Children with too many toys struggle to focus properly and fail to gain meaningful experiences through play.
Our son turns one next month and we have made a special effort to limit the number of presents he is given this year. We have requested that people do not buy him gifts, asking friends and family to join us for a small celebration instead. Many studies have shown that a child who has far fewer toys experiences more enjoyment from them and will take far better care of their belongings.
Professor Kathy Sylvya of Oxford University writes about the harmful effects on concentration in a study of 3000 three to four year olds, her research showed a link between greater development of perseverance and intellect when children had fewer, well chosen toys and parents who spent time reading, singing and playing with them. Her research shows that giving children too many toys or the ‘wrong’ toys may actually be harming their development. She suggests a ‘distractive element’ in some toys may lead to children to struggle to focus and subsequently play and learn poorly.
Family homes also benefit from far fewer toys. We have a small basket in our living room with some simple wooden blocks, board and fabric books and a puppet. These toys are brought out when we play together with our baby and tidied away in the evening when it is time for bed. The adults in the house gain a restful living space, free of visual distraction and our son learns to take care of his special things. In his bedroom he has a compact shelving unit with some special toys for now and later on as he develops, wooden toy vehicles, a few books, some gorgeous hand made toys and a small selection of music making toys. Like any other family, these toys use used throughout the house and garden during the day, but are carefully returned to their designated place at night. The result is a restful home, pleasant for the whole family.
It isn’t easy to achieve this, reminding well-meaning friends and relatives that you place more value in experiences and time spent is difficult. In our cash rich-time poor society it is so much easier to purchase a gift than to consider something that may add more meaning and value to a child’s life.
Next time you need to express your love why not consider the following ways to enjoy your time together?
A special day out -a picnic in the park,visit to a nature reserve or a trip at the beach?
An hour or two teaching a new skill-Spend some time baking scones, making pizzas or kneading bread together and treat yourselves to a cream tea at the end. Build something together such as a cardboard car or fort, defend it from invading armies and retreat for essential ’emergency’ supplies.
A special experience– a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt in the park or garden, a visit to see a seasonal display such as a bluebell wood or falling leaves in Autumn or exploring a castle or stately home.
A special journey – a trip on a steam railway, a seaside tram or funicular or a bicycle ride.
The memories of these special times will last a lifetime and are far more likely to be enjoyable and developmentally beneficial to our children.
Please share your stories and ideas, have you managed to make a birthday extra special ? We would love to hear from you.
Living with fewer possessions brings benefits to both our mental and physical health.
I lived in North America for five years, working as a nanny for a wealthy family. The house in which we lived was several thousand square feet and required many staff to maintain and clean; a housekeeper, cleaners, handyman, deep-clean teams, teams to clean the chandeliers, plant maintenance, pool maintenance, car ‘detailer’, gardeners- a seemingly endless stream of people coming and going from the house. Living there certainly crystallised my ideas on living in large homes, it wasn’t for me.
When my husband and I moved to the UK we lived in a small apartment (furnished with the obligatory van load of Swedish flat-packed furniture). It took mere minutes to clean, a quick sweep with the hoover, a scrub of the bathroom and a light dust took a fraction of our time. It cost us little to maintain and insure and we were able to work on a self employed basis with no fear that we would struggle to meet our living costs. As we stayed longer, our landlady requested a rent rise and, after seeing her drive up in a brand new Audi, we decided that it was time to invest in a home of our own.
We learned a lot of lessons in our first year of home ownership; maintaining a hundred year old house took a lot of money, especially when its former owners had resorted to the cheapest fixtures and fittings. Our aspirations of a beautifully decorated interior were soon drowned in the reality of the expense involved in rewiring old sockets, supporting Victorian chimneys (where former owners had ripped out fireplaces) and generally keeping things in working condition. Home ownership was an expensive and time consuming business.
We learned that decorating took a lot of time and effort and rarely transformed our rooms in the way we had envisioned. As with any older house , one job would inevitably throw up other problems to resolve, plaster falling off stripped walls, floorboards butchered by 100 years worth of plumbing and wiring. Gradually we sold our modern flat-pack furniture on ebay and replaced it with much less expensive second hand furniture which seemed more suitable for our older home.
