Like so many in my circle, I'm a conscientious parent. I do my best to keep informed about parenting. I read up on homework studies (and homework, it turns out, is a pretty pointless exercise perpetuated by parental pressure, by the way). I keep abreast of recommendations by educators who say that play and recess are essential components of learning. I even educate myself about ideas other parents have on child rearing, and as you might expect, it turns out there are many opinions out there. In the midst of this information bonanza, there's one thing that raises my hackles.
When I see posts on what you should or shouldn't say to your child, feelings of exasperation inevitably arise within me:
Six Ways to Praise Without Saying "Good Job"
Why You Shouldn't Tell Your Daughter She's Beautiful
How to Say No Without Saying No
Isn't being a parent confusing enough? Now we have to self-monitor our otherwise natural interactions with our children? Edit every word that escapes our lips? Enough, I say! I refuse to be pressured into limiting my own free speech. I will say "good job" to my preschooler when it seems appropriate (even if it's every day). I will tell my daughter that she's smart and strong and tenacious, but I will also tell her how beautiful she is, because she is! And I will say no. A lot. Because my children, like all children, push boundaries and need to know their limits, and let's face it: Sometimes "no" is the quickest way to communicate. New ideas are what keep us evolving as parents, so is there value to these posts that shame us for using words that spring from love? The authors seem well intended. They're only trying to help us become better parents, but I think we need to trust ourselves more as parents. Our instincts are a powerful and undervalued tool! We are a thoughtful and loving bunch, so how can our well meaning words be so bad? We should feel empowered to use praise at will and set limits without having to hire a speech writer.
So I don't know about you, but I'm standing by my own instincts. They've served me well so far. I have two beautiful children who (usually) stop when I say no and (almost) always do a very good job.
The last few weeks, I've explored both heirloom toys and toys of a less fancy ilk. Today I'm touching upon a fun topic: Toys that are absolutely, unequivocally free! And these may be the best ones of all....
Who needs a play structure when you have a tree? Trees are
way cooler. The challenge of climbing is a built in reward. There are
infinite ways to climb, so it's less likely to get boring. And it's a
natural habitat, so there's always something new happening - a new
animal building its nest, a seasonal change with the leaves. Trees are beautiful, awesome, and tons of fun.
With each new box comes a new world of possibilities. Cut new holes in it. Color it. Paint it. Will it be a stage for a puppet show? A dollhouse? A racetrack? Anything goes!
Toilet Paper Tubes
There are so many ways to use a toilet paper tube. Make them into puppets, a car, or use them to plant seedlings. Here's a great tutorial with more interesting ideas.
Mud is nature's playdough. It's a critical ingredient in everything from mud pies to magical potions. Not necessarily a parent's favorite thanks to its messy tendencies, but definitely ranks up there for kids. Luckily, children are washable.
In my last post I explored heirloom toys. I would be remiss if I didn't add a few other, more economical choices to the list. Even though these toys tend to be less aesthetically pleasing, they are loads of fun for little ones and deserve a place in your toy chest.
If you don't like the mess of paint in your house, this is a great alternative. All you need is water! For some reason children love this exercise, and it's perfect for a rainy day. I do recommend investing in a few more Aquadoodle accessories to avoid the inevitable argument over those darned pens.
2. A Playdough Kit
Whether you make your own or buy it from the store, it's one of the least expensive and most versatile toys you can offer your little ones. Having a few molding, shaping, and cutting tools on hand is essential. Here plastic is king because it's so simple to throw into the dishwasher to easily clean off all the muck.
3. Doodle Pad
Again, this is a great tool for minimizing mess. It also is great on the go. The stampers and the stylus can hold the attention of both younger and older children.
Who doesn't love Legos? The only bad thing about them is stepping on them. But look at the bright side: They can double as home security if you place a few in front of your door. Other than that one small, they are hours of fun. I recommend starting with the big blocks for younger children.
5. Art Supplies
You'll probably go through a ton of these, but they are crucial to any household with children. Be sure your kit includes scissors, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and of course, paint.
Anyone who's been to my house can tell you what a sucker I am for heirloom toys. They're like little works of art designed to make everyone happy. It's true, they can get pricey, but sometimes it's worth spending a little more to get something solid that will last. (It's kind of like splurging on a great pair of blue jeans rather than a dress you can wear once a year.)
I've narrowed down the list to the toys that are worth the extra expense. While you're browsing through it, keep an open mind about "girls' toys" versus "boys' toys." I say there's no such thing!
I hope you enjoy this list of some of our household favorites (in no particular order)...
1. Lincoln Logs
Admit it: you played "Little House on the Prairie" with these. They're so versatile. Build a city or one big log-mansion.
A great dollhouse is fun for any child - don't rule it out for a boy. (Although I think a classic dollhouse would be perfectly fine, there are also "boys'dollhouses available.) Oh! And don't forget to invest in a good how-to build your own
dollhouse furniture book.
Every children's toy chest needs a good set of blocks. Personally, I like the plain wooden variety. But if you want to jazz them up, paint them in chalkboard paint. Then your little ones can enjoy drawing all kinds of fun designs on them that can vary with the game of the day.
4. Knitting & Sewing Kit
Every child should learn how to sew and knit. (For the how-to aspect, you can invest in a good book, or there are plenty of free tutorials on YouTube.) It's such a fabulous life skill. It exercises fine motor development, critical thinking and problem solving, and even math! There are several methods of knitting - finger knitting is great for beginners. After that, move on to a French Knitting spool, and finally knitting with needles. This kit includes it all.
5. Marble Run
Encourage your little engineer with one of these sets. The possibilities are endless, so each playtime offers a fresh take on the same toy.
A beautiful easel is such a great tool. Be sure you invest in one that is dual sided with both a dry erase and chalkboard. Storage is good to have for art supplies, and a place for a roll of paper is nice to have too.