Browsing Tag



Escaping the tyranny of toys

9 December, 2013

Oh yeah, I know. I do love to use the word “tyranny”. It’s so dramatic. *flounces about* Tyranny this, tyranny that.

Ramona was introduced to her first whizz bang, vibrating, flashing toy when she was seven months old. It had rolled towards her from another seven month old and it frightened the living day lights out of her! The way she responded to it, revealing the whites of her eyes, her whole body tensing, a whimper escaping her lips made me think I should have introduced toys earlier. (In hindsight manufacturing a baby toy based on Freddy Krugar, wielding knives and screeching is probably a bit cruel.) (Jokes, it was just your average modern baby toy.)

Over the following months all the nooks and crannies of our home became filled with children’s bits and bobs. We tried to keep them simple, wooden or vintage (we had ugly plastic ones, mostly keep stuffed behind the sofa) but nonetheless we had many, many toys.

Selling our house and moving into a Campervan gave us a bit of an escape from STUFF and for the last four months Ramona and Juno have had a toy box consisting of 7 small dinosaurs, a doll, a cuddly lamb and a pull along dog, supplemented by rocks, twigs, trees to climb, shells, leaves, and beaches to dig. In fact they have been occupied most of all with these playthings from nature.

Which is kind of funny, considering what the production of toys is doing to nature. I read this article, The Gift of Death by Monbiot earlier and was gobsmacked. He mentions that NINETY NINE PER CENT of stuff produced ends up in the bin after 6 months, and he shows several times that the links between our mindless consumption of All The Things and damage to the earth and poorer people in developing countries are strong, direct and undeniable.


It seems mad that we are causing so much havoc to create things for our children that research shows are unnecessary, and often even bad for them. Toys can be so very prescriptive – they basically tell a child how to play. They are also very often gendered- they show boys and girls through their colours and accompanying imagery, who should be playing with it, boy or girl. They can also be over stimulating for very young children and conversely they can limit an older child’s ability- six and seven year olds could be spending their time creating genuinely amazing stuff, carving boats and cooking cakes.

As we approach Christmas I think of the millions of parents who are putting themselves into debt just to buy things for their children that not only do the kids not need, but that are probably having a negative impact on the kid’s creativity and imagination. And, AND, will probably end up in the landfill eventually anyway.

It’s just a farce. And a tyranny. *flounces*

The wily world of advertising has somehow convinced parents that a child’s toy stash is directly related to how much we love them. A child’s room is only really a child’s room if the walls are lined with toys- it’s especially bizarre considering the whole concept of toys was only invented in the 1600’s.

Birthdays and Christmases are hung on the act of giving presents. It is hard to imagine a celebration without a small mountain of gifts.

20131209-203248.jpgIt’s a bit high, on my horse up here, so let me confess a little something….

Ramona had her birthday a few weeks ago, while we were away. The night before, as she slept, I put together a little pile for her- a lush lion hat knitted by her Aunty and Uncle, a beautiful set of paper lanterns from Nana and Grandad and from us, a jumper from a flea market, 7 plastic dinosaurs from a charity shop and a vintage card game of Misfits (remember Misfits? This pristine set was beyooootiful- Ramona didn’t really appreciate it’s vintageness hehe) three things that cost £7.

That was all.

I cried. And flung the dinosaurs across the camper. £7?! Why was I such a mean mum?

Tim had to remind me that we had very specifically chosen to do this.

But if I, even I, so ambivalent about the general approval of society that I didn’t even shave my legs and armpits for my WEDDING, can’t handle it, who can?!?! The world is dooooooomed.

I pulled myself together and we have steeled ourselves once again for a present- moderate Christmas. Last year we gave Ramona a fair trade bus which is gorgeous, and we will find one thing just as ethical for her this year. And eight month old Juno can chew the wrapping paper.

Because we need a new model, for children’s rooms, for Christmases, for Birthdays. For childhood.

Imagine it- children whose imaginations are not limited by the innate rules of the plastic thing in their hand, who run about unbound because the stick they are waving is a Hoover, a sword, a dog. That’s not tragic, it’s creative.

Parents able to say no to overtime at work so they can get home to the kids and play Hide and Seek rather than earning more dosh to buy them more presents.

