Monday, January 20, 2014

Long Live the Toy...and the Box

Ever find yourself rummaging through the toy-box to find one that your toddler will sit and play with for more than five minutes?   Do you have too many toys?  Are you buying new storage bins monthly to re-organize the play room?  Let me introduce you to my "life cycle" of toys.  This is how I extend the life/interest of toys in my household, therefore reducing the number of toys...and boredom.

I find a toy that would be interesting for both my child and me (since I'll be playing with it as well).  I might research in stores or at friends house.  Then I purchase it online, assuming the shipping and savings are close to the same as shelf price.  A few days pass and "knock, knock" a package arrives on the door step.  Sometimes I forget what I ordered, so this is fun for me too.  Many parents open the box, throw away the good stuff, fire up the toy and kid is bored in 10 minutes.  Not this guy...once the package is in the house...the games begin. :)

Play a game with your kids, "what is in the box?"  Make stories up, discuss the size of it relative to objects they know...have fun, imagine.  Is it a tiger? No...too small and to quiet.  Which is the top, bottom, side, back, etc. Look at names, addresses, find numbers, letters and fun stuff on the labels.   Ten minutes just passed...and you didn't even open the box yet.

Open the box and play with packaging.  My son loves to jump on the air-packs (yeah exercise), and bubble rap is great for dancing or driving cars on.  Packing peanuts become "snow" for dump-trucks and tractors.  Many of them are now organic corn based "puffs", so you can wet the sides and stick them together.  We made a packing-peanut-robot doll one day.  As I hand off the packaging, I try to distract them enough to set aside the toy/book for later.

Depending on the size of the box, I'll set aside for later, or let him play in it a while.  Again, make it a game, see how many cars will fit, how many dolls will fit, whatever they like to stash away...use the box.  Keep it around and later you can use the box to wrap up artwork for mommy when she comes home.  My son likes to make "garages" out of them. I just cut doors in the side and let him play awhile.  Brown boxes aren't lame, they are a canvas...decorate!  I like the foam alphabet stickers to personalize it.  Have them put together words like "in", "out", "top" etc.  Use stickers, crayons, anything you can glue...just have fun with it.  In my house boxes will sit around for a week, evolving through different stages of creativity.

By now, much time has passed, and you/they may have even forgot about what was inside. When you do get to the toy, let them look at it in the package for awhile.  Manufactures put a lot of work into the packaging, with suggested scenes, add ons and what-not. This is how they would have found it in the just enjoy for a moment.  Talk to them about where it comes from, who made it and how the "kids in the picture" are playing with it.  Then get the child involved in opening it. (yes, this can be frustrating for both adult and child), many have twist ties, plastic locks or whatever. (this is where you say "use caution with knives, scissors" etc...but I'm not going to say're the adult)

Finally the toy is free of packaging...and takes its' first breath.  Don't you dare put batteries in it yet! If you do, you're already half-way to the ominous toy box.  Especially with young toddlers.  Bright colors, buttons and switches are still entertaining w/o batteries  Many toys require some assembly.  Let them play with the "parts" first.  Show them how it goes together...even if you need tools.  Then let the play/learn-ing begin...with a nice quiet toy.

After a day or so, I'll see if interest has waned...if so, and I still think the toy has some life it in...time for batteries.  BAM!! this toy has a new life...and your kids will be super excited to see how it has changed.  In many cases, I find the "noise" to be either over-stimulating, or adding no value to the toy at all.  I can narrate better than the micro-chip, since I'm interactively playing with it and can understand what my child is trying to do.  In many cases, I'll pull the batteries out again...."sorry, batteries died". One day my son will realize how long batteries last and curse me for these antics.

Finally, you should "retire" the toy for a while.  Establish a rotation of re-introducing toys until they are truly ignored, or ineffective.  I found two weeks worked well for my toddler...and that worked with diminishing returns for a few cycles...until he simply grew out of them.

Once a year we'll purge our old toys.  A delicate topic for kids to understand, so we do most of it in private.  I will let him choose a few toys to donate or even trade/sell at our local kid-consignment shop.  We time that around Christmas, so we can also teach lessons of charity.  I tried having him "pass down" to other friends, but that backfired.  He saw the toy at their house later and wanted to take it I'm not likely to do much more of that.

This method has extended the "life" of our toys out for weeks...when most kids are finished in ten minutes.  It saddens me to see kids with piles of toys that they have no interest in.  In the back of my mind (little voice) I wonder if this isn't contributing to attention deficits in today's children.  So please, be resourceful and it will open imagination, reduce your clutter and keep you more engaged in your child's life.

TL;DR 1 play with box, 2 play with packaging, 3 play toy w/o batteries, 4 put in batteries play again, 5 hide for a week, 6 reintroduce toy, 7 donate