OLIVER’S FAVOURITE “TOYS”

This recent post on Jamie Glowacki’s Oh Crap Potty Training blog made me laugh, but it also served as an important reminder that sometimes the best “toys” really aren’t toys at all.

Sure, Oliver loves cuddling his stuffed Doggy and Bunny. He’ll happily pass 15 or 20 minutes careening around the apartment and ramming his Vilac push-cart into walls, doors, furniture, and the legs of any unsuspecting adults who happen to be in his path. He brings us the same half a dozen picture books to be read ad nauseum.

But aside from a select few treasured toys, the rest of Oliver’s favourite play things are rather… unconventional. Here’s what is currently giving Oliver the best bang for his proverbial buck:

A set of tiny plastic nesting jars with screw caps.

I bought these from a dollar store ages ago. I used to use them to transport salad dressing to work so that my lettuce wouldn’t get soggy. I recently gave them to Oliver because they are the perfect size for tiny hands to practice manipulating screw caps. He loves to try to remove and replace the lids, even though he’s not very good at it yet.

Mostly they cause him immense frustration, and he throws them down on the floor or brings them to Mom and Dad for assistance… then he tries again. And again. And again. Without fail, they are the first things he pulls out of the bin at playtime, one of the last things to be put away before meals or bedtime, and he continuously returns to them in between playing with other toys.

A chair from his Ikea craft table.

It’s fun to draw and finger-paint while sitting at your own little table, but apparently not nearly as much fun as pushing this lightweight wooden chair across the living room’s smooth laminate flooring, over doorway thresholds, and even onto the carpet (very unsuccessfully, I might add). The chair gets almost as much push time as his push-cart does!

Because this chair is so light, Oliver can lift and carry it, which brings him much joy. He also likes to practice climbing on and off the seat. The chair can frequently be found firmly wedged somewhere that requires parental help to extricate it, but fortunately there’s a second one, so it’s never a problem.

Felt pineapple slices.

These felt pineapple slices are a legitimate toy, but are such an odd choice of “favourite” that I felt they deserved inclusion in this list. I once bought Oliver a box of felt food pieces, which has been largely ignored with the exception of the pineapple slices.

What is it that Oliver likes so much about these? Well, we’re not sure. He doesn’t even really do anything with them, other than carry them around his bedroom and repeatedly say, “ap-pole.” Occasionally he will surreptitiously toss one into his laundry hamper, which explains how the one on the left came to be smaller and fuzzier than its mate. These are usually the second toy pulled out of the bin, after the tiny jars.

The kitchen garbage can.

One of Oliver’s greatest delights is the act of throwing things into receptacles: laundry into hampers, tissue into toilets, paper into recycling bins, garbage into trash cans…

Oliver uses the word “potty” as his generic term for any receptacle, but he understands which is which, and which items belong where. For example, if I ask him to put his socks in the laundry, he will do just that; he will not throw them into the toilet or the garbage.

This game of “throw the ______ in the ______” has come in handy in coffee shops, where I can sit and enjoy my still-warm coffee by repeatedly handing him little scraps of paper napkin to throw in the garbage bin (much to the amusement of other patrons). I also entertain Oliver at home by pointing out bits of lint or cat hair on the floor, which he promptly picks up and throws out, then comes back to look for more :).

Leather drink coasters.

Actually, any coasters at all, but we confiscated the wooden ones due to Oliver’s propensity for banging their sharp corners on the coffee table. What does he do with coasters? Why, he walks around the apartment with them and deposits them in random places.  Then he finds them and puts them back on the coffee table. Sometimes he likes to chew them. He also likes to toss them in the air, with a dramatic exclamation of, “Oh noooooooooo,” as they fall to the floor.

Last week, Gawker reported that an Ohio preschool ditched conventional toys in favour of raw materials such as cardboard boxes and styrofoam. Perhaps they are on to something? Perhaps we go to altogether too much trouble and expense to buy our children toys that we think they will find interesting — toys that beep and flash and sing and talk — when most often, it’s the simplest things that delight them most.

What are your child’s favourite non-toy items to play with?

11 responses to “OLIVER’S FAVOURITE “TOYS”

  1. I am totally ready to ditch half of the toy collection (and I’ve been somewhat sparse about it to begin with). The onslaught of toys for the girls around the holidays is insane. What I do with said toys is so guilt-inducing that I can barely bring myself to write it. We’re at an age where lots of the gifts arrive via mail or pick-up at Thanksgiving. I reduce the load to one thing from each relative (some feel the absurd need to buy more gifts than would fit around our tree in total). Or, I simply estimate the value if the gift sings, blinks or attempts to educate and decide upon a college fund amount to put in their accounts. Then, once gifts are sorted, I donate the rest to local toy drives. For that I do not feel guilty. I just feel bad that, someday, someone in our near or extended family will ask one of the girls how they liked x Christmas or birthday gift and I’ll just have to pretend like they have so many toys they just can’t remember it…or maybe it broke. I’ve tried to implement a “no gift” policy, but I get chastised for being somewhat of a Grinch who is out to steal happiness from kids. I often suggest just wadding up colored tissue paper for the wee one. Like she cares about the first XMas!

