Photo by: CarbonNYC

The Best Purchase for Young Children is No Purchase at All

Photo by: CarbonNYC

Someone recently asked me about toys that are good buys for young children. After having a think about this, I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience write a blog post about spending money. Firstly, I have little of it. I could wax lyrical about great products, but I won’t be buying any right now. Secondly, lots of other people these days don’t have enough money, either. As they say, though: the best things in life are free. This sounds like a cliché, but when it comes to raising kids, it’s almost true. Here’s a list of the best non-purchases I’ve ever made:

  1. Dirt
    I used to pay for sand, but when the sand ran out one day, my two boys just sat down and started playing in the dirt under the sand table. I was like: ‘What the Hell – why not?’ I have to make sure and bathe them after an afternoon outside, but I had to bathe them after a spell in the sand box anyway. Sand is worse than dirt, actually, as it goes EVERYWHERE. Price: Free.
  1. A Large Cardboard Box
    Because my two year old killed the TV last week (there’s another blog post in that story), my husband brought home a new TV on Friday night. It came in a large box. Last summer, I bought a large piece of furniture, which also came in a large box. Guess what happened with these boxes after their contents were removed? That’s right – hours of play. They ended up outside and the kids hid in them, imagined in them, and, eventually, destroyed them. Price: Free (initial purchase required – unless you go box hunting around town.) Warning: you may have to clean box pieces off your lawn or living room rug. Trust me, this is worth having them entertained and stimulated for a while.
  1. Fresh Air
    There’s nothing like several hours outdoors to exhaust kids and get them into bed by 7:20 pm. How does my family like to get fresh air? Walks, bike riding, skateboarding, ‘insect hunting’ in the garden with old fishing nets, chasing each other, etc. If you don’t have a bike or anything else, walking will do. Collect stones, weeds, and other interesting tidbits along the way. Price: Free (If you don’t have outdoor fun gear, secure hand-me-downs or shop in a thrift store.)
  1. The Local Playground
    I want us outside getting physical exercise as much as possible. Playgrounds are great for climbing structures, area to run, swings, and so on. They make a change from the front yard, and you can picnic there as well. We were home in Florida visiting family over Christmas 2009, and made the disappointing discovery that the local playground in Broward County was closed two days a week because of cutbacks in public services funding. We showed up there one afternoon ready to play and couldn’t. What a bummer. Price: Free – unless you want to include your tax dollars that go to maintenance, and gas to get there (unless you can walk).
  1. The Library
    Raining again? Go to the library. It’s good for you, and often they have more than just books on offer. There are sometimes activities, computers, and in some – even toys and play areas. Price: Free.

I could keep going here, but use your imagination. Sometimes, you do need to spend a little money – but not much. The best toys are the core ones that get kids engaged, and which don’t cost much: Paper, crayons, Play-Doh, reading books, balls, blocks, buckets, bowls, spoons, shovels, blankets. Some of these things aren’t even technically ‘toys’, but your kids’ imaginations will make them so.

In closing I’d like to say that, to be honest, one of the best purchases I’ve ever made for young children was part-time childcare – but that was a purchase for me, not them!

If you have more creative ideas for free or almost free activities, please share them in the comments section, here.

Lory Manrique-Hyland is a freelance writer and stay-at-home Mom. She has a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and an MA in Creative Writing from City College. She’s also a certified adult educator and teaches fiction at the Munster Literature Centre. Her first novel, Revolutions, was published by the Lilliput Press. Read more at The Mom Blogs

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