With three small children, we have more toys than a whore has condoms. And they are probably some of the most annoying, useless, frustrating, money-sucking things out there. The toys. Just to be clear.
Over the years, I have learned that most toys are a giant waste of money, for a variety of reasons:
1. The kids won't play with them longer than 10 minutes. Total.
2. Many are shoddily made and will break- if not the first time they are used, then shortly after.
3. If it was a toy that your kid would have played with longer than 10 minutes, #2 will apply. It will break. The first time it's played with.
4. If they make noise, the volume is either too loud or louder than too loud.
5. If it takes batteries, it will eat batteries like a fat kid eats candy.
6. The messier it is, the more the kids will like it.
7. If they have many parts, several parts will get lost and the toy will be rendered useless.
8. If they have small parts, you will step on them, while barefoot. Repeatedly. Legos. Enough said.
7. They will take up a giant amount of space in your house.
8. You will constantly be telling your kids to pick them up (or doing it yourself, for those who do not delegate).
9. No matter how hard you try to keep the parts together and the toys organized, you will fail.
I'd like to say that I appreciate it when people buy toys for our kids but I wouldn't be being entirely truthful, as I've previously explained here. I appreciate the gesture, and that they want to do and buy something nice for them, I really do, but the toy just doesn't always have a happy life in our house. I know the boys are still pretty young, but they are terrible when it comes to toys. They're destructive, they have low-to-no impulse control, they fight over them, they don't respect them - no matter how much we try to talk to them about that, they just don't have the reasoning skills yet - and they have the attention span of gnats. Their dad and I would almost rather they had no toys. Except for a few that actually entertain them.
Here's what I have learned that kids (boys) like, up to age 5, since that's all I know about so far:
Under age 1: Tupperware and wooden spoons.
Age 1: Washcloths and cups. They stick the washcloth in the cup, pull it out. Stick it in, pull it out. Stick it in, pull it out. I think you get it. And board books and things to stack. Like Tupperware.
Age 2: Toys that go, like cars. And blocks and books. And wagons - both to be pulled in and to pull themselves, and mini things to push, like toy shopping carts and toy strollers.
Age 3: Dirt and sticks. Firetrucks, dump trucks, and train tracks. Still into the shopping carts and strollers. Things they can throw, kick, and swing at. Balls, in other words.
Age 4: Things they can move on, like scooters and bikes and stuff. Things they can color/draw/write on and with. Paper and crayons, in other words.
Age 5: Handheld gaming systems, like Leapfrog, the Nintendo varieties, MobiGo. Dirt. Sticks. Nerf ball guns.
See? Really simple. Well, except for the gaming stuff. SIMPLE, people. Everything else sucks. The other day, it was just Brandon (18 months) and me for the afternoon and evening. This is what he played with, for hours:
A jar with a marble in it.
An empty laundry basket.
In the shower, an old sticker he carried in there and the cap from my shaving cream.
He completely ignored the bedroom full of toys. Completely.
Oh, I forgot water. Most kids LOVE water. We've had this water table for 5 years and it has not let us down. You just have to occasionally get new water toys, or old sippy cups that no longer have functioning lids work fantastically with it. And sandboxes. We bought a $20 hard molded plastic swimming pool and a few 50-pound bags of sand for $3 each at Home Depot. We now have sand ALL OVER our backyard but don't let that discourage you.
But if toys must be bought, here are a few rules that I think should be implemented:
1. If it takes batteries, you have to buy an accompanying pack of batteries for it. Not a 2- or 4-pack, a giant multi-pack. Like, a Costco-sized pack. It's just nice of you to do that. Really, really nice.
2. If it's obnoxiously loud and annoying, don't buy it. You think you're being funny, but you're really testing the parents' self-control and sanity. Not actually funny. Small children are at stake.
3. ASK THE PARENT if it's something they think the kid might like. Really. And if the parent says no, then listen to them. If for no other reason than to not waste your own hard-earned money. Or, get suggestions from the parent. Sometimes, there may even be some sort of "group gift" that the parents are striving for, something that's too expensive for the parents to buy themselves, that you can contribute to. We've done that, and it's awesome. It cuts down on the needless amount of toys, allows us to get things for the boys that we otherwise can't afford by ourselves, and the boys are incredibly happy. We make sure the boys know who all contributed to the gift. No one gets shafted in acknowledgement and appreciation there.
4. Think outside the box. Toys aren't the get-all, end-all for gift-giving. When asked, I've suggested things like passes to some of the amusement parks or children's museums in our area. It's the gift that keeps on giving, Clark. And if the pass is too expensive, which it probably will be, many places offer gift cards. So you can still contribute towards a pass - just ask the parents if a gift card from wherever would help out. Or even gift cards to places where they can go get special treats. We've suggested Jamba Juice gift cards for the boys, and they freaking LOVE those. We do, too, because we use them as bargaining chips/rewards. And we make sure they always know who they are getting the Jamba Juice from: "This is from the gift card that Uncle and Aunt So-and-So gave you at Christmas." So you don't have to worry about the kids being disappointed about opening just a gift card. The younger ones don't even care or "get it" anyway, and the older ones are usually old enough to understand that they will get the actual present at another time, especially if they've experienced gift cards/passes before. Which can be awesome; it gives them something to anticipate. Look forward to. We could all use a little of that in our lives. Now, when we tell our boys they have a pass/gift card to somewhere, they know what it means, and they are STOKED.
I can hear the other side of this in which people gripe and complain that my philosophy and what I wished people practiced takes away the whole idea behind gift-giving. Giving a gift is supposed to be about the thought that the giver put into it, and the recipient (or the parents of the recipient) are supposed to just be grateful that they were given anything at all and keep their pie-holes shut.
I get that. I really, really do. But it just has come to the point for me that it's just too much. It's overwhelming. So overwhelming that it has actually pushed me to this point of preferring that they were not given half of what they are given. That's crazy, huh! Especially since we are not a family of great means, and there are other things that would provide more use and help us out more than another toy. That the boys aren't even going to play with. That's going to take up space in our rapidly-shrinking house. Yes, houses shrink, did you know that?!
So all I'm saying is, work together, people. There's really nothing wrong with just making some sort of attempt at ensuring that your money and efforts are going to actually be put to use. I would really hate to buy something for a kid and have it end up shoved in a closet, never to be played with or used, and then just trashed. I always make the effort to just ask, "Hey, what does so-and-so need or want?" And I try to have it be something that genuinely helps out the parents, AND is good for the kid, too.
Then everybody wins.
**If you didn't get the "It's the gift that keeps on giving, Clark" reference, then you have missed out on the greatest Christmas movie ever made, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. And you should watch it. And then you'll wonder how you've lived life without having seen the movie. Okay probably not really, but either way, it's a classic.