(Little L carrying her basket of playsilks up the stairs)
Thank you so much for the beautiful, supportive comments on my last post. I realised when I was writing that it came across as a whole lot of over-thinking on such a simple subject of whether or not to have Lego in our home, but when habits become ingrained and you are so used to living a certain way change can be hard. But as children grow, their needs change and change becomes necessary.
Several of you asked the question, 'How do you cope with unwelcome toys/gifts?' What worked for our little family were several frank discussions with close relatives about our family values and how we made the decision that we would like the children to play with natural toys and most importantly, why we had chosen this path. It wasn't just some passing fancy, it was the way we wanted to live and bring up our children.
I know gift-giving is an emotive and complex subject, with many differing view points. Some people would say that it is not the parents choice to tell the gift-giver what to give to their children. I personally think it is the parents choice to decide what is suitable for their child's play environment, so with communication being the key, both parties can be happy with a little parental guidence. We are particularly lucky to have very understanding close relatives who are happy for us to suggest gift ideas for birthdays and Christmas a few months before these special occasions. Here a few ideas of how to stay plastic-free:
: : In the first year or two of becoming plastic-free we used to have the Myriad catalogue on hand (a UK based Steiner influenced natural toy mail order company) so we could talk with relatives about different gift ideas. Obviously, natural toys can be expensive so we made it clear that quality was so much more important than quantity when it comes to toys. After all, simplicity is key in our family anyway, so this was actually an advantage for us as we didn't want the children to become overwhelmed with too many toys. If being a plastic-free family is what you strive for and is something new for your family, then leaving a natural toy catalogue around when relatives come visiting is a great conversation starter on your hopes and dreams for your family life and perfect for opening up the lines of communication about how you would like to shape your child's play environment.
: : We love to suggest the idea of gift experiences, is there a day out your child/children would love? For Little L's Birthday last year, my parents paid for a family day out to a farm for the four of us. You can also send photos of your visit with a thank you note, so they know how much fun your child/children had as a momento.
: : Ask if relatives would be happy to contribute to one large, special present for your child. I remember one year, we asked all of the children's close relatives to contribute to a beautiful, wooden play kitchen and enamel pots and pans for the girls which was such an appreciated gift. It still gets played with everyday.
: :If your child has a birthday party and you are worried about the influx of plastic toys, or just toys in general, you could specify on the invitation 'No presents please, we would just love the gift of your company on ________ special day.' Or, on the invitation you could politely ask for gifts of crafting materials if your child enjoys making things. Another idea that seems quite popular, is asking the party guest to bring a gender neutral wrapped book with no gift label which gets placed in a large box when they arrive at the party. On the way out, along with their party bag they can choose a surprise wrapped book to take home so each child has a new book to enjoy.
Other people might say that relatives enjoy choosing gifts independently and do not want be 'told' what to give. While I can appreciate this, I personally think that the person gifting the present should respect the wishes of the family they are giving it too so as not to waste time or money on something that is not wanted in the first place. It is only fair to let relatives know of your dreams for your families play space well in advance of your little ones special day. I know that sometimes there can be power struggles in familes, where a relative might think that they 'know' best what to give to your child. If, even after you have discussed things and your requests are being ignored, it might be the moment to get tough and say that the unwanted plastic toys will be donated to a charity where they can be sold for a good cause. It is very rare that I give a present to anybody, without asking first if there is something they need or would like for themselves or their children.
What I do know is that if you are unable to talk to relatives about gift-giving for whatever reason, it is not worth sacrificing family relationships for the sake of toys, there are ways and means of weeding out unwanted plastic toys in your home at a later date...
Being plastic-free and having Waldorf-inspired toys in your home is simpler when you are living with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers and slightly older but when they start hitting the age of six onwards, it can get trickier trying to meet the needs of the child and the values of your family, but that is a whole other blog post.
*Please note, that this is simply how we have coped with un-wanted plastic toys in our own family and is what has worked for us in our home*