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Choosing Quality Toys

© Beverley Paine

At this time of the year we all begin to reflect on the wisdom of the toys given to our children at Christmas... Are they worth the money spent on them? Do they enrich the child's life? How long will they last or be played with? It's easy to choose toys with great lasting power once you learn what makes a quality toy. I worked on the principle that it is best to spend big dollars on toys with lasting play value than to spend money on cheaper versions or toys that rarely get played with or add no value to my child's life.

And it makes sense to buy quality toys. A craftsperson is only as good as her tools. For children, toys and playthings are the tools with which they learn about their world. As a young mum I soon discovered that there are some basic toys which serve children well, in the same way I have a set of basic clothes that form the backbone of my wardrobe. I judge the quality and usefulness of a toy in the same way I judge a piece of clothing: based on cost per wearing and how often I will wear it. I know that some basic toys are expensive and that brand name toys cost more than imitations, but it's always been worth it in exactly the same way that well made clothes that last the distance and still look good years later. Looked at in this way quality toys, like clothes, end up costing peanuts. Bargains can always be found. It pays to shop around and keep an eye on the second-hand market for toys that will wear longest, be most versatile and suit a broad range of ages.

It's important to watch children at play and see what they like and don't like, what they use over and again or go back to, and what they quickly grow tired of or discard. See how they use their toys and play props. That alone can save you hundreds of dollars. Some children will happily neglect expensive toys to rummage about in the kitchen cupboards for hours, or swish about in the mud ignoring the fancy plastic sandpit.

Visit the best toy store in your area and notice what the customers, especially the children, are drawn to. If there is a section set aside for children to play, make a note of the toys there: these have been deemed by the store to be durable and of high interest to children.

Another important thing to consider when purchasing toys is where, and in what, it will be stored. Toys need to be accessible and easy to put away. Each toy needs a place of it's own. Dumping everything in a toy box decreases the value of your investment through lost parts, broken toys and encourages disrespect for belongings in general.

Your children and their belongings deserve the same time and attention that you give to yourself and your belongings. Caring for people and things is taught by example. Children do what you do, not what you say they should do. Consider helping your children understand why they need to care for their belongings as part of their education. This teaches respect for the resources our planet provides and develops their appreciation of quality, craftsmanship and beauty.

How do you recognise quality toys? They:

  • Have as little detail as possible, are simple;
  • Involve participation by the whole child: body, mind and spirit.
  • Encourage imagination and creativity.
  • Stimulate the child to do things for herself: watching it on TV isn't the same as doing it yourself!
  • Encourage involvement. A large dump truck can carry large and varied loads and/or passengers; a specialized vehicle, like a backhoe, can do one thing. Toys with batteries rob a child of do-it-himself opportunities.
  • Are open-ended and versatile: great toys can be used many ways and all of them are "right".
  • Encourage cooperative, dramatic play: two or more kids see a baby doll with a doll's bed and soon an entire household is created. A truck, a couple of hard hats and some dirt or sand becomes a building project that engrosses them all afternoon. Add animals, people and vehicles to blocks and half a dozen children of different ages are suddenly building a freeway system, a farm or an entire town.
  • Work as expected, are durable and safe: this characteristic is what makes quality toys worth the expense. Often, this means paying for the real thing rather than a cheaper knockoff. Knowing the real thing from the imitators requires some willingness to do your homework, just as you do when you buy a big ticket item for your home.
  • Are made of material that is warm and pleasant to touch. Natural materials such as wood, natural fibres, water, sand, and clay are a pleasure to the senses; satisfying to the touch and soothing to the spirit.
  • Generous in proportions and quantity: there's nothing cheesy about a good plaything. They are big enough, easily manipulated, and solid-feeling.


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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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