Families sitting around a Christmas Tree reading stories and poetry, looking at pictures and loo-roll nativity sets they’ve created for each other, spending the day having fun in a wintery forest and baking gingerbread INSTEAD of wildly flying from gift to gift. I know; “write a poem for each other” it’s laughable eh? I wish it wasn’t.

How do we get there? Especially when we are often surrounded by generous, well meaning friends and family?

~We can ask family members to do something other than give a present- such as a day trip to a cool place.

~We can chose one epic toy – or something more expensive from the list below- and ask family members to pitch in.

~We can put the current stash of toys on rotation, so that rooms aren’t filled with toys and so children can go deep with each item, plundering it’s imaginative depths.

~We can make celebrations more about other stuff- games, singing, candles, rituals.

~We can specific on Party Invitations that we don’t want presents.

~We can speak with other parents about this and see if they want to join in with the philosophy.

~We can choose to give things other than toys to our children, and the children in our lives. For example:

A mixtape (Ramona has been given two of these and they surpass all things she has ever been given, ever! It’s just a homemade CD with cool songs on)
Craft materials
A few classes of something (dance/ pottery etc)
An experience (Ramona rode a horse for her birthday this year)
A micro love bomb (3 hours totally devoted to doing anything they possibly want in the world -based on Oliver James’ concept for troubled kids)
A micro adventure (grab a tent and sleep in the local woods for the night, there are several within half an hour on public transport in London)

Toys aren’t inherently bad, but being trapped under a need to buy, and children knowing little other way to play IS bad. Children need fewer toys and more tools.

We need a new model, and we are the ones to make it happen.

Anyone else in?


Ethical Christmas Toys for Children

4 December, 2012


If they are not ridiculously gender specific (pink toy laptop with half the functions of the boys one, anyone?) then they are dictating how to play with their flashing lights and music, created using a scarce resource that sends a world to war, or made by blistered hands just a little bigger than our own children’s.

I am a massive advocate of non-toys, finding that often jars of things, or baskets of odds, can stir a child’s imagination so much more than dictator toys. The toys we do have have been ferreted out from car boot sales and charity shops, we aim for things that are simple and aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, yeah, that just means vintage in my mind! (A few of our favourites, and my second hand shopping strategy can be seen right here.)

We are not massively legalistic though, in fact right now Ramona is utterly obsessed with Ginger the Talking Cat app on our smartphones. I’d go so far as to say they have a kind of friendship. She tickles him, cleans his teeth, he repeats everything she says. This means they argue quite alot. Tim overheard one argument the other day that went:

Ramona: “My daddy”

Ginger: “My daddy”

Ramona: “No, MY daddy”

Ginger: “No, MY daddy”

Ramona: “NO, my daddy!”

Ginger: “NO, my daddy!”

Ramona: “NO!! MY DADDY!!!”

Ginger…. You can probably guess what Ginger retorted, and just how long this argument lasted for. Neither were prepared to concede.

For the most part, when it comes to toys I request secondhand (both sets of Ramona’s grandparents are awesome at this) and I tend to craft things up to give. However, sometimes family members want to know what they can give your children for Christmas, and while you could say “Just write them a poem”  with a virtuous lilt, it can be nice to suggest some stuff they might feel more comfortable with.

For the last 5 years I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre. It began when we were living up in Oxford Circus and  were exasperated at the lack of Fairtrade gifts available, and it is growing each year. This year we have two venues, woot! We had our first one for 2012 this Saturday just gone. It was exhausting but not stressful – in fact the most stressful part was when I turned around to find Ramona had stripped off and was cavorting amongst the stalls almost in the nude. EEEEP.

Anyway, one awesome benefit of running the Fayres is that I get to keep up with the world of fairtrade and handmade, and see how stylish and gorgeous the products are becoming. I wandered around the Fayre on Saturday completely confident that 90% of the stuff blew stereotypes of “ethical consumerism” out of the water.

