Why I choose ‘real’ toys

March 25, 2008 at 4:52 am 6 comments

Earlier this week I was with my friend the Yummy Mummy. We were talking, as we usually do, about mothering and children. She commented that the common thread in all parenting books is to treat your child with love and kindness, and provide them with a stable, secure environment. She also commented that she personally couldn’t get that excited about things like wooden toys and not using playpens, and that surely children wouldn’t be any worse off for playing with lots of cheap plastic toys. 

 I have to say I’d never really looked at it that way. I was so convinced of the inherent superiority of what I think of as ‘real’ toys – wooden, open-ended, natural, old-fashioned toys that I had never challenged myself as to why. 

 On reflection, I don’t necessarily believe that Munchkin will somehow be ‘advantaged’ by having wooden toys, or spending as much time as possible outside, or going to a Steiner playgroup. I don’t think that she will be smarter or happier than other children who play with Barbies (urggh) or Fisher Price toys with lots of batteries and whizzy bits.  

But yet, I am very passionate about what Munchkin plays with, as those of you who read often will know. I believe that simple toys encourage Munchkin to use her imagination. I believe that avoiding ‘licensed’ toys will keep some of our pervasive consumer culture out of her childhood. I believe that natural materials means the toys are a bit safer for her to chew on. I know that natural toys, made either in a fair-trade situation or by independent crafts-people in first world nations, are better for the environment and better for the world.  

So I choose real toys, not because I think it makes me a better parent, but because of my personal values. Some of the values that I hold very dear are walking gently on the earth, respecting all human beings, and a belief in the infinite nature of human potential.  These values are expressed in everything I do, and in particular they are expressed every time I spend, or don’t spend, money. For me principles of fair trade, environmental sustainability and honouring craftsmanship are important considerations in every purchase I make.

 This isn’t to say that I only buy fair trade, organic, eco-friendly products – I don’t. Financial realities and day to day efficiency often come first … but I try to strike a balance.  I certainly hope that Munchkin’s childhood will teach her these values. I do hope that she will have a wonderful childhood – but it’s a reflection of my ‘ideal’ of a wonderful childhood.  

But I have to say, I’ve realized that as much as I care about this I would hate to be a zealot. I don’t want to ‘take a stand’ when Grandparents buy her plastic battery powered rubbish – I want to teach her gratitude and respect too. I know some parents who have had major family falling outs over the ‘toy’ issue, and I would feel so sad if I became so obsessed with this issue that I let my relationships suffer for it.

 Its easy in natural parenting circles to get caught up in the dogma. Its easy to feel that our way is somehow superior, and that all parents should be like us. By making the personal political we can become very judgmental of others. Its one of the reasons that I am so glad to have friends whose values are a bit different to mine, and who aren’t afraid to say so. The moral high-ground is, after all, a very lonely place to be.  

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Entry filed under: eco stuff, Parenting. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hans-Jörn and Carolyn Eich  |  March 25, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    you’ve got a good point here. I started building wooden blocks, because I share your passion of walking the earth with a small footprint and fair to others.

    You are right that it’s not worth getting into a family feud over plastic toys. My baby was just born two days ago, but I’ve already told my in-laws (who are just plastic freaks) that I will in fact give noize toys back. I think accepting that others do not care about our values is good, but I’d also ask them to respect my values. If they know my values and gift us with plastic toys, I would think it’s pretty disrespectful on their behalf. It’s always just what view point you take.

    But, what am I saying, the voyage has only just begun 🙂

    Cheers, Hans

    Reply
  • 2. anemonecrafts  |  March 25, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    and on a lighter note, those plastic toys look like crap when they are around the house and everyone knows that a house with children is ‘decorated’ with toys. personally I don’t want fischer price or matel to be my interior designer.

    Reply
  • 3. domesticallyblissed  |  March 26, 2008 at 1:13 am

    Hans, congrats on your new arrival! Good on you for making your position clear from the start!
    Anenone 0LOL at your comment – it is SO true – plastic junk looks awful!

    Reply
  • 4. yestheyareallmine  |  March 26, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I intensely dislike barbie and anything that makes women (or men) out to be freakishly built. I would rather our children have a more realistic view of how people are all built differently. God made us each different and that is beautiful. Tons of makeup, abnormal body shapes and skimpy clothing is not the norm. Ok, I am off my soap box now. Sorry. 🙂
    I prefer our children to play outside, create, read and be active. I don’t want them to overloaded with a bunch of cheap, lead-filled toys that are mass produced by people who are taken advantage of. People still give our chilldren plastic toys but they do limit them and try to avoid the ones they KNOW I don’t like.
    Great WFMW!!

    Reply
  • 5. henitsirk  |  March 30, 2008 at 1:33 am

    I once really offended my mom by rejecting something she wanted to buy for my kids, because I was in a “please no more stuff” phase. Instead of gratefully accepting her gift and then passing it on to charity, I was rude. Luckily it was a minor bump, she does try really hard to get toys and gifts for them that we would be OK with, and I try really hard to be grateful. It’s also hard because all of our grandparents live far away, so buying presents is one of the few ways they can show their love for the kids.

    And we also strictly avoid “licensed” toys, but we accept some plastic (and discreetly remove it some time later). Of course, the most fun my kids have had recently is when we got a bunch of stumps from a tree cut down in our yard!

    Reply
  • 6. domesticallyblissed  |  March 30, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Hi Anthromama – thanks for visiting! Its so tough with grandparents, aunties, friends …. especially because you can’t exactly pick up a waldorf type toy at the shopping mall! I want to find a balance between giving good hints for people, so they don’t waste their money, and not coming off as ungrateful for whatever they buy!

    Reply

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