Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Imagination Station - our toy collections

A preface of sorts...

I began this blog post last October (blushing) after several email inquiries into my most beloved and whimsical toy thoughts, those of an older mother. So, apologies for the L-O-N-G delay, finally I have all the photos uploaded to publish it here now.

Our Imagination Station area overhaul as described HERE

If I were to rewind and become a brand new mother over again, I would continue to collect exactly those toys which inspire and whet a child's appetite, those offering to stir up and render awesome imaginative wonder, and those that have stood the test of time already for over 33 years in our home.

Like other mothers of the day in years passed, there were specific gender types of toys surely we didn't need to trip onto and get wrapped in with the accompanying media hype at all time highs, but each of those served a purpose to include their own stories to keep us entertained many years later.

Remember the mid-seventies when we became forever changed when retro toy sensations hit the market, like; "strawberry shortcake", the surge of "cabbage patch kids", and for the boys - "transformers".

Remember all of those very nutty consumers fighting in the aisles over their newly acquired must have items for their children? It was a newsworthy item of the day to hear of folks fist fighting over a toy for their child at Christmas.

We and our own older adult children come from an era where toys like those big Tonka trucks and doll houses/prams used to be made from metal, when lead permeated through our paint and baby furniture even in most of the toys available on the market. And where many consumers became snobs and acquired less appreciation for hand made as opposed to store bought.

Unbeknown to zillions of households, many of these toys were later linked to toxic issues and even dangerous health hazards for our children.

As a younger mother I wasn't really aware of safety issues at first, and then through trial and error I began to choose more wisely (at least I hope I did) when viewing my child's wish lists and what the composition materials were on those specific requested items.

During extra frugal times, we could generally be found crafting, and making almost all of our gifts. We still attempt to do this, or at least - I do try to.

I loved to sew all of our children's doll clothing, sometimes matching the clothing pieces I made for them to wear. Or my mother in law could be found knitting for us (love those hand knit items she made, so precious and well loved). I also found an attraction to begin seeking out and purchasing hand made wooden items from a talented carpenter neighbor down the road, many items from doll cradles to lawn chairs, all which we still own years later.

Over the years, I began to notice I was leaning towards purchasing bulk amounts (when able) of collectible items, ones which could be added to and multiplied over the years for even more building, creating and imagination.

The wonderful world of lego and wooden blocks entered our home, something my husband enjoyed when he was a youngster. He would lay on the floor with the children and begin to create all sorts of wonderful items from only a few building bricks. Our children were delighted and gleeful when he would build things with them, for them and around them. It always whet their appetite to build their own special creations.

I remember long before there was such a thing as eBay, or email sale loops, my bottom lip quivering as the first big box of the lego I bought (just bricks) had a price tag of almost $30.00 back in 1979, the very amount of my entire baby bonus government check! Wow, that stuff was expensive to me! :)

Tinker toys and Lincoln blocks were useful (we still have ours).

Wooden toys ran the gamut from the great brio trains, wooden puzzles, to dollhouses and dollhouse furniture until we also began to stock our home with educational types of wooden toys, ones that could provide hours of logic fun and challenges.

Paper dolls, art materials, musical instruments, outdoor items for sport and fun, these were all on our collectible "wanted" lists.

A kitchen drawer contained wooden puzzle trays because right after lunch every afternoon, when our older children were young, they and I would begin to make every single one of them before nap time arrived. These same puzzles for the most part are still in our toy area for young children to play with; some were gifted onward to those who loved a few of them the most before moving here to the east.

A tea set always sat on a little tray on our kitchen buffet.

Homemade nontoxic playdoh with all our idea books and accessories could be found in a kitchen cupboard. I found using a central location handy, so the kitchen was usually the place for this activity. A girlfriend only allowed this art play in the summer, outside on her picnic table. Not me, I always endured the mess it made because I was generally thrilled to watch their imaginative play and fabulous ideas spring forward.

My home became a child's refuge for they were invited to create and play in allocated "center" areas located within every single room of the home, cozy and inviting little areas which seemed to awaken and kindle their interests aplenty. The grandchildren used to love to come play at our home too, always attracted to our "center" child areas throughout each floor of living space.

