Top Toddler “Non-Toys”

This is the post toy manufacturers don’t want you to read. But I just can’t keep silent any longer.

Toys suck.

I don’t want them to suck. Really, I don’t. I always pop into a toy store when I see one nearby, always hoping there will be something in there that my son will adore. And – let’s be honest here – we’re all hoping that if we find that one perfect toy, our toddlers will sit for hours on end and play happily (i.e – quietly) with themselves.

But that doesn’t happen. Ever. Because toys suck.

So I’m giving up on toys. Sure, I’ve still got them around – all the train sets and stacking blocks and miniature puzzles and those “put-the-shapes-in-the-right-hole” thingy-s. Maybe my 22-month old boy is still too young to appreciate them. But in the meantime, I’m making note of the things he DOES like to play with, and I’m keeping those handy instead.

Here are some top contenders for “non-toy” hits in our own house:

The Bathroom

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Counting with Q-tips… 1…2…3…

My son has a field day in the bathroom – it’s a non-toy treasure chest! So many little jars of stuff to stack on the floor, toilet paper to unwind, laundry baskets to empty and refill. And you know that lingering box of tampons collecting dust on your shelves? Excellent toddler fun. Just look at this photo – he’s surrounded by wonderful store-bought toys, but what does my little meatloaf enjoy the most? A giant box of Q-tips, taken downstairs from the bathroom. This, my friends, is true genius at work.

The Kitchen

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Our kitchen’s very own grab-bag

You know that giant drawer you have with all the odd-shaped kitchen gadgets? The one that makes you root around in frustration trying to find something that is inevitably not even in there but rather sitting in the dishwasher or on the drying rack?

Yep, perfect non-toy material. Place anything potentially lethal out of reach and then let your little one go wild. My little guy loves the plastic spatulas and the measuring cups and the can opener and the lemon squeezer. It’s like one of those giant grab-bags we used to have in school around Christmas time. You get to reach in, root around for something and then pull out some new treasure. Good stuff.

Along the same lines is the infamously disorganized Tupperware drawer that we all have and hate. And this set of cookie cutters from IKEA. Sure, they require some clean-up when the fun is over, but what’s two minutes of cleaning compared to 10 minutes of quiet playtime?

The Terrace

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Not our terrace, but still dirt

I feel fortunate to have a house here in Gran Canaria with a large, sun-filled terrace. Quite naturally, I have loaded up the terrace with all kinds of outdoor playthings – miniature bikes and cars and footballs and child-sized tables and chairs. But what does my little one gravitate to every single time we’re outside?

The dirt.

Yep. Go figure. Ditch the toys that claim to help develop your kids’ motor skills, or that promote productive play or heightened learning or blah blah blah….  Just get yourselves a big pile of dirt and be done with it.

I must admit, however, that Per Christian isn’t actually allowed to play in the dirt. Which means – he receives a loud “Nononononono!” every time he scoops some up from the flower bed and attempts to swallow it. Which means – it’s even more interesting than it was before Mommy said something.

The Grocery Store

Have you ever taken your toddler to the grocery store without actually strapping them into the cart? No?! Try it, really!

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Wrapping paper = joy. Trust.

You’re going to think I’m crazy here, but this is honestly one of my favorite things to do with Per Christian at the moment. There’s HUGE non-toy potential in the grocery store!

I’m not talking about doing this on those big once-a-week stock-up shopping trips, but rather the ones where you just pop in for some milk or a few things for dinner. Let them help you carry/drag the mini shopping basket around the store, or pick out the bread from the bakery, or help you place the fruit & veggies into plastic bags.

And when he screams for that roll of wrapping paper that you really don’t need? Eh – let him have the wrapping paper. 1 dollar of cost for you, but then an entire day of amusement for him. Besides that, he’ll be distracted during the inevitable candy vortex that awaits you at the cashier. It’s a win-win!

The Great Outdoors

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Must. Have. THIS. Rock.

This one’s a no-brainer, but deserves a mention anyway. No toy on the face of the planet can amuse my toddler like the park. Of course, it’s mostly the dirt and the rocks at the park that he loves so much, but still. You haven’t lived until you’ve sat peacefully for 30 minutes in the sunshine watching your little boy happily hunting for and throwing small pebbles into the lake.

They also have fountains and ducks and climbing gyms at our park, but really it’s all about the rocks for Per Christian. And the dirt.

How about you all? What non-toys are big hits in your own house?

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Say it like you mean it

Picture this….

My little boy, not quite two years old, last night pointed his finger at me, stomped his miniature foot to the ground, scrunched up his face and said “NO!” in his best possible Mommy impersonation.

Talk about looking in a mirror.

He wasn’t even fighting against anything at the moment – I wasn’t trying to dress or undress him or change his diaper or give him a bath or wash his face or do any of the other 1,000 things that would usually elicit such a response. We were just in the bedroom laying out his pajamas for bedtime and his pulls this little act out of nowhere.

I couldn’t help myself, I just burst out laughing. My child has become a parrot, mirroring back to me unfiltered snippets of everything he sees and hears throughout the day. He walks up to our dog and says, “Cara, OUT!” for no reason at all, thereby banishing her from wherever she was relaxing. He must have picked that up from us, right? Our poor old dog spends her days wandering from room to room according to her young prince’s pleasure.

He sits at the table and simultaneously asks, “Juice? Cheese? Banana? Cookie?” I’m almost certain he doesn’t know what he’s requesting, but he’ll continue attempting different combinations of those four words until he gets something on his plate that suits his mood. The other day, I gave him spaghetti and meatballs in response to his request for cookies and he smiled triumphantly up at me, as if he knew all along that he’d eventually get his own way.

I fear such successful Mommy-trickery is doomed to be short-lived.

Most surprisingly, he says “Adios!” to our Spanish helper as we leave the house in the morning, and yet he somehow understands to say “Ha det!” in farewell to his Norwegian Pappa and daycare teachers. It’s remarkable that he can somehow differentiate the use of two – even three – languages within his tiny toddler brain. How does that work? Can I go back in time please and learn a new language with such apparent ease? Pretty please?

It’s such a fun age, but also quickly puts your life into sharp perspective. Why does he learn to say “no” more quickly than “I love you“? Of course I understand the reason why, but I suppose in an ideal world it would be the opposite way around. We all want to believe that we nurture and inspire our little ones all the time, not that we hold them back at every turn.

The silver lining among these thoughts is the other new trick he’s picked up lately…. mimicking kissing like Mommy and Pappa. In this case, he’s plants a 100% joy-filled, open-mouthed, sloppy, toothy and wonderful kiss on my lips when I pick him from his nursery in the afternoons.

Now that’s the kind of mirror I like to see.

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….