LESS IS MORE WHEN IT COMES TO TOYS

It may seem counterintuitive, but we here are Just Play Toy Rental believe that fewer, higher quality toys are better for kids.

And it’s not just us. Studies have shown that children actually play less the more toys they have.

So why exactly should you have fewer toys in your home? (Aside from the obvious…fewer instances of foot related injuries due to tripping, stubbing, and stepping on toys.)

1 – Children will learn to be more creative. By encouraging your child to focus on only a few toys at a time, he/she is more likely to return to those same toys (instead of moving on to the next one) and come up with new ways of playing with them. You will be amazed at their capacity for creativity!

adventures of a cardboard box

2 – Kids will develop longer attention spans. When many toys are available to a child, their attention span will begin to suffer. A child will rarely learn to fully appreciate the toy in front of them when there are many more to explore. (This actually applies to experiences in general.)

3 – Too many toys are overwhelming for children. They have difficulty choosing and it makes them anxious. In fact, they will often not even try to pick one toy and play with it and will turn to adult for entertainment or guidance instead.

Does-your-child-have-too-many-toys-575x8654 – Kids will learn to take greater care of things. When kids have too many toys, they will naturally take less care of them. They will not learn to value them if there is always a replacement ready at hand.

5 – Kids will become more resourceful. Fewer toys encourages resourcefulness by solving problems with limited materials. For example, children might decide to build a playhouse with sheets or build a railway track with blocks.

6 – Kids will learn perseverance. Children with many toys are more likely to give up too quickly. If they have a toy that they can’t figure out, it will quickly be discarded for the sake of a different, easier one.

Just Play Toy Rental is not about bringing more toys (and therefore more clutter) into your home. We encourage you to simplify life by removing unwanted, low quality toys and replacing them with fewer, high quality (rented!) toys.

Have you ever noticed that your children actually play better with fewer toys around?  I would love to hear about your experiences.

Until next time!

~D.

‘Quiet’ for Kids: Some Advice from Susan Cain

Since it’s release in 2012, Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’ has caused many people to rethink the value of introverts in society. I found the book to be very useful, not only as a tool for better understanding myself, but also as a tool for helping me to understand my kids, particularly my oldest son.

Not sure if your child is an introvert? Most introverts share these common characteristics:

  • Has only one or two close friends.
  • Does more listening than talking when not at home.
  • Keen observer.
  • Likes solitary activities, such as reading, or activities with only a few people.
  • Enjoys spending time alone and doesn’t perceive it as a punishment.
  • Watches a game or activity before joining in.
  • Prone to overstimulation; may get crabby after spending a lot of time around others.
  • Does not share feelings easily.

One of the last chapters in Cain’s book was particularly useful since it focused on how to encourage quiet kids to be successful in a mainly extrovert world.  I found the following tips to be especially useful during this month of transition, when my kids head back to school and are adjusting to new routines, teachers, and classmates.

1 – If your child is nervous on the first day of school, it helps to tell him that you’ve felt the same way before too. Provide examples of when you feel nervous as an adult and explain how you deal with those feelings. Reassure him that there is nothing unusual about his feelings and that it does get easier with time.Tell him that you've felt the same way before

2 – Introverted children often need a break after school. Classrooms can be pretty social, loud places so make sure your introverted child has some quiet time after school to regroup. If necessary, save playdates and extra- curricular activities for weekends.

Make sure 2 your introverted child has some

3 – Don’t force your introverted child to do something she doesn’t want to. But don’t overprotect either. Your child needs you to respect her hesitancy but also to gently encourage her to try new things.

Often, allowing introverted children to watch before trying helps ease some anxiety. Expose your child gradually to new situations, taking care to respect her limits even if they seem unreasonable. My oldest son watched his younger brother do karate classes for almost a year before he announced it was something he really wanted to try.

Allow 2her to watch before trying.

4 – Arrange for your introverted child to enter social situations as gradually as possible. When you’re going to a birthday party for example, talk in advance about what the party will be like and what she might do when she arrives. If you can, get there early. It’s much easier to feel as if other people are joining you rather than having to join a pre-existing group.

Arrange for your child to enter social situations

You could also teach your child some simple social strategies to get him through uncomfortable moments (such as looking for a friendly face in a crowd or excusing oneself to go to the washroom).

5 – Don’t let your child hear you call him shy. He’ll believe the label and perceive his nervousness as a fixed trait he can’t do anything about instead of an emotion he can learn to control. He might also find it to be a handy excuse. Also, he probably already knows that shy is not really a positive trait in our society and will feel bad about himself.

