TOYS AND BOOKS
Our family policy: Setting challenges and good examples
Good examples: We believe that the toys and books we have in our home demonstrate the type of behaviours we condone. If we have chosen to keep an object, then this shows we value what it represents. For example, if we have a violent toy, we feel this suggests violent play is acceptable. If we allow violent play, this could normalise violent intent. Of course, when outside the home, children will play with other things; and things we might not like. They might make their own weapons, and they might enjoy it. This is very well; what matters to us is that we give a consistent message when it is within our power. A tacit message through objects, and a verbal explanation where required. Then, the home can aim to be a microcosm to practice for the wider world we want to see.
Challenges: We like toys which require inquisitive participation, rather than passive consumption. For example, art, books, and instruments require more mental effort than screens. The application of mental effort is a good habit to form. Read more below.
THE TOY TEST
As well as choosing items which are not made from animal products, we try not to chose toys or books which promote exploitative practices. Zoos and farms are often presented to children as fun, friendly places for the animals, which we know not be the case. We do not want to promote this misconception with things like little pretend fences. We also avoid pretend sweets, cakes and ice cream, which can only lead to disappointment.
UK Etsy shops have vegan playfood and playdough. These plant based food toys are made in Australia. They include PDF downloads to make at home. However, children may well prefer to play with real food. Visit the plant based, natural craft materials page for vegan art supplies; and the Vegan Children's Books page for stories, cooking, colouring and parenting. The sticker book page has sticker books, fuzzy felt and magnet toys with animals in their natural habitats. The printables page has vegan learning resources.
The way adults interact with children, and the amount of time they spend is more important than any toys. If an adult plays with a baby toy, then the toy can sustain the baby’s interest for longer.
Less is more
Too many toys can be distracting. When children have less toys they use each toy for longer. Persevering with one or a few toys at a time requires children to develop creativity and resourcefulness in how they use the toys. To have too many toys is pointless, and a waste of the planet's finite resources. For variety, you can rotate what you have, use book and toy libraries and go to playgroups.
Realia/ Heuristic Play
Natural objects, household objects and home made toys; whatever adults use is of interest to babies. You don't need to splash out on specially made things. Babies want to learn about real life and practice looking after themselves and the house. Baby remains under the impression that chores are adult play time and is keen to help. They get a lot of self esteem from being good at things. To create your own fun by imaging different uses for an every day objects is a good mental exercise.
Children can learn to equate masculinity with violence through war toys, and also see violence celebrated in the media. Exposure to violent media and play with violent toys has been widely related to aggressive behaviour in childhood.
Babies who play with a range of toys are not held back in the skills they develop. If children are given a range of experiences they can find out what they like. It would be a shame, for example, if boys bereft of dolls do not learn the gentle nurturing touch they will one day need if they too become parents.
Be aware of and discuss books which describe girls as simply 'beautiful', or dolls made into shapes which are unobtainable or unhealthy for real women.
Girl characters are under represented in media which could affect their self image. You can address this by being aware when choosing books, and also changing the names of some characters. Adults often assign a male gender to teddies and insects- try to mix this up!
We like toys and books to be representative of ourselves and the people around us. This encourages us to feel comfortable in our bodies and communities. See some recommendations can be found in the following articles:
Social class- avoid overloading on stories about royalty
We feel that toy cars and planes promote transport which contributes to climate change (and road traffic accidents). We would prefer more sustainable options, such as trains and busses if needed. Paper planes can be referred to as paper birds.
Despite not having a normal size car or any toy cars, Baby has recently noticed other toddlers are very protective of their toy cars and started to take an interest. We allow but do not encourage. They learn about the world and gender from many people other than us.
We can normalise renewable energy through toys which are solar powered, or toys such as water wheels. We can demonstrate biology by growing cress or sprouts. The concept of different materials can be introduced by, for example, putting a magnet to a can.
Read about my quest to find sustainable stickers
Many toys and books are available second hand, and choosing these reduces the need to use up more of the Earth's materials in production. You can also make your own toys, which teaches resourcefulness. Natural materials are generally more environmentally friendly than plastic, and offer a more sensory and aesthetically gentle play experience.
You can read up about retailers sustainability and labour practices here.
Find ethical toys at
Through using a toy which requires some effort, such as an instrument or art material, babies can learn causation. Noisy and flashy toys can grab attention, but not hold it meaningfully.
Toys which can be used in a variety of ways prompt babies to investigate them in more detail. Babies have to work to invent new creative things to do, which teaches concentration skills. They are interested in the same toy for longer.
Find open ended toys are Bebemoda
Baby currently uses the phone and laptop to video call relatives but not to watch too much telly. Since lockdown I've allowed Baby to watch Cantonese TV and they have learnt a lot.