Before every birthday, parents are faced with one seemingly simple question from extended family members: "What should we get your kids?" It's a hard one for parents to answer, because the last thing they want is more toy clutter around the house. So they say things like: "Don't get them any more toys, they don't need any more toys. All they need is your unconditional love." or they may say something like: "If you insist on giving them a gift, give them the gift of experiences."
These statements come from a good place, and while there is no substitute for unconditional love, we believe that kids still need toys as much as they need meaningful experiences, priceless memories and unforgettable life-lessons. After all, toys DO provide beneficial experiences, create long-lasting memories and impart important life lessons. Family members still love giving kids toys because they think about the memories and life lessons toys taught them when they were children. Sure, you yourself remember the trips you took with your family and the visits to the museums, but some of your fondest memories and certainly a lot of the skills and interests you adopted as an adult stemmed from the toys you played with as a child.
However, all toys are not created equal.
When a parent says "Our kids don't need any more toys" what they mean is, "Please, no more toys that my kids will only play with once, toss in the toy box and forget about. No more toys that will break or run out of juice in a day."
There is so much emphasis on the "WOW!" Factor when gift giving, why not instead think about the PLAY factor? Unfortunately, there has been a trend on youtube and social media within the last few years of “unboxing” videos. Kids are actually watching other kids open boxes of toys! It IS thrilling watching to see what is inside a mystery box, but the benefits really stop there.
When choosing a gift for a child, their reaction when they unwrap it should be last on your list of criteria. Very often, the most seemingly “boring” looking toys (from the adult perspective) are the toys children will spend countless hours manipulating, building, stacking, creating and imagining. The more open ended the toy, the more opportunity for the child to employ their creative juices.
Inevitably, when all of the excitement has simmered down, when the wrapping paper can be seen strewn all over the room, and the kids (and even some of the adults!) can be found sitting inside a box, playing “wrapping paper b-ball” or using the longest object as a sword, someone will remark “We should have just given the kids boxes or (insert any other by-product of product packaging here) for Christmas!”
Seriously, kids like simple. They THRIVE when they are given the opportunity to play with something exactly how their brain wants to, instead of the toy telling their brain how to play with it.
When choosing a toy for a child, look for these important attributes:
Open ended - Many ways to play with the toy, not just one. Even HABA’s games that come with a set of directions offer several ways to play.
Passive Toys - Toys that require the child to do the work, instead of the toy doing the work for the child. Look for battery, screen-free toys. “Passive toys make active learners!”
Quality - Toys made and designed with care. From sturdy materials such as wood, metal, BPA free, drop-tested plastics or machine washable plush.
Engaging - This is a tough one, because the engagement factor may not always seem obvious. Child and adult brains are completely different. What an adult may think is engaging may not be to a child, and vice versa. Try thinking from a child’s perspective when selecting a toy and always err on the side of simple.
Appealing to broad age range - The age range indicated on the box is most often either just a recommendation or the minimum age that is actually allowed (from a toy safety law perspective) to play with the toy. For instance, if a toy has age 3+ on it, more often than not it has small parts and should be kept away from children who are most likely to put the pieces in their mouth. It also serves as a warning to families with a mix of ages to play with the set high up, out of reach of eager little fingers. Due to their open ended nature, most products made by HABA, aside from the infant clutching toys, can be played with and enjoyed all through childhood. Although, our hand-crafted, wooden clutching toys DO make elegant conversation pieces!
And finally, try toy rotation, which we talk about in blog post "3 Ways to Encourage Screen-Free Play Indoors." Kids often receive WAY more toys and gifts than they could possible play with in the days, weeks and even months following the holidays. After the children have opened all of their gifts, hide some away for a bit to provide an opportunity for them to really focus on a few quality toys at a time. Once you feel like they’re ready for something new, put those away and get out a couple of new ones. It’s a great way to keep the thrill going, and get the most out of their new gifts. It is also a great way to make sure nothing gets forgotten about or tossed into the toybox abyss.
Sure, a membership to a local museum, camping trip and zip lining excursions are tons of fun, but they aren't something you can put on the shelf in your child's room and make available for play. And play is, and has ALWAYS been essential to child development. Tangible toys provide children with opportunities to do what they are best at: PLAYING! After all: "Play is the work of the child!"
So while experiences prove to be incredibly beneficial and create no household clutter, we're advocates for THE POWER OF PLAY and believe that toys should always have a place with children at birthday parties and holidays!