Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Alternatives to Walmart

Living in rural Ontario in a week when my kids have collectively been invited to FOUR birthday parties presents a quandary. Given lots of notice, I can craft and create a lovely handmade gift. But it is getting hard as my children get older. They all have ideas about what their friends would like, and unfortunately, the quickest and most convenient place to get kids' stuff is at Walmart.

We used to have a beautiful, independently-owned toy store in Pembroke. It lay somewhat inconveniently on the far side of town, but was worth the drive for the wonderful selection of creative, educational games and toys. I used to do most of my Christmas shopping there and always felt good that I didn't have to wander the aisles of the W-Store with that horrified look on my face.

Dolls that look like anorexic, slutty zombies. Disney princesses and Dora taking over everything from puzzles to playdough to Fisher Price to colouring books. Toys for girls that focus on fashion and hairstyling and nurturing pets and babies, and toys for boys that encourage them to dominate their enemies, build their own armies, and start cultivating gross levels of aggression and testosterone before they're five. There are virtually no educational toys that don't include some character from television or movies.

I literally feel sick when I walk up and down those aisles. And I know that there are alternatives. My eyes widen in incredulous horror. If I meet other parents, I wonder why they don't seem similarly disturbed by what is on offer to the majority of parents who shop for kids.

This year, with a baby due in December, I have resorted to the joys of online shopping. Here is a list of favourite toy suppliers, sites, and products that reject the notion that boys get active toys and girls get pink things. My five year old is really curious and interested in Science. But Science toys are clearly marketed to boys, unless it is a product called "Create your own spa chemistry set" or something to that effect.

Don't get me wrong; I hope to spend a day or two sewing some Wee Wonderfuls dolls for my children (because I can never do a completely store-bought Christmas, new baby or not!) I'm all for dolls. But soft, handmade dolls are so much more appealing than the grimacing plastic babes on offer at Walmart!

So, here it is. This is not comprehensive and I'll be adding to it as Christmas approaches.

1. Ravensburger Puzzles at Mastermind Toys (this Busy Farm puzzle is one of our family favourites!)
2. Scholars' Choice is a great source for board games that have not been commandeered by Disney Princesses, Cars, or Dora. Camelot Jr. is a great strategy game for five year olds. Chutes and Ladders is what we got for Margot (again, non-branded pictures), and Jude will get a lovely wooden checkers set.
3. Cabela's is a terrific site for outdoorsy families. Look past the firearms and hunting gear! This is where we've found a great starter bow and arrow set for our Robin Hood-obsessed boy. They also have some cute camping play sets (an outdoorsy mother and daughter with a pink tent and pink four-wheeler, of course!) 
4. Lee Valley carries all manners of vintage-type mechanized toys, wooden models, cool science stuff, and outdoor gear. We love the kite we bought here, and plan to get Jude a wooden catapult model to add to his Roman obsession!
5. Usborne books...you can't go wrong. My daughters LOVE the "Sticker Dolly Dressing" series (the fairy book is amazing). When we buy them for our friends' children for birthdays, my girls cry because they want more of these books! I've also found a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, in an easy-read version for my boy.

Other favourites include Natural Pod and Baby Naturopathics in Canada, and Nova Natural Toys in the States.

When you shop for kids, where do you turn? I'm approaching my yearly "there are alternatives" rant...so be prepared! 

17 comments:

  1. We LOVE Fat Brain Toys http://www.fatbraintoys.com/index.cfm

    My husband has already ordered an abacus for our ten month old. LOL And you can make a wish list and when people ask what your kid likes, here you go :)

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  2. My kids are in their late teens but I can absolutely and totally relate to your post!!! I am so glad that I do not have to navigate the ToysRus anymore...worse than wallmart. Target has a somewhat better selection. (but this is the US and I don't remember if Canada has a target). I used to set a budget limit and let the kids pick out what they thought their friends would like, for my own kids it was a different matter, luckily they were just as happy with toys/materials that encouraged imagination.
    Thank you for sharing all those better alternatives, and please do continue to rant!

