There are so many baby toys on the shelves that you might wonder if it really makes sense to make your own. After all, you can buy plastic toys that are brightly colored and light up and ones that talk. Or you can go the more natural approach and buy toys that are hand crafted from wood by family owned businesses. Some people (myself included) have a worry in the back of their minds about toys produced in China containing lead or other harmful toxins. However, I can buy toys produced in Germany under good working conditions and strict quality control standards. So why would I bother making toys?
There are many answers to this question, but the one that springs to my mind first is "tradition". When I was a kid my granddad made my sister and I cars for our Barbies out of wood, empty shoe polish tins and old lids. My mom made us dinosaurs out of scraps leftover from various projects and remnants (I'm assuming). My dad helped me make a swing in the back yard and let my sister and I build things with scrap wood. One of my earliest memories of my mom sewing was when she was working on a larger version of the ball you see to the left. The ball was probably about 6" across and belonged to my little sister. It had some of the neatest fabrics, various scraps that went together to make a pleasing whole. As a kid I always thought this ball was really neat, not just because it was neat in and of itself, but because my mom was clever enough to make it. I would love it for my children to remember me that way.
This alludes to a second reason to make toys for your children. Even the simplest toys are special when they are made with love. Add a dose of creative play and special memories are created. Even a simple gauze swaddle blanket, made at home because Target didn't have them for sale when we needed them, can become a fun toy. We use ours to play peek-a-boo, build forts, provide shade and act silly. I can only imagine how much more fun we will have as my daughter gets older and starts playing pretend. The best part is that since I made it myself I was able to pick colors like coral, melon and kelly green that are so saturated that they are fun in and of themselves. I love that they things that I make to fill my need to be creative can help my daughter fill hers.
Another reason to make your own toys is that you can make something that can't be found in stores. My daughter is small for her age which means she has small hands. When she reached the stage where she wanted to grab, hold and toss toys they were all too big for her hands. I found a pattern for this puzzle ball in Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts and realized it fit the bill perfectly. I checked out a copy from the library and was able to use the instructions and scraps from old projects to make this ball for free. The ball is big enough to have some real substance, while still having surfaces that can be grabbed with small hands. Add to that the bright colors (or make it in black and white for a young baby) and it is a real hit.
The final reason to make your own toys is, obviously, cost. Good toys are expensive and even cheap toys add up quickly. While I definately try to limit the number of toys my daughter has and only offer a few at a time so that they stay interesting and engaging, the cost still adds up. Given a choice I would rather she play with sturdy toys that aren't going to break. Toys that are not made in sweat shops, but instead giving what money I do spend to companies that treat their workers with respect and provide them with a living wage and safe working conditions. I want toys that are made by someone who cares, not by the lowest bidder. These toys cost more and for good reason. Unfortunately, I can only afford so many and my daughter does need enough to keep her entertained and stimulated. I don't want her to feel that she has to sacrifice because of my ideals so I make up the difference as best I can and she seems to like the arrangement. If she seems to be really drawn to a given fabric I use some in a toy that she can play with. I focus on how special each individual toy is instead of on how many she has or doesn't have. This is the balance that works for us. What about you? What kind of toys do you buy for your babies and children? Do you think about the impact that those toys have or how your child will receive them? Do you try to teach lessons through play or do you feel it is better to let your child discover them on their own? I'd love to hear the thoughts of anyone who has time to answer.