Don’t 2let him hear you refer to him as shy.

6 – School requires participation – that’s just the way it is. Practise at home what it looks like to speak in class (stand/sit up straight, project your voice outwards, make eye contact). Let your child know that it’s ok to take a few moments to gather her thoughts before speaking.

Practise at home what it looks like to speak

7 – And finally, help your child find and further explore her talents and interests. Encourage her to share them with friends and family. Performing or talking is always much easier when you are passionate about the activity or topic.

Find what they love and let them shine!

Do you have an introverted child?  What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of parenting an introverted child?  The most positive?

~D.

TOYS AND ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR FIRST GRADER:

Grade 1 is a big year. Your child will move from a play-based kindergarten environment to a more structured, traditional classroom. It is important to reinforce what is taught in the classroom at home however the last thing you or your child needs is to sit at the kitchen table after a long day at school with pencil and paper.

Instead, why not practise those important skills with these fun but educational toys, available through Just Play Toy Rental. Rental periods are for a month at a time and the toys are delivered right to your door!

Literacy Skills:

The most important thing you can do to support your child’s literacy skills and to help her develop a life-long love of reading is to read together regularly. It doesn’t have to be a daily phonics lesson. Instead make it a pleasant, relaxing part of the day; one that both you and your child will look forward to.

Our Alphabet Activity Mats, Linking Letter Monkeys, Magnatabs, and magnetic mazes will also help reinforce important literacy skills such as letter recognition, familiarity with letter sounds, printing letters, and correct pencil grip.

TOYS THAT DEVELOP LITERACY SKILLS

Math Skills:

Our Frogs on a Log, Ice Cream Number Pops, Number Bugs, and Counting Ball toy will help develop essential math skills such as counting, concepts of more/less, one-to-one correspondence (each number counted equals one object), and addition/subtraction.

TOYS TO DEVELOP MATH SKILLS

Fine Motor Skills:

Another important set of skills at this age is fine motor skills. Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the hands that functions such as writing, grasping small objects, and fastening clothing.

These skills are important in most school activities as well as in life in general. Weaknesses in fine motor skills can affect a child’s ability to eat independently, write legibly, turn the pages of a book, and perform personal care tasks such as dressing and grooming. Just Play Toy Rental has several toys that will help your child develop his/her fine motor skills. There are also many fun activities that you can do at home that will help your child develop these essential skills.

Good luck and have a wonderful school year!

~D.

Learning an Important Parenting Lesson…Time and Time Again

It’s summer vacation which means I’ve been spending a lot of time with my kids.  There are a couple of incidents that I feel are worthwhile sharing:

Incident #1:

My kids wanted to have a yard sale. Like immediately. They decided they would sell paper airplanes and home-made Pokemon cards. It was hard to watch their disappointed faces as passers by paid them little attention.  They made 70 cents between the 3 of them (less than a quarter per child) but they were so very proud of those 70 cents!

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A couple of weeks later, I decided to help them with another yard sale. This one was a bit more organized. We dug out some outgrown toys and clothes. We had tables and signs. And we made $55 which was split 4 ways: $14 per child and $14 to charity.

They didn’t seem nearly as excited about their $14 as they did about their 70 cents from their previous yard sale.

Incident #2:

My 5 year old daughter’s preferred home lunch is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She’ll usually eat most of it but often leaves some on her plate.

This summer, I taught her to make her own sandwiches. She never puts enough peanut butter or jelly, despite my encouragements. The sandwich always looks mangled and dry. But every crumb gets eaten. Every. Single. Time.

pbj

There’s a lesson to be learned here, isn’t there? One that I’m familiar with and can recite readily:

“It’s important to teach kids to do things for themselves.They will gain a sense of accomplishment.”

“It’s the process, not the result.”

“Step back.”

So why do I find it so hard to internalize this parenting lesson? I’ve come up with a couple of reasons:

1 – I’m a bit of perfectionist and although my perfectionist tendencies have been severely tamed (that happens when you have kids), I like things to look neat. But the thing is, life is messy, metaphorically and literally. The more I accept this, the more at peace I am with my kids’ messy, unsuccessful life experiments.

2 – I have made many mistakes, as we all have. Some of them painful, some I am most definitely not proud of. But I can’t deny that their lessons have contributed to the person I am today – a person I rather like.

It’s natural, I guess, to want to shelter my kids from making similar mistakes and experiencing those unpleasant emotions. But I can’t. Doing so would interrupt the natural process of growing up.

It’s really one of the hardest parts of parenting, isn’t it? Watching our kids struggle and not stepping in.  Knowing that they are better off figuring things out on their own but wishing you could take the disappointment, the fear, the regrets away from them and carry them yourself.

