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Making the Switch to Natural Toys

Posted on Nov 13, 2011 in Featured, Playing | 5 comments

Making the Switch to Natural Toys

As I wrote last week, creating a natural playroom doesn’t happen overnight. Taking the longer route, while perhaps more realistic, is not without its bumps and setbacks. Here’s a little about what you can expect and some tips to help along the way: It’s no secret that kids don’t actually need a bunch of fancy toys, but unfortunately, I’ve also observed that given the choice, they just can’t resist the shiny, plastic, battery operated, noisy, walking, talking, lights-flashing ones. When you first start to introduce natural toys you may find, like I did, that they aren’t played with as much as you’d hoped. Despite observing the kids in a Waldorf Kindergarten regularly play with rocks and acorns and silks, I have a hard time imagining my kids choosing horse chestnuts and pine cones over a bucket of Lego, given the choice. And it’s not just the rocks that pose this problem. At first even the more exciting toys like the wooden castle filled with wooden horses and knights were only played with when they were brand new and often sat in the corner after that. So, you probably wonder what has worked for us? First off, don’t get discouraged. Keep buying natural toys whenever you can.  Make it a priority to invest in these types of toys even if your initial efforts aren’t the raging success you were hoping for. Pool cash gifts from family and friends to get a big item or suggest that family members go together to purchase something you’ve been dreaming of. We started getting the kids some of the bigger ticket items every time a birthday or Christmas rolled around. We started with a beautiful wooden castle and eventually got each of the kids their own Waldorf doll. Expect that as you start getting more of them, there will be a shift. Expect that it will take a while, especially if finances are a big factor. Here are some ways to cut down on the expense: Try making stuff. The woman who did up this room for her son says she got very DIY and made a lot of the toys. Some of the things that we’ve made for our kids include a wooden doll bed, some doll clothes, felt birthday crowns, a wooden sword, and a knight’s tunic. I also have a book that shows how to make simple felt animals which I intend to do with Rain. A lot of etsy vendors even sell patterns for making your own felt food and you can get cheap plain silk and dye your own play cloths. Involving your kids in the process is a good way to ensure that they will be more willing to play with the creations too. Evaluate what big items you really want to purchase and what could be skipped. Do you really need those expensive play arches (even though they are cool)? It seems to me that you could invest in a lot more TOYS to be played with rather than the fancy shelves. Could you make do with a homemade stove/sink combo that sits on a table top rather than an expensive kitchen? Save those purchases until the end when you are really sure that you want/need/can afford them. Two Good Starting Points: Felt Food – I started getting the kids one set of felt play food from etsy for every gift giving occasion. I only spent about $20 at a time, but I did this for Easter, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays and Christmas so they added up quickly. At first they didn’t get used often but as the sets have started to pile up, they now play with them quite a bit. The sets aren’t expensive when you buy them slowly over time like this, and I feel good about supporting handmade etsy products. These make playing with the Fisher Price plastic stuff more fun until we can eventually afford the time/money to either make or buy a kitchen. Dress Up – starting a dress up bin is also a good place to start. This can be done...

