Christmas morning hits and my daughter blitzes through the presents under the tree. Wrapping paper and cardboard go flying as she rips down to the core of each gift. Her excitement consumes her to the point she can barely focus on the Moana doll she had wanted for months, or the Shopkins she had cut out from the Toys “R” Us catalogue weeks before.
Despite her fervor, I know most of these toys will end up in the basement. For months, they will sit forgotten. The figurines will only regain their value when I suggest we donate them.
Here’s my problem: I want my kids to be consumed by Christmas spirit, not consumerism. The main reason we buy so many gifts is because I want my kids to know how much we love them. But what I have done in the past hasn’t worked. The speed at which my children open their presents coupled with the fact that we already have too many toys proves my approach needs to change.
Prepping the family for quality over quantity.
A few weeks ago, when the toy catalogues hit our front porch, I prepped the kids. “It’s much easier for Santa to know what to get you if you only choose three toys for your Christmas list.”
My four-year-old and five-year-old went through and circled almost every item on every page. Then, they chose their absolute favorites, cut them out and pasted them on their wish list. We also talked about choosing books. (If your children are old enough to write out their lists, I love this printable template. It asks children to indicate one item they want, one item they need, a new book to read, and something to donate.)
My husband and I agreed our focus will be on experiences. We are flying home for the holidays and will hit up the science museum, aquarium, Christmas train, and do some holiday baking. The truth is, when we’re all grown up, we don’t remember most of the toys we got as gifts. But we do cherish memories of togetherness and fun.
That said, we will buy our kids some toys. So it’s worth covering which toys make for the best play value and which ones are more likely to gather dust:
Steer clear of battery operated toys.
There are exceptions. For instance, my son got a mini air hockey table from my in-laws and it is awesome. In general, however, battery operated toys get played with in a very limited fashion. On a whole, they perform simple tasks and kids passively press and watch what the toys do.
Instead, choose toys that encourage open-ended, imaginative play.
Examples include blocks, figures, toy versions of real-life items, such as play dough, dress-up clothes, and arts and crafts supplies. When children play, their toys should allow for exploration, problem-solving, and testing complex.
Avoid age-specific toys.
It only took having three kids to figure out that most of the baby and toddler toys have a remarkably low shelf life. I’m happy we have a few of these toys for my nine-month-old. But we don’t need more.
Instead, choose toys that grow with your child.
A great way to figure out what will grow with my children is to reflect on what my brothers and I played with the most as kids. My dollhouse was the best toy I ever got. My brothers loved Nerf guns, hockey gear, and figurines from their favorite movies. Many of the toys for preschoolers are baby-safe too (be sure to check for small parts). For my baby boy, I am going to get him a play tunnel. He will be able to enjoy it for years and his siblings will be able to enjoy it, too.
Don’t rush out to purchase the latest toy trend.
The latest toys are often nothing more than a well-advertised fad. Children aren’t going to procure the benefits of play-based learning by following prescribed actions to get a toy egg to hatch.
Instead, choose classic toys.
Classic toys such as dolls, figurines, trains, planes, cars, blocks, Lego, and balls have been around for generations because they have great play value. These toys can be played within a multitude of ways and promote pretend play, STEM learning, and more.
This Christmas my focus is on giving my children valuable gifts, rich experiences, and memories to last a lifetime. By getting rid of the bulk of the stuff, I’m confident we will have a more meaningful holiday season!