The Un-Toy: A Celebration

IMG_6368Toys, it must be said, can be as annoying as they are delightful. Toddler toys have gazillions of pieces, some of which are required for the set-up to work. Puzzle pieces and the like inevitably end up in the sofa cushions, the car seat, even the refrigerator, making it part of the puzzle just to keep the darn thing together!

So I’ll have to give credit to the inventiveness of Maya’s former preschool in showing me that excellent toys need not be, well, toys. They used tennis balls with mouths cut into them and eyes drawn on for holding buttons, lovely little thrift store change purses with zippers, snaps and clamps for practicing fine motor skills, and even several sizes of old sets of hair curlers with the bristles for building blocks. And of course, there is the always popular cardboard box, which can be a fort, hiding place, or other retreat.

Then there are natural un-toys, like acorns, dried leaves in fall, stones, pine cones, shells and other wonders. These can be displayed on a nature table seasonally with small dolls or building structures if you have the space and patience with all the bits that will inevitably end up on the floor.

Sadly, thrift store toy aisles are rather depressing, plastic-filled places. So get out of there and into the tchotchke aisle instead. Here are some things to look for while at thrift stores, on-line on places like Ebay, or at yard or estate sales:

  1. Old fantasy chess sets or other interesting game pieces, the more elaborate the better;
  2. Sets of interesting similar items, like the three bags of miniature painted duck decoys I found for a buck each;
  3. Small wooden figures;
  4. Small furniture that can serve for dolls;
  5. Glass baubles and stones for a light table (easily made with an upended plastic storage box and flashlight or light stick);
  6. Small figures for the sandbox or a shadow box;
  7. Craft supplies (I found a large bag of simple wooden blocks that Maya has had a ball painting; also birdhouses for painting and raffia for use in 3-D constructions);
  8. Dress-up clothes and small purses;
  9. Large pieces of nicer fabric and scarves to use as forts, dress-ups, etc.
  10. Stamps and batik blocks, rolling pins or cookie cutters for tracing and playdough;
  11. Muffin tins, measuring cups, wooden bowls and nesting bowls;
  12. Baskets to keep all the toys (and un-toys) organized and accessible.

Here’s some of our current items in circulation, including these cool stamps:

IMG_6370 IMG_6367 IMG_6366 IMG_6365 IMG_6362There’s nothing I enjoy more than inventing a new purpose for some castaway that gives it renewed life. What are some things you’ve scored along the way?

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Used Wooden Blocks and Trucks — Made New Again

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make me happy.

I love finding castoff items and making them new again, or at least more attractive and interesting to use. Knowing this, when my mom’s neighbor offered some battered and hideous wooden blocks for free, in a dirty state, she knew they were for me!

Here’s the before:

New solid wood blocks are frighteningly expensive, and can cost as much as $100 bucks for 32 nifty blocks. Of course, if you or someone you know are handy with a circular saw and sander, there’s really no reason you couldn’t make these yourself in some interesting but perhaps more basic shapes. (And here’s a link to an amazingly cool shop in Maine that sells wood pieces in shapes of all kinds, including cubes and eggs, for great prices.)

After giving them a good clean and dry, and even letting them hang out on the back porch for a while, I took some linseed oil to them with a lint-free rag. I also removed a few stray nails. It took a lot of oil, but they are now a beautiful chocolate color, and the Playskool logo even shows up on the ends. Of course, they do have some character, but all the better.

I also had stumbled across some plain wooden trucks — one was in a bag on the last day of a church rummage sale for a quarter, and another for a dollar at a yard sale. I bathed these in oil, and they look far better, even with their very simple wood design.

Before:

And after:

What fun! And to see Maya playing with them now is even more delightful.

Hope everyone is having a relaxing holiday weekend! Going to warm up some cider and pop some popcorn now. It’s just that kind of evening, isn’t it?

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