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Natural Playroom Dreams

Posted on Nov 4, 2011 in Featured, Playing | 1 comment

Natural Playroom Dreams

When my son was born, 6 years ago, our consumer culture was in the early stages of the move back to organic, natural products for baby. This included natural crib mattresses without fire retardant in them, homemade baby purees, organic natural fibre clothing and the rising popularity of cloth diapering. Similarly, I started seeing natural toys and wooden toys everywhere. Some expensive baby boutiques that catered to this mindset sprang up around Vancouver and Natural Pod was a new venture that I started seeing at baby themed trade shows like Birth Fest in East Van. I fell in love with the beauty and simplicity of many of the wooden toys and handmade dolls and soft furnishings. Furthermore, in the 3 years between the births of my first two children Canada declared BPA a toxin and banned it from infant feeding products. Our lifestyle began to shift away from plastic and I began to make efforts not to bring more plastic into our home. I envisioned our future playspaces to look like this, and this, and this, and this. A couple of things got in the way of this plan: Money – these natural toys are NOT cheap. Especially some of the bigger items like the wooden kitchen and play arches. I would be willing to save up cash birthday gifts from relatives until we could afford a fancy kitchen like this but Aaron finds them unreasonably expensive toys for kids (despite in my opinion, the obvious care, quality materials and craftsmanship that goes into some of them). Hand-Me-Downs – my sister with older kids gave me a lot of the things they had outgrown and my mom passed down a lot of my old toys from when I was young. My toys had sentimental value plus, being made in the 70’s, they were durable despite being plastic (particularly my old Duplo and Fisher Price sink, stove and dishes). Also, who was I to say no to free toys? Gifts – personally, I think it’s just a bit pretentious to tell people that I only want a certain type of toy for my kids, especially when these toys are also expensive and hard to find. If someone loves my kid enough to buy them a gift, I’m going to smile and say “thank you very much.” When people ask me what my child might like for Christmas or a birthday, I’ve found that the safest answer is “We always love books at our house!” About the only thing I will actually come right out and say is that we prefer not to have clothes or toys with licensed characters on them. Super Cool Non-Natural Toys – over the years, we were occasionally swayed by really cool gifts, or marketing, or our kids’ likes and dislikes, towards things like Lego, Schleich animals and so on. Mindset – to be honest, I think Aaron and I are both unwilling to be so rigidly crunchy as to make this kind of playroom a priority. We probably always will have a few plastic toys and Toy Story puzzles around. Afterall, I don’t think that the majority of non-natural toys are inherently evil (battery operated ones being the exception) so I’m not opposed to having them in the house. Frankly, I’m not wealthy or snobby enough to go all out on creating a natural playroom from scratch overnight. I assume that to be true for most people who admire these types of play spaces. That said, a mostly natural playroom is still something we’re working towards. We’ve had both challenges and successes with this and my intention was to discuss what seems to work in making the slow transition to natural toys…but alas, I blathered on too long again so I will offer that up in my next...

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Top Three Baby Toys

Posted on Aug 26, 2011 in Featured, Playing | 2 comments

Top Three Baby Toys

Do you see this? These are the baby toys that we’ve acquired over the last six years. We’ve had others that we’ve sent to the Thrift Store or given to friends so the fact that these are still kicking around tells you that they aren’t bad. They’ve been played with here and there, but almost without exception, we probably could have done without them. Yes, even that Sophie the Giraffe peeking out there. I know, I know. In the natural parenting community it’s pretty much a sin of blasphemy to declare Sophie anything less than an awesome baby toy. But there you have it. All of these brightly coloured noisy (even scented) plastic, plush and wooden toys really have nothing to offer when compared to The Big Three Baby Toys. Third Place – The Rattle This rattle was a gift from friends who traveled to Guatemala. It was probably cheap there but when you add the price of airfare, not so much. So it doesn’t win in the cheap or easy to replace if lost category. But, the handle is small and easy for clumsy babies to grab, pick up on their own and cling to, without fumbling and dropping it by accident.  It is filled with pebbles or seeds likely, the kind of things that if it ever broke open would make it a certified North American safety hazard—though in reality they’re probably small enough to be swallowed and pooped out. Besides, that thing is never breaking open. It’s pretty bomber. The noise it makes is pleasant, not overly loud. It’s not hard enough that if baby smacks himself in the face it will hurt much and it definitely wins in the all-natural category. Second Place – The Lid This toy is easy to grab, easy to bite and for extra fun, it’s bendy. Babies can bang on it to produce a pleasant drumming sound but it’s not loud when thrown or dropped from a high-chair. Technically, it wins in the cheap category seeing as you probably have many of these laying around your house. This particular brand of yogurt, however, runs $4.99 for 500g so not as cheap as it could be. Bonus points: this toy often gets recycled lost and requires you to purchase and quickly consume another container of Liberté Black Cherry (8% MF) yogurt before mom baby freaks out. First Place – The Ring Ever heard a little story about my precious? One ring to rule them all? Well, folks, this is it. This toy is also easy to grab, easy to hold, easy to bite. It teaches babies about shapes that are hollow and sometimes falls onto their arm like a bracelet causing confusion and panic learning opportunities. It is shiny. It makes a nice clanging noise when banged on the floor or dropped from great heights. It is small. It is portable. It is cheap. I bet every single one of you have at least one of these in your kitchen somewhere even if you’ve never canned a single thing in your life. I know some people even tie several of these together on a ribbon for extra clangy fun. We’ve done experiments holding up The Ring and one of the brightly coloured toys above. Every one of our babies reached for The Ring every time. What are/were the best baby toys at your...

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