When our baby boy arrived last year we prepared a new room for him to grow into, changing the large double for a day bed and providing shelves for toys and books. Decorating the room took the form of new cushions and bunting attached to the cornice as well as a few simple toys ready for him to use and enjoy.
Nothing prepares you for life with a baby and just how much time is spent caring for them and interacting with them. Our days became very full and chores such as hoovering, dusting and laundry were tackled at speed. We began to resent chores which seemed to be unnecessarily time consuming such as dusting all of the china on our welsh dresser and moving multiple items to dust and vacuum around them. The house, which had once felt so cosy and homely, now felt like a large obstacle course, full of items which were adding an inordinate amount of time to our daily routine. Added to this, there seemed to be a constant influx of toys and equipment for baby and, despite our best efforts, these seemed to multiply daily.
Around this time I started to read and follow some simple living blogs and podcasts, convinced that there had to be a easier way of life. Gradually we de-cluttered pieces of furniture, clothes, books and ornaments, selling or donating them to charity. I sold more than half of the clothes I owned and got rid of a triple wardrobe. I sold all of the china on our Welsh dresser and gave away the top half of the dresser, leaving only the cupboard at the bottom. As each item left our home, the effect was instant, the atmosphere seemed calmer, the air fresher and my mood lighter. I found time to garden and read again, activities which I had previously had no time for.
Items which we sold or donated helped to give us more money towards our holiday in Wales and numerous trips out with our baby boy. As we carved more and more space for our family in our home we felt better and better about ourselves and our house.
As we gradually got rid of possessions which were no longer adding any value to our lives we felt better and better and found more and more items to pass on, de-cluttering becomes quite addictive. Stuff which had sat idle for years will now hopefully be used by its new owners. Resources which would have been used to produce new versions of what we sold and donated will now not need to be extracted and precious energy will not be needed in their manufacture.Most importantly, we now are firmly determined that no more items will enter our home unless they are absolutely essential.
During our recent holiday in Wales we were determined to pack very lightly, just two outfits each ( we had access to laundry ) and two books and a set of blocks for our baby boy. We loved how freeing it felt and how simple it was to pack and transport our luggage. Packing has now become a challenge which we relish, we are determined to pack only carry-on when we visit Canada this summer and, thanks to friends of ours who have generously offered to loan us baby equipment, I think we will manage it. I certainly look forward to a simpler summer.
During the last week in October CC, our little boy and I went on the boat to Northern Ireland to spend a week exploring and visiting relatives from both sides of our families. We stayed in a Georgian cottage in Hillsborough complete with peat fire ( although I couldn’t bear to burn the peat, it is traditional there), Aga and antique furniture. The cottage certainly had an atmosphere, I am convinced it was haunted !
We enjoyed lots of walks in the woodland two minutes from the front door.
And loved trips out to the Ulster Folk open air museum and the truly fantastic Titanic Museum at Belfast docks. The Ulster Folk Museum had so many buildings to explore, including a bank, blacksmiths,printers, farms and a court. Going inside old buildings in a natural setting gives you such a tangible taste of history, truly interesting.
The Titanic museum was a stunning collection of artifacts, photographs, a ride which took you on a tour of the shipyard and a stunning interactive tour of the inside of Titanic using surround screens.
Our little boy is finally asleep at a decent hour so I am taking this opportunity to catch up on my digital diaries. On the domestic front we have been busy stocking the pantry with home made and home grown. the appalling weather ( three weeks of almost constant rain and gales!) has given us an excuse to cosy up in doors and make some preserves, including Sloe Gin and pickled beetroot. We had a great harvest of beetroot this year, it seems to be the only thing that the slugs don’t like.
CC has returned to work and I am now at home enjoying time with our little boy, the days seem to fly by and CC is home before we know it on most days. It was extremely strange not going back to work and I definitely miss my teaching, however having this special time with my son and taking care of him is such a joy. He grows so much every week and his development is noticeable on even a daily basis. He has so many smiles and enjoys everything we do together, listening carefully when we sing to him and enjoying playing with his toys.