Bearing in mind all my own criteria for toys – imagination stirring, ethically made, not draining on the world’s resources, gender-neutral – I picked out my top 4 ethical gifts for kids:

Baby – a hand knitted bunny

Kinderkraft are a mother and daughter business based just down the road from me. They have the most gorgeous selection of hand cotton-knitted dolls, with a real modern feel, that are perfectly soft to the touch. They also create bespoke stuffed letter bunting so you can spell out a child’s name and can chose fabric – avoiding any nasty pink/ blue limitations.  Their Etsy shop showcases a lot of their stuff. 

hand knitted bunny


 Toddler – a fairtrade bus

We couldn’t resist buying this beautiful Fairtrade bus for Ramona, a cool momento of our time in London, and sure to fire her imagination. It is sold by the AMAZING Fair Share, who are based in Soho and have an incredible range of Fairtrade kids toys that you can also buy online.

fairtrade bus


Any age – eco wooden vehicles

These hand crafted wooden toys from Top Wooden Toys are so classic in their design I think they would suit any age, and even parents would get a lot of pleasure from them. Ramona LOVED their stall on Saturday, they had a whole load of stuff not even for sale on their website that she just kept returning to. You can also buy their products on Tinternet.Handmade Wooden Digger

Older kids – Pucket

If you haven’t played Pucket yet, you really haven’t lived. It is the most basic game  involving flinging wooden disks around a board, yet provides HOURS of fun for really anyone who has a little hand-eye coordination. Kids from 6 would love this, and Tim takes it to his Youth Club for teenagers, and they love it too, AND we get it out at Christmas for all us older ones.  A total classic. Find out more, and buy, here. 



All of these, and many more toys and gifts for the WHOLE family, will be available to buy at the Horniman Museum ethical Christmas Market this Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December. But if you can’t get there, help your family to avoid the tax evaders and plastic creators by giving them a list from the above traders!

Sometimes buying ethically does cost a bit more, but so often it is because you are paying for something that will last a lifetime, and you are paying the TRUE cost of an item. I really believe we can change the world by making good shopping choices, and our children and their generation will thank us!

Finding things, Our recycled home, Thrifty

Vintage Toys and a mother’s second hand strategy

15 April, 2012

As soon as Ramona and I enter a charity shop or a jumble sale I zoom straight to the kids section and pick out the nicest (by nicest I mean oldest/ most wooden/ cheapest) toy or coolest kids book and place it into her hands with an excited exclamation of “LOOK- this is just the ticket!!”  I then move straight away from the kids section, out of danger territory. It may seem a bit mean, or a bit against my “child-as-unique-independant-person” philosophy but I simply CAN’T take home another giant, ugly, fluffy toy circa 1998- and this IS the thing she will choose if left to her own devices.

It is something we have to face, as parents. Kids toys ain’t often pretty – or perhaps often too pretty; pink, beribboned, cuddly. They can take up a lot of space and ruin the aesthetics of a room. I’m sure many of you don’t care, and I wish I didn’t.

But I do. I just dooooo.

Fortunately, the world of second hand provides a mountain of eyeball pleasing kids options. I am always on the look out for retro looking, vintage play things and have found some gorgeous numbers that Ramona loves too.

We have one area where the ugly (by ugly, I really only mean new. Why are new things so damn ugly?) things live, in an ancient deep drawer hidden to the side of the sofa.  And I have just recently launched an Exhibition of Old Children’s Things, on quite a prominent shelf, that all three of us enjoy looking at.

Apart from the Ukeleles, which were gifts,  all of these are second hand. I picked the abacus and clock up from a charity shop in Blackheath a couple of weeks ago for One Squid and found these little playmobil bike riders on that Legendary Farham visit. Eeek, I just love ’em.

I always keep my eyes peeled for little music instruments so that when Ramona’s chums come over we can all have a bash and a sing. We have an immense Salvation Army heritage- all my 3 generations on both sides, my parents, Aunties and Uncles are all ministers in the Barmy Army and Ramona does them proud as she tinkers with this “timbrel” (tambourine) I got for 50p last week at a Bootie.

She is singing “Wind the bobbin up” -which mostly just involves her saying “Pull, Pull” over and over and over. It is her favourite song, she bursts out in it approximately six times an hour but it also sounds a lot like her sound for “Poo” which results is us spending lots of time each day on unnecessary but tuneful potty visits.

And finally, just a couple of weeks ago at my local car boot in East Dulwich I found this pretty ancient skipping rope with a couple of scary mushroom guys for handles.

PS little while ago I posted about some other vintage toys and included some secondhand toy pillaging tips – have a broose. (That’s Scottish for browse.)

PPS Have you found any thing retro for your kids recently?

