Childhood, Programming

Have toys lost their “specialness”?

Over the past few weeks I have been searching and searching for a doll for my daughter as her first birthday approaches. I know exactly what I am looking for, yet it appears to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I want something that is special. Something that has an identity. Something that will be treasured. A doll that doesn’t have a hard plastic face or sit in a box on a shelf among dozens of other hard, plastic-faced dolls in boxes. I want something that will form a part of my daughters memories.

In my quest for the elusive “special doll” I have done some serious reflecting and have started to wonder if in fact toys have lost their “specialness” I have very vivid memories of a little Fisher Price house that I loved dearly. I remember it’s little white door. I remember the sound of the doorbell. I remember carrying it by the handle to play outdoors. I remember clearly that none of my friends had one the same (although I was a little envious at the time of their Barbie Campervans, I am now very grateful not to have had one!)  The little house is still around and is now enjoyed by my children on their visits to Nan and Poppy’s house. 
I walk into my children’s rooms and am blown away by the amount of toys they have. Some that we have given them, yet many given by loving and well meaning friends and family. I become overwhelmed by the choices, the variety, the colours, the labels, the types of toys. I always said I didn’t want my children to have a lot of toys, yet it has inevitably happened and now I long for something simpler. In the search for this elusive “special doll” I have found a desire for a simpler, less cluttered life. One where we only have a few things, yet they are treasured things, meaningful things, quality things. I think about my grandparents and their stories of not having much at all, yet having contented, meaningful childhoods. They may have had one special toy – a doll, a bike, a little wooden car, but they didn’t need anything more. 

I think about some of the Early Childhood settings I have worked in and visited and wonder if the abundance of toys and resources is as overwhelming for the children as it is for me. I think about the many times I have heard “we buy new toys but the kids just break them” and wonder if perhaps this is due to these toys being “unspecial”? We say so often in Early Childhood that our focus is on relationships, yet our environments so often tell a story of material possessions. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to the concept of Forest Schools and Nature Kindergartens, it’s just the children, the adults, nature and a few key essentials. There is no need for an abundance of lego or plastic headed dolls!

I wonder if it is possible to have a minimalist Early Childhood environment and still meet the requirements of the National Quality Framework? I wonder if we can get back the “specialness”?


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  • erin


    loved this post, thanks! if you’re still looking, I adore these two shops for incredible unique heirloom quality dolls:

    April 5, 2014 at 7:25 pm
  • eileen


    One way to avoid the materialism that is insidious in our homes and schools is to make as many of your own materials as you can. This can be done for or with children. I find the more kids make of their own playthings,(mostly out of recyclables) the more they value them and their play is vastly more creative and imaginative. If you would like ideas for games, toys, etc. let me know.
    Eileen, mom of 3 and special ed./early childhood teacher

    April 10, 2014 at 12:21 am
  • Jennifer McCormack


    I believe it is absolutely possible to have a minimalist environment and still meet requirements of the NQF. You can’t go wrong with a good selection of open ended resources – and they don’t ALL have to be out ALL the time. I’ve had the absolute basics in my home where I have been running playgroup for years. A few handmade dolls (which are ANCIENT but still loved), a tea-set, a few dress-ups, blocks, trains, cars … haven’t got a class-set of anything.We spent most of our time outside, interacting, building, gardening, playing games, crafting … those inside resources have always been there – and hardly used … right now we are having endless fun just with colourful pebbles. We’ve used them for creating mandalas, representing stories, as play food, money, to build with, creating patterns, decorating the garden …. and except for the mandalas it has all been child led, and so many valuable learning experiences have unfolded. Vast amounts of expensive toys not necessary.

    August 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm