Toddlers Don’t Need Toys
A few weeks ago, BabyC and I went through a rough patch. She was not that interested in playing independently. Before this, it seemed that her best play happened when I was present but not involved. What do I mean by “best play?” I mean the kind of play where she is totally engrossed and focused on a task that she designed. When she’s in charge of her play, it seems to hold her attention for the longest. I love playing with her, but I’m not nearly as creative as she is when it comes to figuring out all the many things one can do with an everyday object, and I’m afraid that I get bored and try to move her to a new task too quickly. BabyC, on the other hand, can dig through the recycling bin (I’ve learned to be selective about what I put in there) and come up with a toilet paper tube, a used yogurt container, and a milk jug and have all the tools she needs to keep her busy for an hour. One of her favorite projects has been containers with tops – taking them off, putting them on, putting objects inside, shaking, opening, taking out, putting in… she’s even started to get the hang of screw tops.
Anyway, back to our rough patch. For a couple of weeks, BabyC was really whiny. Husband finally helped her learn to say “Up!” when she wanted to be picked up. That was a vast improvement over whining, but she was still following me around the house saying, “Up-up!” all day long. I practiced saying, “I’m fixing dinner right now. I can pick you up in 5 minutes,” but I also spent a lot of time holding her and trying to do tasks with one hand, which I’m sure you understand takes 6x the amount of time as doing them with two hands. I would try to engage her in playing with blocks or yogurt containers, but she seemed to be more interested in hanging on my neck.
I started wondering if we needed to buy some new toys. Maybe BabyC’s old toys had just gotten stale for her and she was finally bored of the recycling bin. One day, we wandered into a really great toy store to peruse the selection, and I just felt overwhelmed. I want to be selective about choosing high quality, open-ended toys for BabyC. I don’t want our house to fill up with plastic junk that plays annoying digitized songs. We probably spent an hour playing in this toy store, which was a great activity for a rainy afternoon, but we left without buying anything.
A few days later, we made a family trip to a thrift store. Husband was trying on clothes, and BabyC and I were checking out the hats and purses. BabyC found a wallet and fell in love. She didn’t want to give it up when it was time to go. We realized that she had actually chosen a great new toy for herself, so we bought it. I remembered seeing a My First Wallet toy at the toy store, but this one was both higher quality and cost less. Why buy a toy when you can buy the real thing?
I shouldn’t be surprised that the wallet is BabyC’s favorite new toy. I occasionally let her play with my wallet, and she thinks it is the best thing ever. The thing is, my wallet is really very important to me, so it doesn’t make a good toy at all. BabyC’s new wallet is a perfect toy. It is made of fabric. It has several slots for plastic cards, so we’ve given her Mama’s old Arizona driver’s license and a few outdated store club cards. She loves practicing pulling out the cards and putting them back in. The wallet has two zippers, which she’s still learning to operate. It has a pocket with a snap, made to hold a cell phone. This perfectly fits one of BabyC’s blocks, which she regularly uses as a phone anyway. This thrift store purchase has literally resulted in hours of entertainment for BabyC.
Meanwhile, BabyC has returned to her old ways of deeply-engrossed independent play. In hindsight, I realize that her neediness was probably all related to the fact that she was teething and had a minor cold, both of which combined to mean that she was a little short on sleep (as was I). She didn’t need more toys, she just needed more of Mama. That’s absolutely fine, but I’m glad it wasn’t a permanent situation. A few days ago, BabyC discovered a stack of paper cups, and these have become her new favorite toy. She stacks and unstacks. She moves them, one at a time, from one end of the room to another. She fills them up with blocks and pours them out. I watch. Happily.
BabyC doesn’t seem to care if she is playing with something purchased from a toy store or a thrift store or something upcycled from the recycling bin. So, I’m holding off on buying new toys for the time being, but I’m still on the lookout for good ones. I want the kind that are open-ended and will encourage building and creative play. What are your favorite toys for toddlers?