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Any other new moms suddenly have toys on the brain?  Interacting with toys is now a daily part of our lives and it’s my mission to figure out some best-buys in the playfulness department.  So, I consulted Toybrary Austin owner (and thus, toy connoisseur) Liza Wilson to get her feedback on which toys are top-notch.  –We’re talking best types of toys and the best brands to buy!  Before she opened Austin’s local toy-lending library, she was a teacher, working with ages 2 through high school.  Although preschool is her happy place, she’s experienced in public, private, and Montessori schools and believes play and learning go hand-in-hand.

Why does my daughter seem to go weeks, even months, only playing with a handful of her toys while the rest sit ignored?  “Children’s brains are evolving very rapidly between the ages of 0-3. It’s their full time job to learn! They need lots of new stimulation on an ongoing basis. Once a child has ‘conquered’ a toy, it’s time to expose them to something new. If they are not playing with a toy, it’s likely because it has become boring to them and they no longer need to explore whatever the concept is. The toys that she plays with are the ones that are helping her learn.”toybrary-1

What are some quick tips & tricks moms can do to boost engagement, imagination, and self-guidance in the playroom?  “One of the most effective practices is to rotate toys. Put the majority of your child’s toys in the garage or another unused space, and just pull out a few at a time for your kids to play with. This keeps a cycle of seemingly new items available to them. Research shows that kids cannot focus on more than 7 toys at one time. If there are more than 7 available, the rest will get ignored (causing piles of clutter). Even with only 7, these eventually become commonplace and it’s time for kids to move on to a new stimulus. That’s definitely the right time to pull out new toys and either get rid of the ones they are bored with, or put them away to try again later.”

What types of toys typically generate the most interest at Toybrary?  “It’s funny, there are always new and fascinating toys on the market, but the old standards remain the most popular: dinosaurs, dolls, cars & trucks, pretend kitchen items, costumes, and all animals. The slide, bikes, trikes, and push carts are also enormously popular. Toys don’t need to light up or make any noise for the kids to love them. In fact, it’s much better on everyone’s mental health if they don’t!”toybrary-3

What are the signs of a high-quality toy?
Wooden toys are almost always the highest quality toys, for several reasons:

  • They are easy on the earth. Plastic never goes away and fills our landfills.
  • Because they are wooden, they are naturally simpler. We want toys to provide a stimulus for kids to be creative, not passive. Eliminating the lights and noise causes kids to be much more interactive with toys, which means their brains are working a lot harder. In other words, instead of the plastic cow “mooing” at the kiddo, he/she should be working on learning to make all kinds of animal sounds on his/her own. This is learning.

Another sign of a high quality toy is that it has multiple uses/teaches multiple lessons. In other words, it promotes “open-ended” play. Blocks are a great example. Many toys focus on just one skill, like pushing a button. With open-ended toys, there is no limit to how many different ways they can be used. Kids can build a tower, a castle, a farm, a house, etc. with blocks. Because of this, blocks are interesting and stimulating for years!”toybrary-2

What are some of your favorite toy brands?  “I love the European toys the most (especially Haba & Janod). –This is not to be snobby! It’s because they are generally truly more child friendly. The colors aren’t just yellow, red, and blue like they are often are in the U.S. They use beautiful oranges and purples as well. The toys are sturdy, well made, long-lasting, beautiful, and classic. You don’t find sexy or violent toys coming from Germany or France. That being said, Plan Toys, KidKraft, EverEarth, and Manhattan Toy are great American companies, and I love Green Toys as well. Their toys are simple, durable, attractive, and long lasting!”

ATX Moms:  Try before you buy!  Check out these brands and more at Liza’s toy wonderland, Toybrary.  Plus, there are options to stay and play, drop-in childcare, and educational activities like excellent classes for kids and useful parent workshops.  There’s always a new carefully selected speaker or special event going on there to add to your calendar!