What does a one-year-old or a three-year-old need, let alone want, when it comes to toys this Christmas? In reality they don’t want much, and their need for toys is based on their development.
We know babies and toddlers learn in their own time, at their own pace, and we can encourage them and teach them by interacting and playing with them. But knowing what toys to purchase for a crawling, gurgling baby is mind-boggling.
I have been there. I have stood in the toy aisle with mixed emotions about what my baby would be drawn towards, a thwarted understanding of whether she needed blinking lights or crunchy textures, and, most notably, a lighter wallet than I needed as the choices towered over me with high price tags.
So what toys do we buy for a baby or toddler as they navigate how their body moves and what their capabilities are? Or do we even need to buy them at all when borrowing or renting is becoming an option?
Carrickmacross Toy Library, a standalone non-profit toy library, celebrated its first birthday recently. Local parents set up the library whose primary motivation is to reduce toy waste by encouraging parents to borrow rather than buy new toys.
With so many plastic, non-recyclable toys making their way to landfill, the library volunteers came together with a solution. Now, with more than 300 toys in circulation, members pay a small quarterly, six-monthly or annual fee, which covers the toy library’s running costs, including rent, insurance and software, as well as the purchase and maintenance of toys.
"Ultimately, we would love to be the catalyst for similar set-ups around the country," says co-founder Jill Kennon. "Our friends in Banbridge set up a toy library over the summer, so there are now two of us in operation."
The volunteer-led, non-profit service serves families and caregivers of children aged 0-6. Along with being shortlisted for Best Community-Based Initiative at the All-Ireland Community and Council Awards, the toy library happily announced extended opening hours from October.
“We are delighted to open the service up to even more members by offering a weekend option,” says Kennon. “It was always our plan to offer a Saturday slot, as our aim is to be as inclusive as possible.”
As a parent who anxiously purchased the wrong toys and admittedly too many toys for our pre-schoolers, I am conscious of the overwhelming plastic which now sits in our attic awaiting donation. The benefit of borrowing toys rather than buying them is quite an obvious one. A new toy club, Clever Tots, is going one step further in guiding parents to toys that are beneficial to our children’s development by providing additional online and video resources designed to support children’s growth and development and encouraging parental connection with their babies.
Clever Tots Toy Club is a toy club for children aged three months to three years, founded by husband-and-wife team Didier and Jenel Sanders. Born from their experience as new parents working and living in Dubai, where they happened upon a sustainable toy-rental service, they started their own business after moving back home to Ireland when they couldn't source a similar service here.
They work with paediatric neuro-developmental expert Ollwyn Moran, who has selected a range of toys for particular age groupings to support the developmental needs of babies and toddlers. The Clever Tots Toy Club seeks to support parents in engaging in play that will help develop their child's cognitive, emotional, physical, and communication ability.
“The toys I have chosen for each age range of development within the Clever Tots Toy Club,” says Moran, “have been purposefully selected to provide the optimum stimulation and learning opportunities for each child. The toy sets encourage fun playtime that will help them on their way to achieving each major and minor developmental milestone. This kind of parent and child engaged structured and unstructured playtime provides some of the most important building blocks in a child’s early life.”
The subscription service consciously selects from a range of eco-friendly wooden toys and those made from recycled plastics for little hands to explore.
“Imagine the unboxing excitement of Christmas gifts,” says co-founder Jenel Sanders, “but instead of just once a year, doing it with your little one every single month. In their first three years of life children grow, develop, and change so much, as do their needs and ability to explore. Parents nowadays are much more focused on making good lifestyle choices that lead to a more sustainable way of life.
“However, when it comes to buying toys, making these planet-positive choices can be prohibitively expensive for some. Very often the justification as to how often they will play with the toy goes out the window since it will likely only capture their interest for a short period of time.
“One sustainable toy alternative for little ones is to rent rather than buy the toys, especially when they grow out of them so quickly. Our Clever Tots Toy Rental Club cuts down on the expense of purchasing the eco-friendly toys parents want, not to mention the mess they create by having too many toys.”
The monthly delivery and collection service – priced at €39.99 a month, with discounts for purchases of three, six and 12-month memberships – sees new toys arrive and old ones sanitised and reused.
“We understand, of course, that children will chew, bite and even draw on their toys in the early days,” says Sanders, “it’s all part of their desire to explore and test out their theories and limitations. Children will inevitably develop a strong emotional attachment to certain toys in their infant years, and sometimes pieces will get lost.
“If this is one of the Clever Tots toys there’s no need for parents to worry. We account for a certain amount of wear and tear, and if a child wants to keep a toy for an extra month or even buy it from us, that’s easily arranged. All of our toys are sent out with an inventory description, retail value and tips as to how to get the most out of playing with each one. If a toy becomes mislaid or broken, we will agree on a nominal replacement value with our toy club member.”