The Case for a No-"Toy" Christmas

We're well into the season of articles and blog posts and morning news shows trumpeting "The Best Children's Toys of the Year" or "Hot Kids' Gifts for Christmas!"

These articles typically round up flashy new toys, organized by price point and age ranges, and always featuring happy, smiling children playing away.

I come not to bury the tradition of giving children toys at Christmas. That is right and good, and there are many reasons this practice is an important part of our culture. I am, indeed, an inveterate giver of toys and other gifts to the children in my life. (Appropriately enough for a librarian, my main go-to gift is a great children's book, chosen with the child's interests and age in mind.)

But I'm disturbed by the sheer flood of flashing, beeping, commercialized-branded items being pushed for holiday giving. We all know that most of the toys are going to fall apart after twenty minutes of play, or lose the interest of the child in even less time. That's not what bothers me the most, however.

It's that the message sent, by newspapers and magazines and TV shows and blogs, is that toys you buy are best for children and indeed, show that you care about those children. The higher the price you pay, the better parent or uncle/aunt/grandparent you are. 

That's ridiculous. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend lots of money - or any money at all - on toys for children. There's an adage in children's development researchers and professionals that is appropriate here: "The simpler the toy, the richer and more imaginative the play." When toys do most of the imaginative work for children, their creative play is diminished. The research is clear on this subject: between a $100, Disney-branded electronic whatever and an empty box, the empty box will ALWAYS be the better toy to build a child's brain. With the box, they are not constrained to a commercial, already-created narrative. The box can be anything the child wants it to be. The box has infinite possibilities for play.

So this Christmas, consider going "No-Toy" - well, no COMMERCIAL toy. Look for simple blocks, balls, and other non-branded items. Simple art supplies - paints, blank paper, crayons, glitter - are also a good choice. Your kid might be a little put out at first that it's not the latest "hot toy" trend, but trust me: it's the no-toy toys that they will continue to go back to, and that will give them the most creativity and joy.

- Laura Raphael, Children's Services Coordinator, Tulsa City-County Library

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