Enduring toys for children to love over and over again
Christmas doesn’t have to be all fads and plastic toys. Find some that will give and keep on giving
The run-up to Christmas 2010 was one of those parenting episodes when you look back and wonder “What was I thinking?”
My youngest seemed to have his heart set on a gadget toy of the moment but, by early December, all the shops I tried were sold out. I signed up for email notification if more stocks were to arrive.
Sure enough, a few days before Christmas, I was told it was back in a toy “superstore” not too far away. I braved the icy roads early one morning and was ridiculously relieved to secure one grossly over-priced plastic battery-operated toy.
On Christmas Eve the intended recipient mentioned in passing that he didn’t really want this particular item after all. It was too late; there was no question of buying something else. That had to be a record in our house – child bored with Christmas present before he even got it.
The final twist was that the stupid thing didn’t work – so we ended up returning it to the shop and getting a credit note, which my son then spent on more rubbish of his own choosing.
With most family budgets very tight, it makes more sense than ever to try to give a child a toy that is going to last – both physically and in keeping their interest. It is understandable that children are sucked into fads, but right-minded adults should resist.
So what should you look out for if you want your hard-earned money to go on an enduring toy?
The advice from Doireann O’Connor, lecturer in early childhood education at the Institute of Technology in Sligo, is that a really good toy is 90 per cent child and 10 per cent toy. “The more that the child has to bring to the toy, rather than the toy has to bring to the child, the better.”
Toys with flashing lights and buttons to press only do one thing and are very boring after 20 minutes, she says. “It is the one that does many, many things that is the most enduring toy.”
Dress-up outfits are excellent for small children – firemen, nurses, doctors, etc – but O’Connor suggests avoiding branded costumes from TV series, as children are more inclined to act out the storylines they have seen, rather than make up their own.
“That can be a recreation rather than a creation and the generic outfits leave the child freer. The more they can bring their own rules to them, the better the learning will be for them.”
And if you thought that toys made from natural materials were more about appealing to the aesthetic sensibilities of “right on” parents, rather than the children, you would be wrong. They are important for sensory learning, says O’Connor, who recently gave a TEDx talk in Cork on the Development of Creativity and Innovation through Education (available on YouTube).
Children learn a lot through textures. The early fundamentals of maths and science are grasped through how things feel – materials such as wood, cotton and silk, as opposed to plastic, which is one-dimensional.
Take, for instance two sets of blocks, one made from plastic, the other from wood, says O’Connor. “They are different sizes but the big plastic one does not weigh much [more than] the small plastic one; whereas the wooden ones give a totally different sense of weight and volume.”
Irish outlets specialising in quality toys with a high play value see customers spending their money much more carefully now.
“A lot more people want durable products,” says Daniel Ulrichs of the Wooden Heart toyshop, on Quay Street in Galway. “They are looking for old-school, designer elements.”