This weekend CC and our son had a little father and son time and I began making some of the things I used to make regularly before I was pregnant and lost our kitchen for 3 months as we had our house remodelled. I began with some gorgeous homemade yoghurt using my little Severin yoghurt maker and then progressed to making chutney. There really is nothing nicer than tasting your own homemade jams and chutneys in the wintertime when the vegetable garden is looking rather deplete and soft fruits come from far away and are virtually tasteless. I like to make Victorian Chutney when the new season Bramley apples are in the greengrocers. CC and I get out walking and looking for blackberries as often as we can and use them to make blackberry sauce for yoghurt, pancakes and ice cream. A really good haul prompts us to make blackberry and Bramley jam, a really dark, flavourful treat on warm toast or in a sponge pudding. We like to give these as special Christmas gifts for close friends and family.
While it could be said that having a baby is not the best thing for the environment, we have certainly tried our best to reduce our little boy’s impact on the planet and build a better future for him. From the outset we were certain that we didn’t want to overwhelm our little house with baby equipment and paraphenalia. We were also determined that we would buy second-hand wherever we could and, where we had no choice; such as a new mattress, we would buy as sustainably as possible.
Fast forward several months later and we do seem to have managed to limit the amount of equipment, although this has sometimes left us feeling ungrateful when we turn down kind offers from friends and family. Most friends and family members know us well enough to ask about what is actually needed, or have sent things which were as green as possible. The generosity of friends and family never fails to amaze us, gifts have included the most thoughtful and useful items, such as moccasins handmade in Canada, stunning hand knitted cardigans and blankets, handmade toys and a wide range of clothes.
Despite not knowing many parents of small children ourselves; being older parents, we were so very fortunate that a friend of my mother loaned us a beautiful crib, as well as passing on numerous toys, clothes and a simply wonderful mobile which plays the theme from Dr. Doolittle. The mobile and a wind up giraffe ( which also plays the same tune) were given to us several months before CC became the musical director for the stage version of Dr. Doolittle, it still makes us smile every time it plays and our little boy simply adores it. The joy that these pre-loved toys give is immeasurable, and certainly trumps just going to a shop and buying new.
Nursery equipment has been purchased mostly second hand, his cot bed was such a bargain and the lady selling it was delighted that another little boy would enjoy the cot after hers had grown out of it. The only items we have bought new were the mattress and protectors which have to be new for the sake of safety, these we bought from The Little Green Sheep company using a generous financial gift from special friends in Canada.
We have also opted for washable nappies which are simply wonderful, really soft and colourful. Unfortunately, despite a thorough search online, I couldn’t buy these second hand, so we opted for the gorgeous designs and durability of Bambino Mio’s two piece nappies. Thanks to a great summer we have been able to line dry these the vast majority of the time and use our trusty wooden clothes horses the rest of the time. (I am not sure how lucky we will be with this during the North’s typically cold and damp winters though, we will certainly try to dry them outdoors as much as we can.)
We also use recycled bamboo fabric as baby wipes which are beautifully soft and are just thrown in the nappy dry bucket to be laundered with the nappies.
Having a new little human being in our home has certainly required some adjustment, when people talked about ‘not getting anything done’ I had assumed that I would be able to organise my way out of the chaos…..how very wrong I was! At three months we are just beginning to get the hang of balancing time with our son and time to grow our vegetables, cook and make. Today I managed to bake rock buns while our little boy was napping and plant winter vegetables such as spinach, winter salad and kale. I am determined that we will have some organic vegetables from our newly remodeled garden during the winter. Living in the north of England means that the hours of daylight considerably reduce from August on wards and this impacts on the length of the growing season, cloches and greenhouses can only retain heat and not provide extra daylight.
It really felt like Christmas yesterday as a parcel of a second hand bundle of baby boys’s clothing arrived, 25 items for £12 ! The most beautiful coat made in France, gorgeous dungarees by Osh Kosh, a fox design jumper to name but a few of the delights. Also included was a wet suit suitable for a 3-6 month old, although I’m not sure he’ll need it, you never know!
