Every once in a while, I wish I were a kid again. Today’s toys just look cool and amazing. It’s laughable to think that I once hankered after a Light Brite set when it now seems so low tech. But wait a minute, surely all those moulded plastics with added electronic chips don’t add up to an environmentally friendly approach?
Not only are many toys very resource-intensive, but some parents and educators argue that they are not even much fun. Some toys and games are so specific that open-ended play is difficult. But play is the basis for learning and development in children, so what is the long-term consequence of having everything ready-made and defined?
We can look back at parents’ and grandparents’ stories of playing kick-the-can and whittling toys out of sticks – it sounds so quaint and almost deprived. However, the truth may be the opposite – starting from scratch allows kids’ imaginations to flourish. Many of today’s great innovations and technologies probably came from kids who invented with string, rocks, and other found objects.
If you would like to put some old-fashioned creativity back into toys, consider homemade options. These may work best with younger kids not yet jaded by flashier versions. But even preteens and teenagers love art supplies and stationery. Of course, when stocking up, choose age-appropriate materials. And, despite the cheaper cost, avoid dollar store versions – there’s no guarantee that manufacturing standards have been met, and everything likely made a long trans-oceanic trip to get to your local store.
• Play dough: It is surprisingly easy to whip up a batch of custom dough. There are non-cook versions, but the following recipe results in a smooth and workable dough. Combine in a saucepan: 1 cup of salt, 2 cups of flour, 4 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, and 2 cups of water, along with a few drops of food colouring. Cook on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Once the dough becomes stiff, take off the heat. Knead it when cool, then store in a airtight container in the fridge.
• Dress-up kits: Depending on a child’s interests, you can create anything from a doctor’s bag or firefighter’s kit to a camping set or tool box. Start with a sturdy cardboard box or backpack. For a doctor, collect some cotton balls, empty bottles, bandages, an old white shirt, paper, and pens. Reuse cereal boxes to create specialty items like a stethoscope or thermometer. The possibilities are endless, and part of the fun can be making the necessary things to equip your little magician or astronaut or scientist.
• Imagination Central: Use larger cardboard boxes to create a rocket. Or a castle. Maybe a playhouse or kitchen (add a basin and pump-bottle of water to make a workable sink). Try a fire engine or train. Not only will your child be delighted to design the project, but cutting, taping, and decorating are surprisingly entertaining. The only problem may be finding an opportunity to take the construction apart once you’ve had enough – weeks or months later.
• Art supplies: Designate a container to hold supplies and start putting them in. Include coloured pencils, markers, crayons, chalk, yarn, string, pipe cleaners, small paint sets with brushes, a variety of paper, fabric scraps, popsicle sticks, tape, glue, scissors, and more. Glitter glue and beads provide some extra glitz.
Not only will you have plenty of fun playing with these kits, but children learn that ordinary household items can serve many purposes. Need a board game? Invent one specific to your family. Hosting a birthday party? Create your own crafts and take-home items. It’s a more sustainable approach to toys.
Photo credit: Ruthie