One of the areas in which I most struggle with minimalism is my son’s toys. It’s pretty clear that the benefits of toy minimalism go well beyond making it easier to clean up. And who wouldn’t want to lengthen their toddler’s attention span? But at the same time, I hate the idea of missing out on the one toy that is going to turn him in to a genius. (Newflash: No toy is going to do that. But that doesn’t change the fact I worry about it.)
The problem, I believe, is the challenge of finding just the right toys. After all, if I could be confident that I’d bought the perfect nine toys, I could stop, right? So after hours of obsessive research, I present to you
So which toys did I choose?
Gross Motor/Proprioceptive/Vestibular Toys
- Ride-On Toy—My son received this Ferrari ride on car for his first birthday and he continues to drive it around the house like a maniac almost every day.
- Spinning Toy—L loves spinning right now, so I am really hoping to find a Sit ‘N Spin in Norway. If I can’t find it, the Bilibo is available here so I might go for that. As a bonus, the latter can be used for a lot more than spinning!
- Bouncing Toy—Everyone in Oslo seems to have a giant trampoline (except us). If, like me, you are “too American” (meaning all you can think about is the risk of injury and the liability that would go along with it) consider getting a mini trampoline or a bouncy horse (we have a Rody) instead. Bonus: Either of these options can be used inside, all year round.
Thinking/Building/Fine Motor Toys
- DUPLO—This toy is a classic for a reason. L loves to build robots or have his dad build airplanes for him. And although there are a lot of pieces, they all get dumped back into the same plastic pail at the end of the day, so clean up isn’t too bad. There are plenty of sets out there, but we especially like ones like this that have little people and animals in them, making them double as pretend-play toys.
- Puzzles—Puzzles were one of my weaknesses as L neared his first birthday, in part because I couldn’t figure out which ones were the best and what the “right” progression was. So if you go into our basement, you will find a LOT of puzzles. At this point, while he still plays with some of his Melissa and Doug Sound Puzzles, we’ve mostly moved on to simple jigsaw puzzles. Even 2-3 pieces puzzles are challenging for him to put together right now but he loves to watch me put together 24 piece ones, so I’m sure he’ll be graduating to those ones pretty soon.
- Tool Kit—L has started to get in to screwing things and, to a lesser extent, taking things apart and trying to put them back together. Although a tool kit might be a little advanced for him, I think it is a toy that can grow with him. (At least until his fourth birthday when kids in Norway get real tools.)
- Play Kitchen—I wasn’t going to get one of these. I figured that with all the items (food, pots, pans, dishes) that go along with them, it would be a pain to clean up. Plus, he has (or, more accurately, I keep saying I’m going to make) a Learning Tower, and isn’t the experience of making real food just as good? L loves a pretend cook, though, and I’d like my espresso machine back. (One of his favorite activities right now is “making coffee.”) So this will be his big Christmas gift this year.
- Basket full of dress up clothes—L is at a fun age where he is starting to get more in to pretend play. (Often with his food, which he imagines to be all sorts of vehicles driving around the dinner table…) I think he’s still too young to get much out of a simple play silk, but he loves dressing up as different characters and animals, so we keep a basket of costumes in the living room for when he’d like to switch up his identity. Currently the basket includes the following costumes: lion, gingerbread man, ballerina, and Donald Duck. (All but the lion costume courtesy of a neighbor—Takk!) I’m thinking about adding this Rocket Adventure Cape from Seedling to the mix.
- Doll house—As a practical matter, I think we’ll just stick with the garage that his grandparents bought him as an early birthday present (at my request), but every time we go to the mall, L wants to play with the little Sylvanian Family dollhouse (marketed as Calico Critters in the U.S.). At this point his pretend play is mostly limited to bodily functions—he makes the animals go pee on the toilet and then lay down for a nap—but it goes on for what feels like hours.
What about everything else?
Art supplies are one category of “toys” that we don’t really limit—unless they could cause a mess. When you walk into our main living area, you will find an easel with dry erase crayons and chalk, a work table, and shelves with modeling clay and related tools and (soon) a Buddha Board for “painting” without the mess. In addition, there are paper, crayons, finger paints, and regular paints in the pantry (along with a smock and paintbrushes) for when I can watch L more closely.
Much like art supplies we don’t limit the number of musical instruments, even though they are a bit more likely to get on your nerves. Currently we have a xylophone and a drum, plus some shaker eggs that come out around Easter. Things we are considering adding to the collection are an accordion, a toddler piano, and one or more of the Melissa and Doug Band-in-a-Box sets.
Beginner Games to Play with Mom and Dad
The other night my husband asked me what board (or similar) games were good for two year olds. Other than the fishing game, because in my husband’s words “L cheats” when they play that one. (I tried to explain as kindly as I could that he might need to adjust his expectations of what playing a game with a toddler should be like.)
Truth is that kids of this age are just barely getting to the point where they can take turns and follow directions, both prerequisites for playing games. But since playing together is a great way to bond (and mom and dad aren’t always in the mood to roughhouse), here are a few more we’ll be getting soon:
- Loto memory game—Most memory games are still a little advanced for a barely two year old. (Last time L tried to play one at the airport he managed to match all the images, but only because he relentlessly touched all the cards on the screen. I’m certain he didn’t understand the point of what he was doing.) But Djeco has this version for toddlers that I think he could handle.
- First Orchard game—HABA makes a number of games for toddlers and preschoolers, with this cooperative game being for the youngest of children (although according to the commenters, even “advanced” three year olds should still enjoy it).
- Monkey Around movement game—This requires a bit more energy, of course, but can be a great way to get your toddler moving. A good alternative might be these Yoga Pretzel cards.
This is another one not to limit in order to encourage outdoor play. The problem I have is that it is snowy (or threatening snow) most of the year and I am not sure what, other than a sled and perhaps a snow shovel, to buy!
For the summer (and early autumn and late spring), our collection this year included a 2-in-1 balance bike and helmet, a water table, and a soccer net and ball. In May we’ll add a scooter (so he’ll stop “borrowing” the neighbors’) and this motorized vehicle that my Ferrari-obsessed husband has been hiding in the garage for several months already.
Although these could be grouped in with the pretend play toys, I’ve decided not to, mostly because I don’t know which of the three above I’d cut out if I had to. We do limit them to some extent, though, requiring that they fit into a couple of medium-sized baskets (one in the living room and one in his bedroom).
I’m not talking about the toys that your child has to have when he sees them, but rather the ones that he asks for even when they aren’t around. Like L’s “autobus,” which he asked for constantly last weekend when we were in Bergen. Although these toys might fall in to one of the categories above, since they would never be removed from rotation if you were doing a toy rotation, I consider them separately.
What didn’t make the cut?
Way too much! Perhaps the most blatant omission in our house is Scheich animals (of which we have more than a dozen and they really are great pretend play toys). And this super-cool climbing structure that I would have to buy if we had a playroom. And a threading or pegging toy. And a Grimm’s rainbow stacker. And…
All of this has me thinking that maybe L’s old enough now that a toy rotation wouldn’t be such a bad idea…
What are your favorite toys for toddlers?