I love a good challenge. I find in general the power of a challenge it that it can completely change my perspective on things. Even if i feel like I already ‘know’ something often I find that it doesn’t really get embedded in my mind and long term action until i’ve really experienced it. This was certainly the case for the 2nd hand clothing challenge I did many years ago where I only bought 2nd hand items for a period of 6 months. To this day I cannot look at a price tag of a new clothing item the same way and continue to buy used items for about 80% of my wardrobe.
Challenges aren’t meant to be implemented long term. Usually because they are extra extreme. But it is their extremeness that they allow us to see a change as a fun experience, a challenge and from there we can after the challenge decide for ourselves what aspects of it we would like to incorporate in our long term life.
So this brings me to our family’s latest challenge: the #toyfreechallenge
This challenge isn’t so much toy free as commercial indoor toy free. The guidelines we are following are:
- We are doing the challenge for 1 month (if you want to follow along though you can do it any amount of time of your choosing).
- All our commercial indoor toys have been packed away and will not be accessed during the challenge
- Books are acceptable and encouraged.
- Outdoor play equipment/toys are also allowed
- The rules only apply in our own home. If we are out in public places or at a friend’s then indoor toys at those locations are fine.
- We are replacing commercial toys with found objects like cardboard boxes, measuring cups etc. as well as toys we are making ourselves
- Craft items are also ok. These can also be used to make new toys.
- The journey will be documented on instagram with #toyfreechallenge This is to share our experience and ideas to inspire others.
If you want to do the challenge with us these tips might also help:
- If you have older children then encourage them to be involved in making new toys.
- If you have older children who might otherwise protest this challenge remind them find a way to make it fun for them, especially by making their own toys. If you are having great difficulty then you could compromise by asking them to pick just say 3 commercial toys to have during the challenge. Some kids will rise to a challenge to: you could say to them something along the lines of “I bet you couldn’t manage to only play with toys you make yourself and outdoors for a month”. You could also create an incentive such as fun experiences with you outside the home either during the challenge or at it’s completion. If all else fails then you can just move all the toys to a less used area of the house and the challenge is for you to distract your kids with other activities so they don’t even think to use them. It is hoped after all a benefit of this challenge is to become more present parents.
- For toddlers and babies found objects make wonderful toys. Most people own things like measuring cups in the kitchen and toddlers love to stack these and put small objects in and out of them. Cardboard boxes and natural objects like pinecones also make great toys.
- It also isn’t all about toys! Experiencing the world and particularly outdoor play is wonderful. You’ll notice kids find creative ways to entertain themselves regardless of whether or not you hand them something to play with.
So Why Do this Challenge?
I think the potential for this challenge to benefit is huge and may do so in different ways depending on your current routine. I think you’ll experience the most benefits if you don’t try to cheat the system by replacing toys with television etc and also have an open mind about the possible benefits it will bring you. Some reasons to do this challenge with the goal to change your overall perspective of play include:
Home Clutter – Anti-minimalism!
Commercial toys clutter the home. Even if you try to live a minimalist life toys have a tendency to accumulate, especially from what other people bring in as gifts! It is wonderful to experience less of this.
So many toys are plastic and that even if it gets reused, donated, bought 2nd hand etc will likely end up in landfill. Toys have also got a lot cheaper in the last few decades and with this comes a great environmental cost and social cost. Many toys probably were made by children themselves in developing countries! Because they are so cheap and widely available we tend to get more of them. At the very least this challenge should should test the preconception that children need a lot of toys to be happy, entertained and educated.
The vast majority of toys available these days are designed to be played with in a very specific way. This is particularly the case for electronic toys. This type of play does not encourage open ended creativity and if takes up the majority of your children’s playtime will be to their detriment. There are of course exceptions like lego and blocks. This challenge will encourage maximum creativity both for your children and as you as a parent. You will be forced to look at every day objects from new eyes and you can make toys or encourage your children to make their own toys.
There are so many benefits to outdoor play. Creativity is at its maximum when children are encouraged to play in natural places, using natural objects as toys and even play equipment in various ways. There are also obvious health benefits to being outdoors and using the body more physically, in addition being outdoors can help prevent short-sightedness and vitamin D deficiency (obviously be sun safe though). Outdoor play also provides children the opportunity to experience controlled risk taking and to experience the wonders of nature. Sadly the instance of daily outdoor play among children has dropped 40% in only a generation.
Benefits I’ve Already Experience
- It is easier to get rid of unused toys. By this i mean the DIY toys and other found objects that i’ve given my son to play with during our challenge. If he doesn’t use something it goes away. I have no emotional attachment to them at all. On the other hand commercial toys, especially those given to us as gifts are much more difficult to part with. This emotional baggage has been made really obvious though this challenge. Thus my house is far less cluttered for at least now!
- I feel more present for my son. I’m really focused right now on providing him lots of enriching experiences, getting out of the house and reading him more books. Because i’m documenting our journey this also is encouraging me to focus on the process and on him. Thus i think documenting the journey is as important as the challenge itself. In the past it was easy to just hand him a pile of lego or some kind of electronic activity centre thing and expect him to entertain himself. He is of course flourishing under the extra attention.
- As I suspected commercial toys really are unnecessary, especially at this toddler age. I think though Finn might be missing cars and wheeled toys in general. I might try and make him something like this but i expect in general this experience will make it clear what types of toys he really enjoys and others we might not need to keep around. It might be easier to discourage less toy gifts in the future now that i will be able to demonstrate without a doubt that Finn was just has happy without.