Toys, 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:
- Old fantasy chess sets or other interesting game pieces, the more elaborate the better;
- Sets of interesting similar items, like the three bags of miniature painted duck decoys I found for a buck each;
- Small wooden figures;
- Small furniture that can serve for dolls;
- Glass baubles and stones for a light table (easily made with an upended plastic storage box and flashlight or light stick);
- Small figures for the sandbox or a shadow box;
- 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);
- Dress-up clothes and small purses;
- Large pieces of nicer fabric and scarves to use as forts, dress-ups, etc.
- Stamps and batik blocks, rolling pins or cookie cutters for tracing and playdough;
- Muffin tins, measuring cups, wooden bowls and nesting bowls;
- 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: