When my firstborn, Adalia, was barely a toddler she taught me an important lesson about the hazard of too many toys. She was always on the (very) high-energy low-sleep spectrum of kids. When she was just over a year old, I would watch her every morning as she woke up and every afternoon after her nap, dump out her toy basket, take her books off the shelf, play for less than five minutes, then look around for “something to do”.
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The chaos of “too many toys” (and honestly, she had very few) was overwhelming to her. Once the toys were dumped in a jumble, she didn’t know how to play with them. Just observing her made me realize she did much better with fewer toys. It was then that I started rotating her small collection of toys (they all fit on the shelf of a microwave stand) and only kept 2-3 toys out at a time.
She played longer, and happier…and every week I would swap out her toys.
I also noticed, like most toddlers, her favorite toys weren’t toys at all. For a very long time, her favorite toy was an empty International Cafe can (back then they were made of metal) and a few baby food jar lids.
She loved taking the lid on and off of the metal container. She would dump the lids out, then put them back in. She loved pressing the center of the baby food lids and making the “popping” sound. She loved trying to stack the lids and roll the lids.
That Time Baby Jesus Was a Spoon
When her love of the coffee can began to wane, she became obsessed with Mary (yes, that Mary, the mother of Jesus). It really is a shame we aren’t Catholic. Every day she would put a receiving blanket over her head, grab a plastic camping spoon to be “Baby Jesus” and a baby wipe to wrap Jesus in. Yup, when she moved on from the coffee can, her favorite toys became a small blanket, a plastic spoon, and a baby wipe.
Yes, My Kids Had Real Toys Too
Don’t get me wrong, Adalia had toys, as did her younger siblings, but I was careful to never have an excess of toys and the toys we did have were open-ended to promote imagination. You can see our favorites here.
In addition, my kids always had a drawer in the kitchen where they could access things like plastic lids, wooden spoons, and cups to stack. This kept them busy and (kind of) out of trouble as I cooked.
Where Are All the Toys?
The first thing I was struck by when I entered Ben and Adalia’s house was the lack of any toys in view. Now, don’t get me wrong, Percy has toys, I just didn’t see any. Adalia and I have chatted about our mutual minimalistic approach to toys, but when visiting I got to see it in action.
I wasn’t there long before I realized why there weren’t toys in sight…Ben and Adalia involve Percy in everything. From making breakfast to hanging clothes on the line, to “working” in Ben’s shop, Percy is kept busy with life and learning.
One of his favorite “toys” while I was visiting were cans of cat food. He loved collecting them, stacking them on different surfaces. The raised lip meant they were easier to stack than traditional blocks. Perfect for a 20-month-old.
The best part? They aren’t contibuting to clutter in the house and he gets a fresh set to play with every week!
Pass the Measuring Cups, Please!
Early on in my visit I was at church dinner and one of the ladies told me she wanted to get Percy a gift to bring Percy after the baby was born. She asked me what I thought he would enjoy. After thinking for a moment, I said, “Measuring cups”.
She looked at me like I was completely crazy. But I explained that Percy loves to help in the kitchen, has his very own drawer with a few kitchen utensils, and I honestly thought he would enjoy the measuring cups.
Sure enough, after Monty’s birth, this gift arrived.
Not only was there a set of colorful measuring cups, but measuring spoons, wooden spoons, small cuttting board, and a basket to contain it all. It was perfect.
Just observing Percy play with these made me realize just how much learning he could do with this simple play set.
Vocabulary: Playing with Percy I quickly noticed I was using words such as bigger, smaller, inside, outside, hole, and stack.
Colors: What a great way to not only learn the colors but to practice matching the colored spoons with the colored cups.
Fine Motor Skills: Stacking, pouring, putting the cups and spoons back on the red plastic clip (one of his favorite games)
Imaginative play: He cooked us “dinner” and made us “coffee”. He banged the wooden spoons together. Very Loudly.
Such a simple toy, yet endless possiblities.
Yes, mama, you really can skip the toys and your toddler will be just fine. In fact, I’d argue that he or she will be even better off.