PPPS I am linking up with the magical Magpie Monday over on Liz’s blog – if you get a chance do go and have a squizz at all their wonderous second hand goodies.

PPPPS Have you noticed my new header? Can you tell me why it is blurry, the blithering, bladdy, blurry &a*t%r&!

PPPPPS If you enjoy reading this old blogaglog of mine, have you had a moment to put me up for a MAD blog award? There are loads of catergories but you could especially vote for me in the “Most Over-Vintaged Up Photo Editing ever” or “Most amount of Made Up Words In a Post In The World”.  No, seriously, I reckon Home/ Thrift/ Craft catergories are possible themes of mine? Muchos Gracias.

Finding things, Our recycled home, Parenting, Thrifty

Old Soldiers and things in jars – a few thrifty toys

26 January, 2012

THRIFTY! Den, den, deeeh, de den den dehhh!  (To the tune of “FOXY!” as sung by Wayne and Garth)

It is due to a mixture of cheapskateness and environmental consciousness that I have yet to buy Ramona a single new toy. She does have some new things, bought for her by loving friends and family, but only a handful. All the rest have come from charity shops, around the home and the side of the road. When I see the jawdropping cost of toys in real shops I am not surprised that the average spend on a kid in their first year of life is £9000. When you really needn’t spend a penny.

The BEST kind of toy for me is one that she, er, likes (such a loving mother) but also one that is nice to look at. Give me wood and old over plastic any day. (I know, I know it’s not about me.)

We have found some absolutely beaut things over the last few months and fortunately these are also some of Ramona’s favourite toys. I think she loves the pure simplicity of them. Here are a few:

Abacus- 50p from charity shop in Essex

Rainbow thing- £1 from car boot sale

Big Soldier – £5 from OXfam in Streatham

Soldier train – £5 from Kids Fara in Pimlico

This vintage pull along dog was sent to us from our lovely famdamily in NZ. And yes, the soldier doesn’t have all his bits.

This is my fave of Ramona’s toys- he actually plays his xylophone as he is pulled along!Puh, who needs an Ipad?

He was £5 from a charity shop. (Steep I know, but a musical duck!)


They are often in a different part of the charity shop. These soldiers were only £5 but for some reason were behind the glass under the counter.

Car boot sales – you are less likely to find vintage toys in amongst other toy stalls but more in amongst other antiquey/ junky stalls.

They may seem a little pricey, but compare it to buying new, and think about how long it has already lasted so therefore how much longer it is likely to last. Also remember you won’t need to spend any money on batteries.

When you get them home give them the driest wipe you can with either alcohol or Dettol – water will likely cause some damage.


I am surprised at how often Ramona spurns her fanciest toys in order to play with some thing that is, frankly, rubbish. The main reason I think she does this is because that something is fitting perfectly with her stage of development. When we flew home from NZ last month I packed an entire pull along suitcase with the coolest little toys. She spent most of the time just posting pegs and other small items into a drink bottle. She was intent on it – posting them in, tipping them out, posting them in again.

I have tried to do some googling on the stages of development and play but can only seem to find very commercial pages which aren’t very comprehensive. (Although I did find this excellent and immense resource all about learning through play.) I guess the best way is to observe what they most enjoy doing and then build on that. So with Ramona’s obsession with emptying and filling things, stuff that is working well for us at the moment is:

  • A few little (ahem, nice looking) containers around the house with a selection of random things in- some little animals, finger puppets, a music box, some fabric, juggling balls. I put one down on the carpet and she’ll look through it, take it all out, put it all in, add some extras in, chuck a few things in to the bin, try to eat it, y’know.
  • Jars with filled with stuff she can pour all over the floor – chess pieces, scrabble letters, dominoes, ribbons. Basically lovely things I find in charity shops and keep around the place. It fits with the style of our lounge but also a big treat for her.
  • When I am doing the dishes I also get her a bowl of warm water and plastic cups etc. This is quite messy in a watery way but she loves it. (In fact this week she chose to sit inside her little bowl of water which was sweet and comical but Next Level Watery Mess)

I would genuinely LOVE to hear the thrifty/ home made things that you have found your little ones love.

(Part of the wondrous Thrifty Families Blog Carnival- check out loads more ideas over at Baby Budgeting!)