Holiday Gifts for Children: How Much Is Too Much?

The holidays are upon us, along with the rampant materialism that seems to consume our culture.  If we are not careful and vigilant, the holidays become more about fulfilling what is on someone’s  wish list than any meditative, contemplative act regarding truths and light in the darkness of winter.

I invite you this holiday season to slow down.  In many of the countries that celebrate Christmas, the season of Advent is a time to slow down, be at home and enjoy making crafts and decorations for the home and baking.  It is not a time to run out and spend 500 dollars on one person at Christmas.

Unfortunately, in our society, the person(s) many families are most likely to spend the most money on are their children.  Whew.  I invite you to make yourself a cup of tea, and have your husband take your kids to the park for a few hours.  Now go into their rooms and the playroom and look at the amount of stuff that is there.  Seriously.  Count the number of puzzles they have, the number of pairs of shoes, how many bags and boxes of craft supplies there are. How many board games do they have?  How many dress up clothes?

The first step is always the hardest.  I invite you to think about purging at least a third or more of your toys this holiday season.  If you cannot purge them all, or you do purge all the junky made in China plastic toys and have some nice open ended toys to keep, here is a thought for you.  Some families pack up toys and  put them away somewhere.  Then they rotate the toys so only a few things are down at a time.  The toys can be changed out either monthly or seasonally.

If you are stumped as to how many toys a child really needs to have or how many clothes/outfits a child needs, I can offer these guidelines that I have read from other sources.  Marsha Johnson, Master Waldorf teacher and moderator of the wonderful Yahoo!Group waldorfhomeeducators has this great article in her FILES section of that group entitled, “The Issue of Toys, Children and Materialism.”  She wrote it in December of 2004 and I think it should be required reading for parents when a baby is born!  Seriously!

She writes on the matter of clothes, “Examine wardrobes and put together fourteen outfits for your children, enough for two weeks without laundry, for each season, and donate the rest.  Buy good quality wool, cotton and natural fiber clothes that will last through several children, practice the fine art of hand me downs, and gather a group of other families to have a twice a year “share” time where you all bring extra clothes and parcel them out.  You will be shocked at how this is so very freeing although you will spend a bit more time doing laundry on your new schedule.”

Yup, fourteen outfits.  And probably not nearly as many shoes as your child currently has in his or her closet either!

For the matter of what toys a child really needs, I turned to the pages of a Waldorf classic entitled, “Toymaking With Children” by Freya Jaffke.  I so love this little book.

At any rate, for the child’s  first year of life, Freya suggests a small soft cloth to play with, a cradle doll and a wooden doll. (There are instructions on how to make these dolls in her book).  She also gives an honorable mention to a felt ball, an embroidered ball, a wooden spoon, blocks of wood that are sanded until they are very smooth with no bark on them, a strong basket, an empty box with a lid and small cloths.   Again, there are instructions on how to make nearly all of these things in her little book.

For other toys for the one to three year old, Freya suggests  knotted dolls, carts, a simple basket “pram” (stroller), a basket of building bricks, a carved wooden spoon, a basket of chestnuts and a rocking horse.

For the three to five year old, Freya suggests toys be grouped into categories such as building toys for a large scale, building on the floor or on tables, the Doll’s Corner and the Play Store.  There are pictures of these play areas throughout this book and they are magnificent in their simplicity and imaginative value.

For example, in the building on a large scale section, Freya has wooden playstands (if you do not know what these are, they are wooden stands you can drape a cloth over  and can be many different things – google for a picture), playstand cloths, dress-up cloths (dyed silks), sandbags, wooden clothespins, little wool rugs, wooden building logs and finger-knitted or crocheted headbands.  This all sounds like a lot, but it can tuck away neatly in baskets, it is all open ended, and all of it you can make yourself.

Everything is very open-ended in the other play scenarios as well. A basket in the doll corner, for example, could be a baby’s bathtub or if flipped over, could be a stove.

Freya recommends baskets full of natural items such as shells, stones, bark, feathers, pine cones and unspun sheep’s wool, a bunting bed for a doll, a doll’s spoon, a hammock for the dolls, play pillows, a footstool, wool carpets and fleece, outdoor toys and a wheelbarrow.  She also mentions for quiet time a tumbling man (instructions are in the book), a Russian doll (the kind you open up and there is a smaller doll inside and you open that doll and there is an even smaller doll inside), a few good picture books.