    So, favourite toys around here? One cannot go wrong with a full laundry basket with a 10-month-old. She will empty it all day long. Flinging things is great fun. Toilet paper is the bees knees. A full roll of that can keep her entertained for an impressive amount of time. Rolling an acorn squash around the kitchen is good fun. Pushing the little chairs around the house is entertaining.

    I really like the Reggio Emilia approach to education because the focus is on natural/simple materials. Oliver seems to have figured out what he needs to thrive in his environment. Read the same books again and again, hide and locate things, twist lids on and off, be helpful, and push things around. So many skills!

    • Do you blog? You really should 🙂

      I’m totally with you on the idea of low-gift holidays. We do both Christmas *and* Chanukah in this family, so things could very easily get out of hand if we weren’t so intent on keeping the “stuff” to a minimum. Last year, after much deliberation about whether or not to even give Oliver any gifts (seriously — is a four-month-old going to remember or care?), we settled on a board book for each holiday, plus a small set of squirty bath toys. This year he’ll be getting just one special toy, handmade by a friend of mine. I also like the idea of “experience” gifts — things like our aquarium membership — that allow us to enjoy quality time together as a family throughout the course of the year. Fortunately our families are not prone to lavishing Oliver with excess gifts, so we don’t have that awkwardness of how to deal with a whole pile of toys that he doesn’t need.

      “… sings, blinks or attempts to educate” is such a perfect description of the kind of toys we try to avoid. I’ve still yet to hear of a toddler that learned their ABC’s from an electronic toy…

      Is the Reggio Emilio approach similar to Montessori and/or Waldorf?

  2. these: http://imagesw.frugalvillage.com/muffincups.jpg
    I will buy a set of these for any and all future baby showers. Done and done. They are a cool texture and soft on baby gums, and as she grows, she now refers to them as “cupcakes” and plays / stacks / pretends to drink out of them each and every day. I’m amazed I haven’t lost at least one of the dozen we have!

  3. I love this! Andreas was also a huge fan of putting things in the bin (and can still barely resist the lure of a filthy bin if he happens to be passing one), and I too used to enjoy about 15 minutes of relatively quiet coffe time by passing him small pieces of paper to put in the bin 20 yards away….. win win! I enjoyed some piece and a warmish coffee, he enjoyed his bin practice. And both E and A spent most of saturday morning last week playing in an empty Amazon delivery box….. they had a blast and I wondered why I was busy acquiring multiple expensive toys and crafts etc in preparation for Christmas….. (just give them the box!)

    • So what you’re saying is that Oliver’s attraction to garbage bins is a familial trait? I’m just glad to know I’m not the only mother who has taken advantage of this in order to enjoy a hot cup of coffee. 🙂

      By the way, J says that we’re going to send the kids empty boxes for Christmas this year to save on shipping costs. Hahaha 😀

  4. I agree with Jennifer! It’s so hard to rein in relatives during the holidays. I read once about a christmas tradition where each child leaves a sack of old toys for santa to bring to other children, therefore bestowing the gift of giving to children while also keeping your house less cluttered! I’d like to try that with my boy once he’s old enough to understand.

    Our favorite non toys are burp cloths, dish towels, rocks, and a bucket we bought him at home depot while we were trying to distract him long enough to shop!

    • That’s a beautiful idea, and a great way to teach children gratitude and generosity. This year we will be foregoing gifts (other than one gift for Oliver) and using the money we’d have spent in order to buy some groceries and other necessities for a family in our community.

  5. Magazines, laundry, shoes and junk mail are always a big hit. She also likes to push bar stools and chairs around, and she loves a toy that actually belong to a cat (a fabric tunnel). In terms of “real” toys, plush dogs and books are her faves.

    • What is it with toddlers and cat toys anyway? We had to move the cat toys up out of Oliver’s reach because he kept wanting to play with them… and he’s always messing around with the scratching posts!

  6. Love this! My little guy, just one, loves toilet paper rolls, measuring cups (I always give him one to chew on when I’m baking or unloading the dishwasher), and his own socks. Unfortunately we are already inundated with toys from his big sister (first grandchild on both sides, first niece) but at least we’re getting a second life out of some because of him. But it’s too much, especially in a small city apartment. I’m inspired now to donate some this holiday season.
    -Dana

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