I think one of the ways in which our culture is most consumerist is in the area of TOYS. Don’t you agree? The average big-box store has aisles and aisles of colored plastic ready for you to buy and buy, and then when your children get tired of those toys, you buy some more.
And consumerism is always bad for the soul.
Observe how much clutter can be created by toys. Keeping toys severely purged has been key to keeping our own home under control. You may think that this will deprive the children, but actually the opposite is true. Children enjoy their toys more when there are fewer of them, when they are accessible, and also easy to clean up. My recommended read on this is Simplicity Parenting.
So instead of spending money on lots of cheap toys, consider investing in fewer, quality ones that your children will play with over the years. Here is the list of classic toys that have stood the test of time–almost 17 years now–at our house:
Play Kitchen – The Man made one years ago with an internet hack using an Ikea table. I personally love wood but a plastic one would be just fine. I was unprepared for how much water would be poured on, in, and over this thing during play time. Supplies and play food will provide many useful gift ideas for the future.
Mini-table and chairs – Useful for play, school, and extra seating when having company for dinner.
Play silks – A Waldorf hallmark, these are sheer colored scarves that can be used for dress up, tablecloths, tents, baby blankets or slings, backdrops and pretend water, parachutes for lego men, and many other imaginative uses. Amazon now sells polyester knockoffs that are much more reasonably-priced than the authentic silk ones. I will say though, that I have been impressed at how well the real silk has held up.
Butterfly wings – The soft, unstructured ones that are held on with elastic straps. I was amazed at how much they are used.
Doll Furniture – If you have girls, you will have dolls. Our doll highchairs, cradles, and dressers have seen lots of use.
Play clips – Another Waldorf idea, these are like oversized clothespins that are used for clipping up blankets and sheets for making forts or tents. The Waldorf schools use them on “playstands” which are a nice idea, but pretty expensive. I got a pair of playstands off of Craigslist some time ago, and they came with a set of playclips. I found the kids used the playclips more than the playstands. They need their rubber bands replaced occasionally, but other than that they are pretty indestructible.
Blocks – A huge set of real wood blocks will keep your boys occupied for hours. My bro-in-law made us a wonderful set from pine 1×4’s years ago and they have been used for walls, tunnels, castles, buildings, parking garages, airports, fences, and countless other things.
“Matchbox” cars, planes, tractors, etc – Always played with. Always. Coupled with a set of blocks, you will have enough to keep your boys happy for years even if you buy nary another toy.
Play rug – The kind with roads and buildings printed all over it. A natural fit for all the toy cars. We got a kindergarten-grade one off the internet and it is still going strong after 8-1/2 years.
Legos – Mostly the generic ones, that can be used to build anything. We’ve found the kids get tired of the kits, unless they can reappropriate the specialized pieces into new creations. Storage and cleanup can be the greatest challenges with these.
Real Tools – You can buy a small set of real tools for not much more than a pretend set. Kids are extra excited to get the real thing, and they are actually useful. While I am referring here to woodworking tools, kitchen or handwork tools make great gifts too.
There have been other favorites, but these are the ones that come to mind as the most consistently-played-with. Some of my sources for finding nice Christmas gifts are: For Small Hands, Nova Natural, Magic Cabin, Little Colorado, and Etsy, as well as resale shops and Craigslist.
Most of us have a relative who delights in giving our children lots of “stuff,” despite our attempts to request otherwise. What to do? I have found that for most modern toys, 90% of the enjoyment is obtained during the first two weeks of ownership. I let the kids enjoy the toys for those two weeks, and then when interest wanes, the toy fairy comes through at night, gathers up the toys, and donates them.