Have you noticed similar incidents with your kids? Do you find it hard to step back and watch your kids struggle?

7 GREAT DOLLAR STORE FINDS TO ENCOURAGE OPEN-ENDED SUMMER PLAY

As you may know, we here at Just Play think that fewer high quality toys is far better than lots of low quality toys. So you may be surprised to hear that we are encouraging you to go to your local dollar store. Not to purchase toys but to pick up low cost consumable materials that are ideal for encouraging open-ended summer play!

Here are my top 7 picks for dollar store finds that will encourage your child to play creatively and imaginatively (with little effort on your part!).

1 – Art/craft supply bin:

Pick up a fairly large plastic bin and fill with art supplies (ideal for quiet time!).

You can find a wide selection of low cost art and craft supplies at your local dollar store. Some items that readily come to mind are: markers, crayons, highlighters, stickers, any kind of tape, any kind of paper (my kids love grid paper ), and glue. Some less obvious ideas: bingo dabbers, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, Playdough, yarn, and clothes pins.

I like to put only 4 or 5 different things in at a time and replenish every week or so. Otherwise you end up with a craft supply disaster bin (not fun for you nor is it appealing to kids).

art supplies

2 – Mud kitchen supplies:

A large bin, garden soil, aluminum pie plates, and plastic kitchen utensils are all you need. Warning: this will get messy so make sure you’re mentally prepared. But good for hours and hours of play!

mud

3 –  Hula hoops:

The hula hoops you get from the dollar store are not super durable but they have excellent playvalue so their purchase is justified (in my opinion). Pick several up and encourage your kids to not only practise their hula hooping skills, but also come up with games by rolling them, or using balls, wet sponges, or even sticks.

hula

4 – Balls:

Balls are one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) toy ever and dollar stores are a great source of them. They carry a wide variety: tennis balls, playground balls, beach balls, tiny super-bouncy balls. My kids’ favourites are the small squishy happy-faced balls (they can throw them at each other with minimal injury).

balls

5 – Bubble wands and bubble solution:

Who doesn’t love bubbles? It’s the quintessential summer activity! And if your kids are anything like mine, you may want to consider making your own solution. Have your kids experiment with different wands or, if you’re feeling especially keen, have them make their own bubble wands. Better yet, use a hula hoop to make some crazy kid-sized bubbles!

bubble boy 2

6 – Sidewalk chalk:

Again, another quintessential summer activity. Great for playing a wide variety of games such as hopscotch, tic-tac-toe, or simply unleashing your inner artist.

sidewalk

7 – Magnifying glasses:

These are so much fun! Bring them along on a hike or to the beach. Encourage your kids to look at bugs, grains of sand, bark, leaves , anything at all!

mag

What are your favourite dollar store finds?

Happy playing!

~D.

6 TIPS FOR AN OLD-FASHIONED SUMMER

Think back to your own childhood summers and chances are the memories that come to mind did not involve expensive theme parks, science camps, or anything on a screen.  What most of us tend to remember are simple, happy days at the beach, running through a sprinkler in the yard, or riding our bikes through the neighbourhood.

Kids playing in the summertime 06-18-1966

Of course family life was by no means perfect then.  It wasn’t all lemonade stands and tree climbing goodness.   But there was definitely a less structured simplicity that we seem to have lost amid the enrichment camps, screen time, and packed schedules of exhilarating trips.

It’s not just sentimentality making me worry that our kids may be missing out on something.  The unstructured, free time I had as a kid helped me develop a sense of independence, self-reliance, and an ability to make my own fun (after a lot of complaints of boredom – I don’t think kids will ever stop doing that).

So below are a few ideas on how we could get a bit of that traditional simplicity back into our kids’ summers:

1 – Less screen-time. Screens are here to stay and I for one don’t think that’s a terrible thing.  My kids can do amazing things with technology!

So it would be harsh and unfair to ban technology completely for the summer.  But how about cutting down where/when you can? For example, screen-free Sundays (or Sunday afternoons) each week for the summer (for kids and adults alike) can work well to temper that awful addictive feeling our gadgets can leave us with.

th027DUKZL

2 – Leave the children to make their own fun as much as possible.  They will get bored initially but eventually will learn to entertain themselves more readily if there isn’t a grown-up directing their play or making suggestions all the time.