Marsha Johnson has slightly different suggestions for each age group, but similar in imaginative value and open ended play.  For the one year old, she says infants under one year really need no toys at all, but if you must, consider one rattle, a soft ball, 2 or 3 silks to play peek a boo with, an animal or shape to chew on, a special blanket for naptimes and a nature table to look at.

For the 1 to three year old, the list is a bit longer but adds such things as a wooden stacking toy, a small truck or car and 6 small board books.

For the four to seven year old, Marsha adds  such items as dress up capes and crowns, simple musical instruments, outdoor riding toys, no more than two dozen small books on a shelf at a time.  She also has suggestions for the eight to 12 year old child.  This article is really invaluable, and she has many other wonderful articles in that FILES section.  I suggest if you have any interest in Waldorf at all, join her group and read through all of her fantastic articles.  The things she says really resonate with me personally and I am glad the Waldorf homeschooling community has her!

If you feel as if your child does not need one more toy, see if you can encourage family members to provide gardening tools, a membership to the nature center where you could go one afternoon a month or a homemade gift certificate for tea time with mom or a park date with dad.

Less really is more.  Think about what you could make for your child this holiday, what your child could give and what you could make for your home together. If we keep on giving our children the large number of gifts, the big parties, the closet full of clothes before they are even five years old what are they going to have to have to top all this when they are 15 or 16 years old?

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

14 thoughts on “Holiday Gifts for Children: How Much Is Too Much?

  1. Thank you for the simplicity here– what an antidote to the craze happening in the malls. It reminds me that just as we coach our children to resist peer pressure and think about what is best for them, we need to resist commercial pressure about what is best for our kids and make our own choices. Here! Here!

  2. We have quite a lot of toys here – not as many as other households I’ve been in, but more that I think is really *needed* (I own a toyshop and do have a love of toys and quite a few of the things we do have are also things for me!)

    I have been busy making things for Yule/Christmas. A felted hobby horse and a little (dollshouse size) cowboy doll for my almost 3 year old (which he can use when playing with his sister and their small farm). Plus some mittens, booties, etc. for his doll in this cold weather.

    For dd I have been busy making some ‘warm’ clothes for her doll, plus a crocheted headband.

    The only thing I am planning to buy at present is a puzzle for dd as she has specifically asked if she may have a puzzle (as we only have one large floor puzzle that she can do, because the others we have are very complicated ones which would not be suitable for her). I think this is a very reasonable request from a 5 year old. Her other request is the same as it was last year, some clothes for her doll (and that I make them and send them to Father Christmas to deliver).

    I have 4 children and they have a stocking each, although last year we invested in a wooden kitchen (which has been played with every single day since, so a very good investment) and my family clubbed together to buy our older boys a bike each (they’re 12 and 14). There were a couple of extra pieces that didn’t fit in the stocking, but these were things like socks and other pieces of clothing, plus a couple of books that were too large to fit in.

    I think this is more than enough!

    I’m always reminded by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sister in Little House on the Prairie when they are thrilled to receive a cup and a small piece of money each for Christmas.

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  5. “You will be shocked at how this is so very freeing although you will spend a bit more time doing laundry on your new schedule.””

    How often do most of you do laundry? She is saying to have two weeks’ worth of clothes, right? I already do laundry every week, so we would really only need 7-8 outfits. I do keep 14 in case the kids get dirty, ruin something, or we miss a laundry day.

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  8. We keep a relatively simple home, but each year the battle over the amount of gifts arriving from outside the home at Christmas gets harder. Any advice on dealing with, or informative articles to pass along to, extended family who honestly think we are depriving our children? It actually causes a lot of greif, because the cheap toys are so disappointing, but we can’t really take them away once given, and refusing runs the risk of damaging family relationships.

    • I ditto this question on how to handle gifts from outside the home. When my daughter was younger those gifts would just “disappear” but now she is 4 and becomes attached. This happened just today with a Disney doll. Of course you can give family good guidelines but some don’t ask! Anyone have good tips on how to handle this? I don’t want to take away the doll because I don’t want my daughter to feel she is being punished but I also don’t want the doll to stay.

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