Is there anything nicer than a long walk in the sunshine? CC and I enjoyed exploring Claife Heights- land in the Lake District owned by the National Trust. The views of Lake Windermere spectacular – but the tarns in the quieter areas of our walk were beautiful, buzzing with dragonflies and damselflies.
* We looked very carefully for Peter Rabbit in the garden of Beatrix Potter; sadly no rabbits but lots of delicious looking vegetables including some fabulous pumpkins- I am definitely going to have a go at growing these next year.
* A quick visit for some tea at The Tower Bank Arms.
* Waiting for the ferry and a flask of coffee enjoyed.
After a delightful meander down our lanes we picked enough blackberries to make jam.
* Lastly a wonderful evening at the proms – Proms At Parrox – just across the road at Parrox Hall. Picnic, lots of friends and wine – perfect!
Is it really the end of September already ? Time has really flown this month; the start of the new term for us means a very busy time, but we’ve found time for some wonderful trips out. Beginning at the start of the month with the family meal and a visit from my brother. We took full advantage of our little local ferry and enjoyed exploring Fleetwood.
We had lots of family attending the annual family meal this year, it was lovely to see everybody.
We attended Blackpool’s annual ‘Ride The Lights’ event- much better organised this year. This time it actually looked safe enough to cycle ! Might take my bike next year.
* On the home front we’ve been blackberry picking several times – the fruit harvest is bountiful this year. I used the blackberries to make Blackberry and Bramley sauce and blackberry and bramley crisp. CC has been home brewing again – two batches this time- ready for Christmas.
CC blackberry picking.
* Inspired by Bea Johnson ( ZeroWaste Home) we’ve started Zero Waste shopping ourselves and found it cheaper, less work and tastier ! We’re very lucky to have a great selection of shops in our local village. Most shop keepers have been happy to dispense our goods into glass jars, one lady in the butchers was initially a little confused but really made an effort to accommodate us ! I have also been trying to give Zero Waste gifts – beginning with a jar of chocolate Tiffin for a classroom volunteer.
* For the last two weekends we’ve joined my parents in Embsay to explore the Yorkshire Dales. The first weekend saw us taking a trip on the marvellous Bolton Abbey Steam railway. The trip from Embsay was so relaxing, I really wish we could travel like this more, there is such a charm to the cheery little railway station in it’s bright livery and the solid wood and upholstery of the older carriages. ! Our government is currently spending Billions on a high speed rail link between the North and South; I can’t help feeling that spending the money on maintaining and improving our current ( very extensive) railway network would improve the lives of so many more ( rather than just a few commuters who can’t afford to live in London). Let’s bring back the local station !
* Our little train took us to Bolton Abbey to explore.
* This weekend saw us walking around Embsay, an interesting tour of old and modern combined. A reservoir and evidence of much earlier engineering. A stunning stone porch on a house dated 1688.
* And finally to Skipton to enjoy the carnival atmosphere next to the canal; their puppet festival. Followed by a ride on an old Route Master double Decker to Yarndale. ( more evidence in the town of Guerilla knitting)
* Finally a walk through Skipton’s Castle Woodland. Just beautiful in the sunshine.
We couldn’t resist another visit to Northumberland, there were so many places left to see !
Northumberland is an area long associated with attack and the need to defend from raids from the North Sea. During our last visit we saw lots of evidence of these defensive structures, from walking the remains of the Roman Wall begun by Emperor Hadrian in 122AD, to visiting Alnwick Castle and exploring a gun post from the Second World War.
Familiar faces at Alnwick Castle- used for the scenes of Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
The castle itself was extremely busy ( and too commercial for us !). However, just outside of the town was Hulne Park, containing the remains of Hulne Abbey, a beautiful windswept place with not another person spied during our 6 mile walk !
The abbey ruins were also used ( as well as Alnwick castle) for the film Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves – the abbey grounds being Maid Marion’s house.
Hulne Park was full of deer, pheasant and several hens ( escapees).
I also love to have the chance to cook on my little camping stoves – nothing like eating fresh food in the outdoors…….
We’re also quite partial to food indoors as well………especially during a return visit to the excellent Barter Books and their rather special cafe in the old station waiting room.