Works for Me: Toyless Christmas

One of my epic fails as a parent is trying to dictate what kind of children I have. I spent all of Ruthie’s early years trying to find a toy – JUST ONE – that she would play with. I never had any luck with that. She always preferred my pots and pans over her toy kitchen, the pens from my desk over her crayons, and my kitchen utensils over the official Play-Doh utensils.

Birthdays and Christmas are hard. I want to buy them toys because it’s easy. The grandparents want to buy them toys because that’s what they love to do. But what do I end up with? A play room full of abandoned toys and a missing toy box.

That’s right, they play with the box.

Yesterday my kids played with a pair of wooden chopsticks from the local Pho restaurant for half an hour. They were drumsticks, they were door keys, they were pencils. Never did they take the chopsticks down to the $50 deluxe fisher price kitchen I bought for them off Craig’s list, and pretend to eat Pho.

The day before that they were entertained for the entire evening with one chopstick, the box from a case of canned tomatoes, and two plastic cups.

I know this probably means my kids are brilliant and creative, but I seem to be lacking this vision. I just want an object to be used FOR ITS INTENDED PURPOSE. Life must be ORDERED and CATEGORIZED.

Then one day I read this post on the PBS Supersisters blog. Here’s the excerpt that was my AH-HA moment –

1. Decide what kind of players (i.e. mess makers) you have. My kids tend to take one kind of toy out at a time and play with it on a grand level. If it’s tinker toys, there are exactly one million pieces and projects everywhere BUT they are all the same thing.

When Madeleine and Carter come over, all toys are fair game. Everything is integrated into the play. There are ropes tied to tinker toys, dolls sitting on tinker toy built swings, forts, stuffed animals with tinker toys coming out of their ears…etc. This is a different cleaning animal all together.

My nephew Ethan is completely uninterested with the tinker toys but has very happily dumped the toys so he can turn the box that held them into a car. Or maybe a sled to use down the stairs? Pure physical genius I tell ya.

All of these players might require different clean up habits.
1. We can tell Josiah and Jack they have to clean up the first mess before they take the next toy out.
2. I try to suggest a clean up sooner (after I know they have exhausted the resources) with Madeleine and Carter so we aren’t overwhelmed by a bigger mess tomorrow.
3. Ethan needs different resources all together. Plenty of “non-toys” available might curb the dumping or just go with it and pick up throughout the day. Dumping is a big developmental task requirement for some kids and calls us to parental surrender at times.


As I explore more of my own control issues, I’m realizing just how much I instigate the tension in our household. Instead of observing how my kids are wired and going with that, I’m attempting to dismantle and rewire them to my own liking.

Embracing who they are and facilitating their imagination has turned everything around. When they raid the kitchen drawer full of colorful kids plates and cups I tense up for a minute, thinking about how there will be no clean plates to eat lunch from. Then I remember God blessed me with two hands and the ability to use dish soap. I take a deep breath and happily watch them make a mess.

Works for them, works for me!

For other Works For Me posts, visit Rocks in my Dryer.

3 thoughts on “Works for Me: Toyless Christmas”

  1. When I’m trying to control everything, I’m unavailable to be part of the adventure. Way to go on realizing your blessings and letting them do it their way.

  2. I have the same problem. I like things in order. This is a wonderful post especially for us control-freaks. Thank you for posting it. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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