My dad had a lot of great advice and wisdom. One of the many things I learned from him was the art of giving gifts to children. I remember it clearly. At that time I had three little boys, and Dad and I were standing in his workshop. While he was crafting something, I was holding tools for him. I commented that he and Mom always gave such great gifts to the kids. I told him how many of the moms at my women’s Bible Study were lamenting the amount of toy junk their children receive as gifts for various holidays and birthdays. They wanted ways to curb the toys and limit the junk.
Dad said, "You have to give kids tools, not toys."
That was the advice. He didn't really elaborate—which was unusual because he generally elaborated on everything.
Tools, Not Toys.
Dad is right, of course.
The reasoning is that we are raising kids to be well adjusted, functioning adults who will one day hold jobs, have families, and be responsible citizens. During the short time we have our children under our care, we prepare them to take their place in society. So they need to learn a lot along the way. They need to be molded and shaped and directed. They need the tools—we need the tools—to get them there.
My Dad was a history and shop teacher when I was growing up, and one thing he instilled in us from a young age is, "You have to have the right tool for the job." He would sometimes shake his head during my early married life when he looked at my husband's tools. Many times he would loan us the correct tool for the job. I mean, you cannot fix plumbing without a pipe wrench or work with electricity without a volt tester.
The same is true with kids. What kids need are tools, not toys. If folks could just get a handle on that, the junk found in the kid's section of most stores would be reduced by half or maybe even 90%. But, what is a tool?
Now that I have two toddling granddaughters, I have put together a list of sorts so that my husband I don’t become grandparents who give our sweet grandgirls junk and so that we don't give their parents the stress that comes along with it.
Tools for Kids
- sports equipment—balls, mitts, bats, orange cones to mark off goals, etc.
- small animal figures
- musical instruments
- picnic table
- paper, markers/crayons, and scissors
- construction blocks
- fishing pole
- pocket knife
- mess kit and other camping supplies
- a screwdriver and hammer
- wood-burning set
- knitting, crochet, or any kind of handwork
- magnifying glass
- leathercraft tools and supplies
- baking and cooking utensils
- paddle ball
- a big empty box
- capes, hats, and costumes
- gardening tools such as a shovel, a pail, and gloves
Tools encourage imagination and creativity. They often get kids outside where they can develop both large and small muscle groups. Tools stand the test of time and can usually be passed down from child to child in a family. Tools merge the best parts of both recreation and learning. Kids rarely get bored with tools.
When I helped Amy Lykosh develop Sonlight's Preschool Program, I relied on my belief that kids need tools, not toys. Together, we selected a great collection of tools for preschoolers.
Toys for Kids
So what is a toy? Here are some tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a toy instead of a tool.
- anything that has batteries and makes noise
- something meant for the child to watch rather than interact with
- anything made of cheap plastic which breaks easily
- stuffed things that talk and/or entertain
Simply browse the children's section of any big box store. Most everything there falls into the toy category instead of the tool category.
Of course, I am not saying, "No toys ever!" What I am saying is that tools should be a child's main diet, and toys should be like a dessert. Dessert is nice, but you have it only occasionally, not at every meal.
So, the next time you want to give a child a gift, remember my dad's words and nourish creativity with tools, not toys.