Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
December 6th is getting nearer. On this day, we celebrate Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is our version of Santa who visits children in Belgium and the Netherlands (and the other odd country here and there). He and his helpers bring gifts, chocolate and fruit in the night between December 5th and December 6th. (The picture above is from last year’s Sinterklaas.) I remember it as easily being the most magical night of the year for me as a child and as a parent I feel the very strong desire to recreate that magic for my own children. Even for my daughter, who already discovered last year that Sinterklaas lived long ago and asked parents to continue his legacy, she still has high expectations. She is still eager and willing to step into the magic and beauty of this day.
My children write a short list of what they would like to ask Sinterklaas for, but I already know that some of the things on that list are impulse desires or toys they are not ready for. I’m starting to feel the pressure of making sure that Sinterklaas (aka mama) gets my children the toys that will both make them happy when they discover them on the morning of December 6th and that they will also enjoy in for the months (and maybe years) to come.
Impulse choices that have gone wrong before are, e.g., puzzles, dress-up clothes and toys that break too quickly. I try to keep my children away from screens on a general basis (they watch a movie about once or twice a week), so the Ipad with games they want is out of the question. So what things am I actually looking or in a toy?
I want a toy to be sturdy enough to withstand the way my children would play with it. Sure, a beautiful silk cloth makes a fine veil, but if it’s mostly used for making tents I need to look into someting different. I’ve already learned that cheap dress-up clothes tear easily and that electric toys can break quickly as well when they’re played with in a rough way.
A toy that can only be one thing is a limited toy. My son has a lego figurine of Captain Hook and Peter Pan because he’s a huge fan. He’s played with them often, but they are never anything but what they are. Simple things such as cloths, sticks and blocks make for great toys in that regard. They can become rivers, or swords or stepping stones, or anything else the imagination can fathom.
I usually add some kind of arts and crafts gift to the table, such as high quality crayons, paint or a coloring book. But other toys can inspire creativity as well, such as the wooden train set that can be rebuilt over and over again in different ways, or the marble run which works in a similar way.
Some toys require a lot of help from parents. If my son gets a lego set that is too difficult for him, I’ll make it with him. Sometimes that’s a really nice activity to do together, but I won’t do it every week. I want my children to have toys they can play with whenever they feel like it without needing my assistance.
- Fun (for the child in question).
Last but not least, a toy should be fun for a child to play with. And here is kind of where it gets tricky, because what my kids consider fun is not the same as what other kids enjoy. The doll’s clothes that Sinterklaas brought a few years ago mostly get used by other children who come to play here (there are many, so they get to stay.) I love puzzles, but my children won’t reach for them without me dropping a couple of hints. I want to provide them with the tools to play they way they need to play.
Last week, the children and I went through all of their toys together. We took out the ones they don’t play with anymore, and looked at which toys they want to keep. It’s been important for me to hear what matters to them (and hard to let go of what matters to me but not to them). And it has changed my kids’ perspective as well. In the words of my 8-year old daughter: “Well, if I get that, I don’t think I will play with it very much in the end.”
So what am I buying in the end? My son will probably get his tipi, my daughter the garden supplies she asked for. Apart from that I’m still open to suggestions, so if you have any ideas for toys that fit the criteria above, feel free to share!