In an era in which thousands of action figures are clearly manufactured just for grown-ups, adults film loving tributes to their toy collections, thousands of adults get gussied up in their finest superhero duds for comic and anime conventions, and Lego Master Builder is a real paid job, who could imagine that playtime was just for kids? As geek culture continues to infiltrate the mainstream, the idea that toys are just for little kids is becoming increasingly outdated.
By the time kids hit middle school, though, the pressure to be more “grown-up,” largely coming from their peers, may lead them to start ditching their American Girl dolls and Nerf guns, even if they don’t feel ready yet. Kids are leaving behind traditional toys like dolls and toy cars earlier than ever: a 2013 Daily Mail article claimed that kids start preferring gadgets to toys as early as age 7. Kids start hearing that toys are “babyish” from their friends, and bit by bit, the toys are abandoned.
The end result can be a scenario like this:
“If our oldest DS (who turns 8 tomorrow) isn’t playing a video game, playing on the computer, or watching TV, he is laying around complaining about how bored he is. He really doesn’t have any hobbies other than video games. He hates playing outside by himself… Unfortunately, he doesn’t enjoy reading, either, despite my encouraging him to read often. So tell me… what do your older kids do inside the house?”
Along with keeping kids busy and out of your hair, playtime continues to be important for children’s emotional and physical health right up through adulthood, so it’s a good idea to encourage them to hang onto their toys even if their peers think they’re uncool. I love this idea from a Mamapedia commenter, in response to a question about a girl feeling pressured to let go of her doll collection:
“Since all the girls do play with their toys still, could you talk to the other mothers about having a big “toy” party so they all admit they still play with toys and can get over this?… Maybe a mom with a basement could tell her daughter “let’s invite everyone over to play with your stuff one more time and have them bring any toys they may still happen to have lying around…Then maybe when they’re all there, get a conversation started about how maybe every once in awhile it’s fun to play with this stuff. Maybe get one girl to admit she does and then they’ll all relax and admit they do too.”
There are also plenty of categories of toys that are more appealing to tweens and early teens: as Megan Galko at Fat Brain Toys notes, “Children this age are looking for items that you can build or grow or are just in general more tactile. They are looking for toys that not only do you put them together but they do something once you finish assembling them.”
So at this point in their development, your kid may find it compelling to customize their own LEGO or Hexbug robot, or weave cloth to make accessories they can actually wear with the LoopDeLoom. Many kids will enjoy craft kits that they can use with their friends, and make bracelets or charms to show off, wear, and share. If your kid loves Star Wars, there are ample craft kits and LEGO sets that will give them new and creative ways to interact with favorite characters. Or, a junior inventor will get a kick out of the Gotcha Gadgets set or the Makey Makey Invention Kit (and learn a whole lot about electronics on their way).
Last year I called a gentleman who was in his late eighties. He had been supporting the charity for many, many years and in fact had bought over thirty of our teddy-bears. So I asked whether he had given the toys away to family and friends as gifts, and he laughed.
“Bugger off,” he said, “they’re MY teddies. You might think I’m a mad old codger, but nobody gets their hands on my bears until I’m six-foot under.”