In time, we realized we were more "green" back then, way before the term and lifestyle living ever became popular.

Remembering good health begins at home and often becomes overlooked when not thinking outside of the box for what our children's hobby and toy box items are made from. Food for thought...

  • Are we good consumers or do we support the toxic and the harmful sales market in our shopping malls?
  • Do we promote safety in all aspects for our family, right down to knowing what our baby's are drooling over and sucking on?
If one learns from the history of what came before us, would we have been more alarmed by thinking about these health topics when our older children were younger? I think so. All we have to do is remember the recent recalls, the mass amounts of lead in toys from China and the law suits from dolls sold without the name Xavier located on their bums. These type of things do leave a bad taste in our mouths, don't they?

Many years ago I decided to pull away from the typical entertainment toy purchases of the day and go back to a few basics. I wanted to have our free time play to include all of the children, regardless of age or gender.

That meant something like - increasing our supplies and collecting for instance many more of one specific colored lego bricks, and more of doors and windows, so all could sit down together to build and create, but avoid hogging all the pieces, leaving another stuck for completion on their project.

Collecting groups or specifics of desired items unified all of the children, and invited all to the table at the same time. Sometimes they could be found sprawled out on the floor, all working together, in unison for pure enjoyment, not to mention motivation to create for longer periods of time.

In realizing my newly acquired and accidental parental philosophies, I began to find much joy when scouting thrift stores and garage sales with our children in tow, hunting for treasures to add to the lot of greatly desired collectibles for our home.

Just as my own mother in law chose to keep the best and most popular toys from her children's young years, so too did I begin to recognize the value of owning toys that would stand the test of time, those that could be sturdy enough or special enough to pass through more generations to come.

Just as our children have gone to their grandmother's home and were able to browse my own husband's beloved books and have them read to them, I too want my children and grandchildren to appreciate my book collections and invite me to get all cozy round the hearth for a good read together.

I hope all of our grandchildren are continually excited about going to grandmother's house (me), appreciate those treasures I've collected through the years, play with all of the creative toys at Nana's house and have hours of unbridled freedom to soar with imagination aplenty when visiting with us in our home. And, I too wish to lay on the floor surrounded by all of them, admiring their sweet facial expressions as they participate in these activities.

If I had to recommend a practical wish list for a new mother, one who could foresee investing in the imaginations within her children's inner hearts and minds for their entire family's future, then I wouldn't hesitate to give her this list;

For the family (but a few favorite selections);

  • assorted sizes and shapes of (real) wooden blocks
  • a big wicker basket filled with good quality musical instruments. Harmonicas were introduced to our young babies early, followed later by other items. If one can't handle the noise, grab an ipod and slip away rather than halt great and budding musical talent from forming
  • an "art box", something we've always kept well stocked for our budding artists
  • duplo (not copy cats with toxic plastics) with people and animals for chubby hands
  • logic and cognitive skill builder items, use these as incentives for even more creative play
  • lego (not copy cats with toxic plastics) for older hands with unlimited imaginative play for years
  • kitchen play with plenty of safe food play (wooden rules over plastic, or how about felt creations from Etsy)
  • books, books and more books - those that would be classics over time, not fad child's current day must-haves
  • Playmobil - historical selections to serve a purpose with imaginative play and exploration of our world's history timeline
  • Puzzles and more puzzles, plenty of logic play to keep those cogs rolling and learning; things like pentominoes, pattern blocks, board games and for sure - lots of Yahtzee play.
  • Your own trickle trunk with oodles of special dress up clothing and accessories, I mean REAL ones, not all plastic. I've written about our "trickle trunk" before, such a great item to be sure.
  • Craft and painting supplies which are good quality. Forget those cheap art supplies with the paint that doesn't leave any color behind, wax crayons that cluster waxy chunks on a page and eliminate all art items with lead content. Be safe in this area and try not to be a clean freak mother who doesn't allow for explorative play.
A few for girls (suggestions only);
  • a special dolly that can lend itself to have a wee one mimic motherhood. We like baby dolls when the girls are young.
  • skipping ropes with wooden handles
  • a child friendly wooden dollhouse
  • a sewing box as young as preschooler age with appropriate beginnings to build upon as they age

A few for boys (suggestions only);
  • brio wooden train set items
  • a tool box with age appropriate tool items to build upon as they age
  • castles and knights, even dragons

There is nothing quite like a box of wooden blocks, an abundance of lego or duplo, and even the mounds of historical playmobil we have been lucky enough to collect over the years.

