When I was pregnant with my first and started registering for gifts, my friends who already had babies sent me all of their lists. Being somewhat of a minimalist, I whittled the lists down to what I felt were only absolutely necessary items. When it came to toys, this list did NOT include all those plastic light up rattles, that loud plastic ball shooter, bouncy chairs, jumparoo thingys or a Step 1-2 walker that turns into a table and then eventually a bicycle.
[quote]I wanted wooden blocks, plush rattles, wooden puzzles, wooden shakers.[/quote]
Bottom line, NO PLASTIC.
My family and close friends all thought I was nuts. It’s not even like I was super worried about plastic toxins or chemicals or toys made in China. It’s really mainly about aesthetics for me. I like the look and feel of wooden toys. I also think they hold up better. Wooden toys will last a lifetime and my girls will be able to pass them on to their children and their children and so on. My obsession came when I was learning about the various teaching methodologies and curriculums in school. I loved looking at photos of Montessori and Reggio Emilia classrooms which combine nature and real objects to create a warm and natural setting.
Natural meaning wood. LOTS of natural wood, everywhere. In true Reggio and most Montessori classrooms, you won’t find colored furniture, chairs, posters with cartoons or bright ABC rugs. It’s what I aspired my classrooms to look like and naturally (haha) what I began to imagine my daughter’s room to look like.
Luckily, for the first year of my daughter’s life, there were only a few plastic toy gifts, which I of course returned. (Sorry to those who gifted us plastic!) She didn’t have any toys that lit up or made noises. Besides balls, there were hardly any plastic toys in our house. I realized that for most any plastic toy, there is a wooden counterpart. I became a little obsessed. I got into all the brands: Melissa & Doug, Hape, Haba, Naef. Even when it came to those jumparoos, I refused to buy one and was adamant about no one buying my daughter one. And then! I found a WOODEN one online. Made in Canada, this “Bobbin” retailed at $600.00! I almost convinced my husband who also got into this wooden only toy thing into buying it, but he had an even grander idea. He was going to MAKE one! With real wood!! And so he did…and it was truly an amazing, beautiful wooden jumparoo. But, by the time he was finished, my daughter was standing on her own and used it for maybe a few weeks. Good thing it turned into a table because my second daughter rarely used it either!
Fast forward to Christmas and my daughter’s birthday. I would feel anxiety when asked from family what they should get her. I didn’t want to offend anyone but I refused to have a house full of plastic crap everywhere. “What about a walker? Fisher Price has a great walker that my kids loved.” I would make up some sort of white lie and say another family member was already getting her one. When, in fact, I already spent $$$ on a wooden walker as her Christmas present. It was getting to be pricey and a little bit obnoxious keeping up this “no plastic toys” thing. I started feeling really bad returning gifts and I felt bad asking for expensive wooden toys. Have you heard of Naef? It’s like $50 for stacking cups!!
And then I started seeing what it was doing to my daughter.
Whenever we would go on play dates, it was literally like she was a “kid in a candy store.” Her eyes would light up and she would squeal with giddy laughter. She would crawl, cruise, walk, run as fast as she could to whatever was making that glorious noise. OMG! What’s that beeping, colorful thing that’s shouting all these lights at me?! I want to love it, squeeze it, hold it and never let it go! And look! If I press here and pull here, it lights up with more colors and makes even more noises, IT SINGS!! It was like she was possessed. I couldn’t pull her away. I almost felt bad. And then it dawned on me. Could she be experiencing what I did when I was a kid?!
When I would go to my friends’ houses, I would indulge in everything we never had at home. All the coolest toys AND all kinds of food treats. Hot dogs, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, bologna, and cereal with marshmallows. Looking back, I wonder what my friends’ parents thought of me as I stuffed my face until I felt like I was going to vomit. How could this kid have never had Kraft Macaroni and Cheese?! It’s bologna, ya know, a bologna sandwich?! Being Asian, we grew up with ramen noodles, not macaroni and cheese. We ate Corn Flakes. Bologna? No way! But how about a Spam sandwich? We did get hot dogs every now and then, but sliced up in our ramen noodles.
I don’t want my kid to be that kid. You know the one. Like I was. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I grew up fine, I wasn’t ostracized for not having had what my friends had. But, I have decided I need to be more practical and flexible when it comes to toys for my kids. What I’ve learned is that plastic is not the end of the world. Besides being difficult to clean, my girls have also proven that wood is in fact destructible. I bought wooden teethers and rattles. Teethers! Unless your baby is a woodchuck or a beaver, babies would much rather gnaw on plastic than wood. And if you’ve traveled with your kids, a wooden rattle is basically like giving them a piece of paper. Actually, a piece of paper might entertain them even more. Give a baby a light up phone that sings and talks, ahhhhh, everyone is happy, especially those sitting around you on that plane!
So although I will continue to love the look and feel of wooden toys, I know my girls are not going to fail in life if they have a few Fisher Price or Step 2 toys. There are a lot of great plastic or non-wooden toys out there: Legos, Playmobil, Plan Toys, Green toys, etc. To all of our family and friends, I promise not to be so picky about their Christmas and birthday gifts.
But, please don’t buy them that huge plastic dollhouse, I prefer the pretty wooden one:)