Parenting lesson #26: The best toys often aren’t toys

Ethan’s “pirate ship.” Points for the words “poop” and “butt head” on the flag.

A month after the holiday gifts have been unwrapped, they remain strewn everywhere but where they should go – and for some of us, we can’t even figure out where that is.  I won’t even mention decluttering and how that sparks joy. And what are my kids playing with when I’ve said no to screens?  Bubble wrap.

For Christmas a few years ago, I created a “Wish List” on Amazon of things the grandparents could buy for the kids.  I was not surprised when no one bought the little broom set that included a hand brush and dustpan.  I purchased them instead, and once they arrived, the kids ran around the house in search of messes to clean.  I’m pretty sure that Eliza purposely knocked over an orchid so she could clean up the broken pot.

And later that week, a huge box arrived with pillow inserts in it.  The kids immediately wanted to hide in the box together and have me close them inside, only to pretend I couldn’t find them before “realizing” where they were.  The box was then turned into a fort in the living room where they played with couch pillows and throw blankets.

This winter, the kids have played with blankets and made forts, which is something they’ve been doing since they were old enough to run and it still hasn’t gotten old to them. They turned my scooter (that I use get around on one leg) into a race car, and turned trash into art.  It’s amazing how today, we find all these things we “must buy” for our kids that in generations past, didn’t exist.  It’s not only easier on your wallet, but imaginative play is good for their growth.


Things that crinkle, float and make noise can all be toys.


I am pretty sure that even for infants, there are so many toys meant to intrigue them.  But you don’t even need those.  When Eliza was about 6-months-old, she spent at least 5 minutes giggling at the scrunching sound we made with a bag of gummy bears.  You can turn chop sticks into drum sticks and walrus husks, and silverware into little people who talk to each other.  Things that crinkle, or are safe to throw down a set of stairs without breaking, or float in the air a little before falling to the ground are awesome.  My kids will play “keep the balloon off the ground” for long spurts without getting bored.

So before you toss that appliance box, or the bubble wrap inside, or even the styrofoam pieces that can be used as building blocks for a spaceship, have some free fun with your children.  Then warn them the night before trash collection that they are heading out the door.  I say, spark joy and then declutter. At least until the next package arrives.

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