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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

Why Bother with Toys? Five Great Gift Ideas for Young Children

by Tracy Million Simmons |
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Pre-parenthood, my husband and I spent the drive home from a relative's house marveling over the number of toys their child owned. Okay, so maybe we didn't exactly marvel. It might be more accurate to say we were horrified. She was such a tiny little girl and the huge baskets of toys towered over her.

Never, we swore, would our children have so many useless objects.

Fast-forward, a few years. Reality is upon us. One of the first things we discovered, after the birth of our first child, is that parents themselves do not purchase most of the items that fill these baskets of toys. These toys are gifts, given with the best intentions. Basket after basket will fill with toys once a child enters the house and many of them will receive little actual play time.

Gifts that will get played with

Being a mother of three, I now have a pretty good idea of what young children do and do not play with. This is a list of the top five gifts our children have received.

Containers. My kids have used everything from processed cheese boxes to oatmeal containers for all kinds of creative play. They turn them into mailboxes, treasure boxes, storage boxes and sometimes they simply disassemble the boxes to turn them into something else. The best thing about containers is that you don't feel guilty when the time comes to throw them away. Boxes can be decorated with scraps of fabric, buttons and lace. You can give a younger child a decorated box for storing "treasures" or give an older child the box and materials to do the decorating themselves.

Big containers. Whenever you purchase a new appliance or anything that comes in a large, cardboard box. give that box to a child and stand back to watch the fun. My kids spent three days decorating the last large box they received. With my assistance, they cut doors and windows. They painted and colored walls and then drew pictures to tape to the decorated walls. They played in their castle for days and days. When the walls finally came tumbling down they played demolition with the box for a few more days before I finally carted it off to the trash.

Art supplies. Paint, crayons, glue and markers are guaranteed to entertain kids. I know a lot of parents don't like the potential messes but those parents should really lighten up. Forget the coloring books - they are highly overrated. The best materials are plain notebooks and papers of various textures and weights. Fill a box with colored papers, corrugated cardboard and transparency sheets. Get a roll of newspaper print. For easy cleanup, add a cheap tablecloth to the package that can be spread out under each new art project and then folded and stored.

Real clothes for playing dress-up. One of our most adored gifts is a dress-up box. This box was full of real clothes - not the stuff you find in the Barbie aisle at Wal-Mart. I bet if I were logging playing time by the hour this box would win, hands down. Check out your local Goodwill store for clothes, hats and shoes. Or just clean out your closet. Best bets for a dress-up box; bridesmaid dresses, suit coats, graduation gowns and hats of any kind. We have a couple of family members who now add items to this box on a regular basis. Ballerina costumes and feather boas and dresses with ruffles and lace are always welcomed additions.

Baking Supplies. My daughter was thrilled one year to receive her own set of cookie sheets complete with packaged cookie mixes. Buy the genuine articles. Forget the toy versions. The baking projects may require adult supervision but at least the child will feel the pride of having created something the entire family can enjoy.

The rule to remember when choosing gifts for young children is functionality. Can they DO something with it? Can they put in on, climb inside, or turn it into something? If not, it's more than likely going to end up at the bottom of some toy basket.

Forget the toy aisle the next time you go shopping. Get a gift a kid can really play with.

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Tracy Million Simmons is a stay-at-home mom who struggles to find time to dabble in numerous creative pursuits. Her children - ages 5.2 years, 2.8 years and 8 months - are her greatest passion. Beyond her babies, Tracy makes time for various forms of writing (journals, articles for publication, short stories, and self-publishing on the net), photography, and reading historical fiction and non-fiction. Tracy writes a weekly column, This Mom's Life ~ Glimpses of a Life with Children


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