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    1. Target has taken over our Canadian Zellers...as so many US companies are doing these days. We've seen so many of our small town "downtowns" whither once Walmart came into town. It's sad on a grand scale, affecting families that have had stores and shops for a century...I know it's happening all over the States, too.

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  3. Etsy first and foremost is where we shop mostly, so many wonderful toys! We do also Like Nova Natural Toys, Palumba, Bella Luna, and the Wooden Wagon.

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    1. Yes! Etsy popped into my head after I posted this. I'll certainly be browsing the "shops" there, too!

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  4. We shop at MasterMind. It's a chain store but it has some great alternatives to what you see in Walmart including some toys that have a green bent to then like 'Plan Toys'.

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  5. We love so many different places.....Nova Naturals, Bella Luna Toys, A Toy Garden, Etsy shops, our Waldorf schools's shop, and our local toy store and other independent retailers! I am guilty of shopping online a bit......like you, I find it easiest with young ones in tow!

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  6. I have found that Stedman's in Barry's Bay is actually a fine alternative to Walmart. Where else can I get little snowmobiles and four-wheelers for boys who are determined to be Valley boys? Also, they have a small variety of wooden and cloth toys as well as a decent art section. I feel, when shopping there, that I am helping our little town stay alive. However, I have also bought the marble run set from Lee Valley as well as the pocket microscope which lives up to what the Lee Valley catalogue says about it - small but mighty.

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    1. Our Country Depot is also great...lots of Melissa and Doug, puzzles and craft stuff, etc. I find as the kids get older it's much more about stuff to DO than play with. Pjs are always nice, too!

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  7. First and foremost we try and make the toys we want for our little man, it is always cheaper than buying. If that doesn't pan out we take a look on Etsy. From there Lee Valley, Nova Natural and Natural Pod are the go to online stores.

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  8. Books! I try to buy them (or special-order them) from a local, independent book-seller, but sometimes I haul off and place a big order from Amazon to stock up. I think a book is a perfect birthday gift for under $10 Usually I buy a stack of the same book and give them out as birthdays come along. Some of the favorites I've given: The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle, books from The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant, The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, etc... My older son is now nine and sometimes resistant to helping me choose a book for a birthday gift; however, a few weeks ago we compromised and found a really cool looking graphic novel for a friend of his. Books! Books! Yay for books!

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    1. Yes! Always books. The hardest part is narrowing down what to buy, AND the second hardest part is finding more shelf space! :)

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  9. Our favourite gifts to purchase over the past year has been a Chicken Socks/Klutz book/craft. My daughter's favourites are the sewing kit and paper flowers! I usually stock up on a couple during a Scholastic book order through my daughter's school and keep them in my "tickle chest" for birthday parties!! They are generally reasonable and fun!

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  10. Wal-mart is Evil. I feel in need of a shower if I have to go to Wal-mart. Thanks for the list. I never thought of Etsy, but it's a great idea. We have a wonderful toy shop about 20 minutes from our house so we don't have to do the Toy's R Us gig. Books are our big go to gift.

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  11. One of my favorites is Creative Kidstuff. They are a local store for our family (family-run, based in my city), but my sister has had amazing customer service ordering on-line - and they do ship to Canada! They have really great kids' tester panels where a group of kids (age-specific groups, selected on a first-come basis) and you can see videos of kid and staff reviews on their site. They have a great selection of toys for many ages and interests - my kids are already circling their selections in the gift catalog we just received!

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  12. Love the store 3 little monkeys in Ottawa. It's a family run store with lots of great wooden, and cloth toys, as well as a wonderful craft, and puzzle selection. They have a nice on line store, and the shipping is only what the post office charge's. I have actualy had them refund me (without being asked) some shipping if I was charged too much. Fantastic customer service.

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  13. Lovely list, I'll check them out. I never set foot in a Walmart unless forces to because I am in the boonies and there is no other store for a hundred miles and I have a flat tire.

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