I have...um...shall we say...'busy' kids. VERY busy kids. You know that Mom in the mall that everyone looks at and thinks "Can't you control your kids?!"? That's me.
I'm still greeted by name at the large Clicks pharmacy I use, 5 years after my daughter (now 9), crashed the entire computer network when she pulled the cables out of one of the computer points at the dispensary counter. Another time she pulled the trigger on an unsecured fire extinguisher, spraying foam all over several patrons and their breakfasts at our local Wimpy. Fortunately I am too good a customer at both of these establishments to be banned forever, but they were both close calls.
I have since learned to leave my kids at home when running errands, so my elder son hasn't had the opportunity to cause a public disturbance. Yet. I do, however, live in daily anticipation of domestic disaster. His crowning triumph so far is the evening he climbed up on a chair, onto the kitchen counter, stood on the bread box (I think), opened an "out-of-reach" cupboard and got hold of my pepper spray. After stealthily climbing down again, he proceeded to enthusiastically empty the canister in the sitting room, where my daughter was watching TV. We had to evacuate the house, and it was after 9pm that night before we could go back in. He was about two years old at the time. (Why is it that kids can cause complete havoc in utter silence, but when you're trying to put the baby to sleep they are incapable of even opening a box of crayons at less than 90 decibels?)
It doesn't take a PhD in early childhood development to figure out that to prevent the wholesale destruction of our neighbourhood, it is very important for me to keep my kids happily occupied. I also love them more than life itself and I want them to grow up unspoiled, happy and well-adjusted. For this reason I am pretty conservative when it comes to spending money on toys. Call me old fashioned, but I think kids need outdoor play and versatile playthings that stimulate their creativity and intellect.
With this in mind, the three best buys we've ever made when it comes to toys for our kids are their trampoline, jungle-gym and Lego (or Duplo).
Trampolines are great for developing strength, balance, co-ordination and providing proprioreceptive and vestibular stimulation. Also, most kids love trampolines. Not only that, but spending a bit of money on a trampoline has probably saved me thousands of Rands in furniture replacement and medical bills. Before we bought our trampoline, my daughter loved to jump on my furniture - both a dangerous and potentially expensive pass-time! If you can't afford a full size trampoline, or don't have room for one, get a mini exercise trampoline. We started out with one of these for my daughter when she was about two years old, and "upgraded" to a medium size outdoor trampoline a couple of years later. Now that we have three kids they all play on it - even my 16 month old toddler loves it.
My elder son loves to climb, and will climb anything (see pepper spray incident above). As soon as he was able (and my nerves could stand it), we let him explore the Jungle Gym. He loved it then, and still loves it now. Jungle Gyms are great for developing balance and strength, and help kids learn their own physical boundaries. If you get one with a swing attached, your kids will get the added benefit of vestibular stimulation. Swinging can also be very calming for overstimulated kids, and is great for building core muscle strength and developing muscle tone.
My final recommendation on expensive toys is investing in Lego (or Duplo for smaller kids). Lego can be very pricey, but its worth every cent. There's a huge range available now (much more than when I was a kid), and you can even get "girly" Lego. We bought my daughter a Lego dolls' house for her 8th birthday, and she spent an entire day completely absorbed in putting it together. This has never happened with any other toy before or since. (As I happened to be heavily pregnant AND nursing a violent stomach bug on that particular day, Lego earned my undying gratitude!). If your budget doesn't run to Lego or Duplo, try the "Megablocks" range of building blocks. Some of the ranges fit with Lego or Duplo, and while its not quite as durable, its just as much fun. Since its a toy that can be easily packed away and stored, it's ideal if you have limited space. A few pieces of Lego in a "busy bag" is also a great way to keep kids entertained on long trips or during dull visits.
What are your kids' favourite toys, and what was your favourite toy when you were a kid? Please share in the comments - I love hearing from readers!