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Buying Sit Still-Makers

At just 3 years of age, "Number 1 Son"* was on the verge from getting kicked out from nursery school.  (Yes, this can happen.)  I was tired of all the phone calls from school and so finally we reluctantly sought professional help.  Up until that moment, we just considered him to be just a "very active boy."

The child psychologist suggested we get #1 evaluated and so we did.  After being poked and prodded and questioned to death,  I received a stack of papers called "evaluations" or "evals" a word that is now part of my vocabulary.  The eval was an examination of my child's skills but it also subjected me, the parent, to a load of questions about what my child can or can not do. These little questions make you scratch your head and ask yourself, "Is a kid Number 1's age supposed to do that? Should I have been trying to make him do that?  Well he did it once, six months ago, should I then say, 'yes'?"

See the answer at the foot of this post.***

The thicker the stack, the scarier the future was, I thought.   However, even before that first stack of evals, I sought some help from a child psychologist after much campaigning at home so that my husband would be on board with paying for someone to help us.  At our very first consultation, we talked about lots of things but what bugged me the most was how Number 1 Son could not sit down for circle time at his preschool.  Right away, she suggested that I buy a seat wedge for children who had difficulty sitting still.

Could that be true? Something can actually help my kid sit still?  I was so excited to buy this cushion.  "This would make my kid sit normal," I hoped all the way to my bones.

This was taken when they were very young.  They both still love to roll in laundry fresh out of the dryer and I still yell at them when they do.
Buying Online is Easy, Shopping Online Sucks

But I was not a shopper and certainly was no online shopper.  By then, I had probably been on Amazon maybe once, if at all.  I didn't know about coupon codes, free shipping, two-day shipping and at that time, I wasn't interested in saving money.  I just wanted that seat cushion fast.  I found a place and I ordered it but in a stroke of bad luck, I was sent the wrong cushion and had to wait even longer for the one that I ordered.  I was so upset but it was at least a good accident because I got to try out another product for free.

Trying out products not found in stores is really hard to do now. That is why YouTube and other internet reviews are important. Before buying a toy, I frequently go online to see a video of how it is used and I feel like this is necessary because so many things you need can not be bought in a store anymore.  But I can't help my ancient consumerist habits: I need to touch it, feel it, try it on, make sure it doesn't smell weird, hold it so that you know it's not flimsy....   Sure we can read the specs online if they are available but I don't like to shop like that.  I am quite certain that I do not have a tape measure in my head (can not estimate) and I will never remember how tall my children are - especially figure out things like their pants' inseam.  Forget that!
We used to go to museums to play with these types of games.  It's not easy to find toys like this in average neighborhood stores.  This one was taken at the Brooklyn Children's Museum.

Babysitter Toys Are Great but They Usually Don't Last

And this is why this site is here.  Because after I got that stack of evals (and it was thick), I started shopping for my kids differently, and I don't mean just having to buy things online vs. shopping at a big box store.  I was starting to buy toys and actually thinking about how it helps Number 1 Son and his little brother, Number 2 Son.  Until then, my biggest concerns in toy-buying centered around how much time the toy could keep them busy so that I could get some work done. I still have fond memories of the Evenflo exersaucer that gave me time to wash the dishes. I can also never forget that vibrating bouncy chair ** that kept Number 1 content (or asleep) so that I could pick up stuff off the floor and maybe even dare to eat something.

And while there is nothing wrong with toys having a little bit of a babysitter effect, sometimes I find that if we can spend just a little time and thought in encouraging the use of different toys (or even just use what we already own a little differently), the subsequent results may end up impressing the heck out of us.  But don't get me wrong, I am no different from many parents, because there are days when you will see my kids faces glued to a screen (t.v., Netflix, iPad, DS, Leapster, iPod Touch, Wii, computer, etc....)  I have mixed feelings about electronic entertainment.

Still, I am happy that I changed the way I shop for toys.  My kids are too.  When I see a toy, I look at them the way you might look at purchasing gym membership for a year.  There are so many possibilities. You wrangle with yourself, "will I make good use of it?"  The dreams are there.  If just up to you to decide for yourself or your child if you really want it or need it.

Not all fingerpaint is created equal.  I love Sargent Fingerpaint.  It didn't cost me more that other fingerpaint.

Sort Toys By What They Do For Your Child  

That is why Toys Are Tools will first attempt to sort toys by skills and features that parents and teachers want to develop further and not by age because as far as I know, not all children advance their skills on the same timeline.  Ages may be included when describing a toy but please read them all with a grain of salt.  Sometimes, the age is written because it requires a child to have a certain level of reading skills, social skills, self-direction, logic and reasoning skills but at times, I ignore it.  Oftentimes, I buy something knowing that my child has only some of the skills for that toy and because this is the most fitting and most interesting, I buy it knowing full well that I must have some part in him playing with it and that is okay with me.  For example, I  play Connect 4 with my toddler nephew but we don't play the game, he is just dropping those discs down the slots and he has a ball doing it!  That's good enough for me.  But there are some toys that I buy with the full expectation that they will play with it on their own (ie. Nintendo DS- no mom help needed here). 

I love looking at children's toyboxes as much as I love looking at a new friend's bookshelf to get to know him better.  But it doesn't end with just toys and books.  Some things in our bag of tricks include little gadgets and even furniture.

My son is my best teacher of all things fun.
I have to admit, I spend way too much time finding the coolest things and if I can't afford them, sometimes I make them which can be a disaster or the best thing ever.  But the good part about it is that I will now be able to stop being the poor example of social skills that I am to Number 1 and Number 2 and stop blurting out product advice to any mother who says hello to me.  Why do that when I can do that here with you all?   And believe me when I say there are so many things to be excited about and the good news is that you don't have to have tons of money to get a lot of these products.  Some of my favorite things I find at the dollar store.  However, you may find that my other favorites are expensive but they have excellent resale value or will last long which is good for schools and clinics. 

Lastly, I will be including professional opinions as well.  These folks really use toys as tools in their day-to-day work.  They help me make direct connections to how a particular toy can build certain skills or enhance your child's talents. 

So if you are looking for a present or a toy for any kid, gifted, special needs, typical, or a mixture of all of the above, stop by here first.   We promise at least 2-3 new posts a week, maybe more!  Please remember, your feedback is valued here more than you know.  If you are a parent, then you are an expert on your child and because at least some of her needs and talents is likely shared by another child and then to me, you automatically know something that I need to learn.

*alias: for my oldest child

** This bouncer is similar to the one that I had.  I guess they don't make the one I had anymore.  Talk about feeling ancient. My son is not even 10 yet and his baby toys are already outdated!

*** I was tired of the toys where kids sit and they spin themselves by turning and pushing their whole body weight.  It's just too hard.  I actually like the Dizzy Disc more but have not been able to buy it yet.  (My poor wallet is always losing weight!)