aspect of parenthood.
It starts with the catalogues. This is my first experience at the front line, really taking note of what’s available and what things cost, and even though my kid is not yet one year old, I’m a little perturbed by the toy market.
My biggest gripe is the amount of products that have TV and movie characters splashed all over them. In fact, there are some things that aren’t available without some kind of Marketable CharacterTM staring back at you; scooters and pogo sticks in one catalogue were plastered with Dora the Explorer, Chuggington, Ben 10, Disney Princesses, Bakugan… but there wasn’t a plain one in sight.
I know why they do it, and I don’t appreciate it. I mean, look. If Devin one day has his heart set on a Ben 10 shirt, I’m not going to flat out refuse. But it’s definitely not something that I would make a habit of.
There are much nicer, more tasteful, and more useful products out there than that kind of stuff.
Then there’s the plastic-y, flashy, noisy, glaring nature of it all.
Jene and I were browsing KMart’s toys, mostly because they carry a brand that makes a lot of affordable wooden toys. While we were looking, a couple with a little girl were in the same aisle, looking only at electronic laptops that made lots of noise. Her pram was laden with much of the same stuff.
It disappoints me. I don’t feel I’m better than them because I was looking at a wooden abacus – I’m not so pretentious to demand that my baby only play with classic, educational toys, which seems to be a trend lately (boring). But when all the toys a child has are plastic, garish, loud and singular-purpose, it makes me a little sorry for the kid. If all the stuff for play is just handed to them – here’s a flashing, music-playing guitar, here’s a doll that cries and wets and crawls, here’s a car that moves on its own and makes its own sounds – when do they get the opportunity to develop their own imagination, and their own ideas of how the world works?
Like I said, a little of that stuff is ok. But generally, I find it somewhat wasteful because of the specific age and use limitations.
So, what do we buy? Not a whole lot so far, compared to others. Devin didn’t have any toys when he was born and for a while after, apart from a few stuffed animals. We buy little bits and pieces when we can, and when something seems appropriate.
He has lots of wooden things – the Manhattan Toy Skwish, a shape sorting cube, a block set and train set from Ikea, a ball pounding block, a giraffe and a zebra on wheels, aforementioned abacus. He likes playing with all of them – not usually in the way that was intended, but that’s what is good about them.
I braved the toy sale recently and put two things on lay-buy for Christmas – a big wooden Thomas the Tank Engine train set, and a set of wooden shape puzzles.
(Please note that Thomas the Tank Engine pretty much has a monopoly on train sets for young children, and that it is a genuine toy in itself, not just, say, an ordinary pop-up cubby house with a Thomas face printed on the side.)
We recently bought him a Tonka truck, because he likes cars and wheels and generally just things that go at the moment.
His birthday is coming up, for which we bought a wooden pull-along snake and a tub of Mega Bloks.
After a little consideration, we bought a push-along walker that converts to a ride-on car a few days ago (he likes both modes). It’s not the nicest looking thing, and I know he will soon outgrow it, but I didn’t mind in this case because it was relatively cheap and is being used a lot. (Because have I mentioned? Devin is standing up all over the place, and even standing alone for large chunks of time. He likes walking while holding on to something, so I thought he’d enjoy a walker. And he does.)
Excuse the quality. It’s hard to capture a speeding baby.
My next thought is one of those clams that you put sand and/or water in. They’re about twenty bucks. We’ve been taking him to parks and playgrounds lately, and his favourite thing to do is sit in dirt and ‘dig’.
All of these things, though, are really just to distract him from what he really wants to play with, like heaters, electrical cords, soot, nappy buckets…