Thursday, December 13, 2012

Play from Scratch

I'm not a huge fan of product reviews or parenting books. The former often smack of insincerity; the latter I usually find glib, unhelpful or unnecessarily fear-based.

Today, however, I am going to review a product and base my review on the one wonderful parenting book I've come across. It's my blog. You can't stop me from contradicting myself. And I promise, this one is worth it.

The product is Play from Scratch. The book is Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, M.Ed.
Payne dedicates a couple of chapters to pruning your child's out-of-control toy collection. He recommends discarding toys that "do too much," "break too easily," and provide "very high stimulation." He also suggests dumping "toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge." (Oooh. Guilty as charged.)
Kids don't need many toys to play, or any particular one. What they need most of all is unstructured time.... Moving away from things and toward experiences, we can be indulgent with time and opportunities for exploration.
The best toys, he says, are ones that allow for trial and error, encourage exploration through touch and are based on pretending and imaginary play. He cautions:
The more elaborate the "prop" for pretend play, the less a child flexes their [sic] imaginary muscles.... Children need experience, not entertainment, in play.
These concepts really resonated with me. We live in a world of too much, too soon, too fast. But wanting to simplify is not enough; one needs criteria for selecting the right amount and type of toys, experiences and so on. Simplicity Parenting provides such guidelines.

Which brings me to today's review. When my friend sent me a link to Play from Scratch, a recently launched Minnesota-based company whose Facebook page tagline is "a recyclable toy company dedicated to inspiring creative play," I knew I had found a keeper for Henry's toy inventory, one that met Payne's criteria for simplicity playing.

The "supplies" include The Enormous Tube of Tubes ($29.95) and The World Famous Box of Boxes ($24.95) among other things. Stamped on the boxes is "Build Big Ideas." (If "World Famous" seems a little much, you'll recall that the lowly Cardboard Box was actually inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005.)

Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like -- a whole bunch of durable, eco-friendly cardboard boxes and tubes (10 boxes and 15 tubes, to be exact, plus heavy duty colored tape and paper cones). Go Creative Cards ($14.95) provide 2,352 challenges to help you get started. It's brilliant.

I fortuitously received the sample two days before Henry's big birthday shebang on Sunday. I left it out for the kids to see what would happen.

Henry was interested in the paper cones and the cardboard. Mainly in eating them. At the party, I observed other babies and toddlers doing the same.

My friend's nearly-six-year-old daughter, on the other hand, had a blast. She spent the entire party making things with her four-year-old sister and their mom. Here she is proudly displaying her extra large homemade camera.

I saw lots of kids walking around the party with tubes taped together in various configurations. I don't know what they were supposed to be, but they seemed to know. I think that's the point.

What's great is that after playing, you can break it all down, store it and make something else another day. Plus, it's made with non-toxic inks. So, even if you have a little one who'd rather eat it, there's nothing to worry about.

The company says its toys are for "Ages 4-104." I think that's about right. At age four, kids can probably create something on their own, but it's also a great opportunity for parents to build and create alongside them. Younger children probably won't get a lot out of it, unless they are playing with older siblings.

True, you can give your kids a box from a UPS delivery, but those are usually disgusting (who knows where in the world they've been) and sometimes flimsy. In contrast, Play from Scratch's clean supplies are made in the USA from recycled materials, and the paper comes from certified sustainable sources.

Play from Scratch gives your child the tools to build a:
 or a:

or anything else he or she can imagine.

Need a gift idea? Search no further. I'm looking at you, Santa.

I was not compensated monetarily for this review. I wasn't even approached by the company; rather, I asked to review the product, because I thought more people needed to learn about it. In preparation for the review, I received the Box of Boxes, Tube of Tubes, Go Creative Cards and some tape so I could experiment. And when I say "I," I mean "Rayne."

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are: