I am a DIY-er in training. That means that I highly value DIY- ism for it’s ability to reduce consumption and expenses while engaging my creativity and love for beautiful things.
It also means I have a lot of DIY things pinned on my Pinterest boards that are way beyond my skill level. Although slowly but surely I know I will get to the point of sewing clothes and toys, building all my own furniture, and adding shiplap to the whole interior of my house, I can’t take it all on at once, especially in the spring season when planting the veggie garden keeps us pretty busy.
To my point, the play kitchen that I started to make last spring for Aza is still in the garage unfinished because I tried to make it too “cool” (i.e. complicated).
I realized it was silly that I thought I had to finish this huge complicated kitchen just so Aza could have a kitchen to play with, and in 15 minutes Aza and I came up with an idea for a basic kitchen together…made out of a crate…that Aza now plays with daily. (I was going to turn a second wood crate into a simple dollhouse but found a used dollhouse for $2 at goodwill so got that instead. But honestly a crate or two stacked in a corner with her doll furniture would have also given her hours of imaginative play!).
It was Aza’s birthday a few weeks ago, and we used it as a moment to embody our values and choose our family traditions consciously. So far our traditions have been to give Aza living things…baby chicks, blueberry bushes, and fruit trees. This year we wanted to add the tradition of something we make for her (or with her). But keeping in mind what happend with the play kitchen, we chose to keep it simple. So although I had a crazy cool pirate ship sandbox pinned on my pinterest board, I knew if those were the standards I held myself to, it would never get built. Instead for her birthday we built the simplest box you have ever seen and poured sand into it. It was made from free craigslist wood so the only cost was the sand (a farm/garden supply store, or Home Depot) and it took less then an hour to hammer together.
From nothing to a sandbox that Aza truly enjoys daily….
Afterwards, I realized it was actually better than building her some fancy thing not only because it got done but because it is now a blank canvas for her imagination. If she decides to she can build onto it and turn it into whatever she wants. I can help her sew a sail if she wants to turn it into a ship or it can become something she tinkers with herself as she starts practicing with her tools. For now it functions and has room to grow into whatever she decides to create with it…along with all the learning that happens in her own creative process.
Making your own toys is an especially great place to apply the Homesteading Mindset for a few reasons:
#1 Cultivate a creative rather then consumer mindset in our kids
Imagine if every time a kid pointed to something on the shelf that they wanted, the next conversation was about “how do you think we could make that?”. And then you went home together and made it….your kiddo planned it out, figured out how to learn any skills they needed, made a supply list, and asked for help where they needed it. Not only is this honing their creative and problem solving skills, but it is cultivating a mindset where they don’t automatically look outside themselves or to consumer markets to get what they want….fostering confidence, self-sufficiency, initiative, self motivation, project planning, and vision (the ability to see how they can create something from nothing). Just think for a moment, how might this creative mindset serve the kiddos in all areas of their life?
#2 Reduce the number of toys cluttering your home
Of course making all your own toys takes a lot more time then just plucking it off the shelf, but the upside is that that means a slower accumulation of toys. Not only is this great for the beauty and peace of your home, but also kids tend to play more with toys when their aren’t as many to choose from especially when they are special because they made them themselves or with their parent. When kids see things being obtained so easily, they also seem to discard them easily. Another way to help kiddos value their things for items you don’t want to make yourself is by having kids save up money for things they do want to buy.
#3 Reduce plastic in the landfill
I often think about how much trash each human produces in the current system of how we consume things….and babies seem to have even more trash and plastic associated with their existence for some reason! There is so much packaging, everything is made to be disposable, one-time-use or cheaply made out of non-recyclable items. Making your own toys is a great way to honor your value of sustainability and reducing your footprint on the planet because you are removing yourself from the system of packaging, transportation, and low quality that has become our common marketplaces. There are other ways to embody a value of sustainability with your kiddos besides making your own toys….buying used things is a great option to save money and the consumption of new resources (craigslist, goodwill, garage sale); buying from local makers to save on packaging and transport, and increasing lasting quality of items; buying green toys that are made from recyclable products; being minimalist about all the kids “gear” you buy; using cloth diapers or wash clothes instead of disposable wipes.
#4 Have toys that are prettier to look at, more meaningful, and more played with
I will admit it. Even as a homesteader, I deeply care about what my spaces look like. And green neon plastic toys everywhere does not fit my design aesthetic. When I make toys myself, I can make them the look and color I want with materials like wood, metal, cloth that fit in with my home decor. Each toy we make together has more meaning and stories, and like I said before, gets more “play time” rather then “scattered-all-over-the-floor-time” because of it.
#5 Provides opportunities to connect and create with our kids
I deeply believe that connection happens through co-creation. Creation is a container for learning about eachother and connecting on a deeper level. We are brought together for a common goal, we see eachothers strengths, we hear eachothers ideas, we work through problems together. It takes us beyond the superficial, quick interactions that happen in daily life and into the REAL depth of experiencing together. This works for deepening our relationships with our kids, our partners, our peers.
And you don’t have to be crafty!
As I pointed out with my last few projects, it doesn’t mean you have to be a master DIYer, carpenter or seamstress to model the homesteading mindset with your kids and their toys. It is simply taking on a creative rather then consumer mindset…and keeping it simple….at least until you build up your skillset!
It is also about being clear for yourself what YOUR unique values and strengths are and how you choose to embody them…maybe DIY isn’t for you but buying local is, or buying used, or recycling!
Each aspect of our life is a way we can stand for the world we want to live in. Toys are no exception, and for many parents can be a large part of how we spend our dollars, fill our spaces, and connect with our kids.
The question we can always ask ourselves is, am I choosing consciously in this arena of my life? Is the approach we have towards toys (or insert any area of life) reflective of my values and standing for the world I want to create…the way they are made, the way they make my house look, the way my kids engage with them, the impact they have on our planet, and the effect they have on my happiness.
To get clear on your values and your unique way that you want to embody them in all areas of your life, try out our Manifesto template, available for free here.
Believe me I know it can be hard sometimes to resist buying those toys that promise to “develop your kids brain” and “entertain them for hours” because the marketing promises those feelings of being a “good mom” or just getting a break. But each time I resist buying something and instead make it myself, buy used, or find some other way to bring things into our lives that align with our deeper values, I remember that kids don’t need anything fancy “to learn” and in fact are more entertained and “developed” by the creative process than by something that is handed to them.
Here are a few other DIY toys we did the last few weeks that require no skills and very little expense:
And here is my ongoing collection of ideas for fostering a creative, mindful, and homesteading mindset for my daughter!
In honor of Easter, I have put together a list of my favorite “Homesteading” Easter Basket Gifts and Spring projects to do with the kiddos along the themes of nature, outdoors, and gardening (including natural easter egg dye tutorials!)!
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