The amount of time that your child will play independently will vary based on your child’s age.  And it definitely helps to have a few things that encourage creative play readily available, such as open-ended toys (we can help with that), art materials or basic fort making gear.

fort

3 – Hold back on the helicoptering. I’m not suggesting you send your kids out to play in the street all day unsupervised, but giving your kids some space will give their self-confidence a boost and communicate to them that you trust their abilities, even if small problems arise.  Push your own boundaries, depending on your kids’ ages and whatever stage they’re at.  This might mean leaving them to run around in the park while you watch from a bench further away or letting older ones go on ahead on a hike.

hike

4 – Focus on non-academic skills. All the rushing around of modern family life, especially during the school year, means that sometimes children miss out on building everyday ‘life skills’.  Work on those that you don’t get time to do the rest of the year – that could be learning to tie shoe laces, tidying after a meal, folding laundry, or making a sandwich. Learning these skills is not only practical, but children often feel a real sense of accomplishment when they realize they can be a contributing member of the family.

spreading-pbj-054

5 – Resist over-scheduling. Less is more when it comes to the family calendar.  It  means you’ll have less time commitments and more time to chat, daydream, walk rather than drive and just generally notice things that you might normally miss.

6 – Fun need not cost a fortune.  Indoor playgrounds and theme parks are usually a blast but a bit pricey, making them ideal once-in-a-while treats.  There are lots of free/low cost options when you want to get out of the house.  Beaches, city parks, hikes, and local museums are all great options that encourage physical activity, independence, creativity, and generally discourage a sense of urgency and rush.

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Do you have any other ideas to add to the list?

~D.

5 AWESOME TOYS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE HEARD OF

Note: I was not compensated in any way by the manufacturers of the toys in the list below.  All opinions are my own.

Every once in while, I come across a very cool, unique toy. These toys often won’t look like much to my adult eye and it’s rarely the most popular toy at the store. But upon closer inspection and after some hands-on testing (by myself and my own kids), it is found to have great play value!

What is play value?

Play value is essentially how much ‘play’ you can get out of a toy.  When toys are fun and engaging for a prolonged period of time, they are said to have high play value.  Children will often return to high play value toys again and again, often finding new ways to play with them. 

play value

Toys that are quickly discarded are considered to have low play value.  Usually toys that do not require the child’s imagination (press button, same result time and time again) have low play value. 

If you’re trying to decide if a particular toy is a good investment, think about these questions:

  • Is it an open-ended toy? That is, can it be played with in more than one way?
  • Will it encourage your kids to be physically active or creative?
  • Can it be played with by a variety of ages?
  • Is it well constructed?  Will it stand up to the rigours of child’s play?

So, without further ado, here is my list of top 5 awesome (high play value) toys you may never have heard of.

(PS – many are available for rent from Just Play Toy Rental if you are in the Ottawa area.)

1 – Kinetic Sand:

I dare you to touch this stuff and walk away. It’s so addictive! You can squeeze it, watch it drip like a liquid, or make it stick together like a solid. Bonus: it never dries out and hands always stay clean! 

A great toy for kids who need to touch as an outlet for their fidgety-ness.

2 – Squigz:

Squigz are a unique, fun construction toy. The rubber pieces connect to each other and to any solid, non-porous surface to create unlimited possibilities: a gigantic octopus, a chain, a rocket, jewelry… The flexible rubber pieces connect and pop apart easily. They come in eight different shapes and are ideal for little hands as well as older kids.

 

3 – Bilibo:

Adults have the best reactions to this toy!  “What on Earth is that?”  “Is that a potty?”

Bilibos do not come with an instruction manual – it’s the ultimate open-ended toy.  It’s deceptively simple and sturdy design means it can be a turtle shell, a sand toy, a spinner, a doll bed, a stepping stone, or even a snow mold.  The possibilities are endless!

Bilibo is big enough that kids of different ages can sit in it comfortably. All this, and friendly-looking too: it has two holes at the side which look like eyes and give the appearance of a smiling face on the shell.

4 – Tegu Blocks:

Again, deceptively simple in appearance but an exceptional toy.  Not only are these beautiful wood magnetic blocks made of eco-friendly Honduran wood, but the company is also committed to improving the lives of Honduran people through job creation and school funding. 

The blocks are painted with non-toxic, water-based paint and the magnets are sealed inside the blocks (not attached externally).  Six different shapes and magnetic wheels make this toy appealing to older kids as well. 

5 – Magformers:

(My personal favourite!)

Magformers are a magnetic construction toy. The geometric shapes contain special magnets that allow them to stick together on every edge. Stack them together, pull them apart, build geometric shapes and fascinating structures – the possibilities are endless!

Do you have a favourite toy that’s not well known? I’d love to hear about it!

~D.