Over the past five years, I have been part of a team that organises two large Parent and Toddler Groups in Greystones. Over that time, we have seen lots of toys enter our building and leave in black sacks – so I’ve decided to take a few minutes to write a blog which might help you, if you are starting a Parent and Toddler Group in your area and have money to purchase some new toys or if you’re just updating some toys in your existing group.
There are some factors that need to be considered:
Most Parent and Toddler Groups in Ireland are run voluntarily and charge very little for parents to attend. This means, they have a very small budget to spend on toys. Thankfully, there are local Childcare Committees that give out grants to existing Parent and Toddler Groups and start ups. As money is an issue, you need to spend wisely. This doesn’t mean buying the cheapest toys you can source, but rather, in my opinion selecting a few really good quality toys that will last several years. If you can purchase 3 or 4 good toys each year and rely on donated toys to bump up your stash, then over a few years, the amount of quality toys will grow and you can be selective over what donated toys to accept.
As I’ve already said, I try to always choose quality toys as they last more than a few months. I have found that toys get destroyed much quicker in Parent and Toddler Groups than they do in home environments. I’m not sure why this is and cheaper donated toys may only last a few weeks. We had a gorgeous large stuff gorilla donated to our group one week and by the end of the group, the stuffing was all over the floor! We had extra work cleaning up that week and we also had to dispose of a very large toy. Now, when people offer us toys, we agree and say that if we think they will be destroyed, we won’t put them out but we will drop them into St.Vincents. Also, you will need to inspect and clean your toys regularly – so choose ones that can be wiped clean easily for example a plastic doll instead of a plastic doll with a soft fabric body or foam mats instead of fabric rugs.
Remember that you will be hosting children from 0-4 years old, so you need to make sure there’s nothing dangerous for smaller kids, that they could choke on or large fast toys that older children could crash into younger children with. We have learnt the lesson with donated scooters! Sit on cars, like the Little Tikes Cosy Coupe Car are brilliant. Older kids love them and you can’t work up a speed in the same way. In fact, we have found the Little Tikes Brand to be brilliant and have had several of their products in your group since we started. I don’t stock them on my website, but they are easy to find online or in toy shops.
Children tend to have quite a few noisy battery toys at home, so adding them into your group may not be necessary. The volume of noise in your group will be heightened considerably with even a few battery toys and you have the extra work and expense of having to replace batteries and making sure they don’t corrode the toy over the summer holidays.
However, if you have a sing along nursery rhyme time at the end of your group, it’s lovely to have a box of musical instruments to hand out to the kids. I stock a range of them here. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a box of instruments that will be used every week. Remember to avoid instruments that involve blowing as you’ll need to disinfect them every time they are used. The instruments below are part of my range.
I am a big fan of reading stories to my children and we have a box of books in our group. However, they need replaced regularly due to the artistic talent within our group!! Paper back books don’t last long at all and even cardboard books rarely last longer than a year. Fabric books are a great alternative, although they will need to be brought home to be washed regularly. A book like this is more durable and can be wiped clean.
At the end of every Parent and Toddler Group, you need to be able to tidy up and usually your storage space is limited. Toys that have lots of little pieces, are not only dangerous for smaller babies, but they never stay together in your hall and become extra work to pick up. So instead of buying a 50 pieces of plastic play food, choose something like a wooden play pizza that has 6 slices that velcro together. It’s more likely to be played as ‘one toy’ and to be kept together and we have found that once kids put the plastic play food in their mouths and chew on them, they are only fit for the bin! Avoid toys like tubs of wooden blocks, shape sorters etc.
Toys that fold up, are great for storage. We have several little buggies that fold very small. They are hugely popular and often fought over. We also have a Little Tikes Slide that folds up and I’m happy to recommend it too.
After you have chosen a few large toys, buy a large storage container and try and fit in as many smaller toys into it. Toys like soft balls , push along toys , spinning tops, and pull along toys can be very popular
Some parent and toddler groups allow the whole time for free play. Others are more structured. There’s a time to play, a time for snacks and a time for nursery rhymes, singing and story telling. If your group has a time for singing, having a box with some children’s musical instruments can be really helpful. It will encourage the children to take part and might even help relax the parents, especially if they don’t like singing in public (they can play a maraca or tambourine instead!) You might like seeing some of my benefits of music for children and some musical instruments and toys for young children in this blog.
I hope this blog has helped you as you think about what toys to purchase for your group. Don’t forget to check out your local Childcare Committee, as they may be able to help fund some purchases!! I’d love to hear what toys have worked in your groups – so please comment below and we’ll all benefit from each other’s experiences!