What began almost 25 years ago with one set of pirate playmobil including a yellow rowboat, a treasure gift in the children's pirate ship meal from "White Spot Restaurant", soon developed into begging to obtain more of these very cool things. Problem was; no one sold them in North America at that time, at least not yet.

My mother in law used to take yearly trips home to Holland and on her wish list from our family was playmobil, those little figures perfect for any young person's hand, the ones that fit inside of a lego or wooden block house, even a doll's house because they were sold in abundance in Europe.

Fast forward many years later and we have an abundance of playmobil readily available in many assorted themes and specialties.

For the most part we collect historical figures and have way too much invested in this stuff. (wink) It has all become an integral part of our learning though and there is nothing like a child narrating his comprehension review orally using a great selection of co-ordinating manipulatives to detail what was just learned or discovered, no matter even the specific topic.

We've used our playmobil for many schooling subjects, but then, I've written about that before.

As a final note, these are some basics we've come to enjoy through the years. Depending on each child, other hobbies have prevailed, ones like; stamp collecting, hockey card, rock and leaf collections, model making, sporty items, and so forth.

Some of our girls were in love with glass dolls and gifted from grandparents with several over the years.

One daughter loved her barbies and would play with a neighbor for hours and hours during summer.

Some had personal collections they found a lifetime of pleasure in continuing after they left home. Love that.

Some of the biggest and most popular toy/collectible fads over the years hit our home like everyone else's, and slowly we became affected by the thrills of the day.

Might you remember the big thrill of; stickers collections, pogs, Ty beanies, Madame Alexander dolls, current webkinz, yoyos, slinkies, smurfs, new kids on the block, hot wheels, and others?

Where might I ask you though do those later mentioned items end up? In a memory box perhaps is all? And yet, there are times when that "Mr. Potato Head" set comes out again, a renewed interest after "Toy Story" came out in theatres.

We've watched our children pass along their "retro toys" to their own children, beloved toy items that once meant much to them, and fits of giggles might greet them with
"what did you play with those for?" type of questions.

Other items, those I made with loving hands when times were toughest, those were the ones open arms reached for. The fabric baby doll in fabric cradle, the Raggedy Ann doll, the blanket and pillow sets in cradles, those type of items.

My best type of advice as an older mother to a younger one; It's becomes food for thought to remember what your own child will still come to appreciate when other siblings also play with the same toys alongside of them.

I feel as though I'm being repetitive, and no doubt I am, but I'll say it again; collections are great because the entire family can hang around on the floor and play together. There is always enough then to go around.

Individual hobbies are excellent also and stretch the mind to grow, especially ones that can take the child into the future for continuing on with the same hobbies from which they enjoyed as a child.

For instance, we have had stamp collecting in our home for many, many years. Our children's grandmother is an avid stamp collector and keeps them well stocked with their "Canadian" stamps and adhesives. This is a great hobby and one they can return to over and over again when they are adults.

Whatever you choose to collect or acquire in your homes for wonderful childhood imaginative play, here are a few links to check out for must-have catalogs in your mailbox, ones you can acquire great ideas and non-toxic materials.

Think on it this way; In twenty years from now, which toys would you want to remain in your home for your grandchildren to play with.

Which toys will still be intact, won't require batteries, are safe and will continue to offer creative play.

Each of these below contains a link, just click on the name to get to their websites.

  • And best of all, if you have an Ikea local to you, do check out their great items in the children's section of the store.
  • Another great source for great hand made items is ETSY, similar to Ebay but a place for crafters to sell their goods. I've shopped here for many wonderful items myself, and prefer it over Ebay.

Whew! So, there is my list.

It's such a very personal topic when a parent begins to think about toy preferences, and my list above is only a sample of my own personal-something to pass along as requested by others.

I'd love to hear what has become dear to your heart over the years in your home.