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!