Friday, January 4, 2013

Toys and Other Amusements Aboard

Here’s a topic of interest people considering moving aboard with their kids or starting a family might think about: space and toys. Though it hasn’t always been the case for me, I have become somewhat of a minimalist. I’ve been known to pack one duffle bag for what became two years in Europe, a mini backpack and shoulder bag for two weeks in Italy, and so on. When I enter houses where kids live, my eyes widen with amazement with not just how many toys the kids have, but also with how, in a house with many, many rooms, the toys are allowed in all rooms of the house. It’s not a judgment, friends, it’s just different to me, and I am clearly in the minority.

If you’re thinking of living on a boat with kids, you might want to join my minority, as well. For one thing, it’s an absolute hazard to have legos lurking near the bottom of a dark companionway. Hard items not stowed properly under sail will themselves wind up sailing about the cabin. And when your dining seating doubles as your living seating (and possibly someone’s berth), you’ll end up having to shift those pesky plastic items around, anyway.

But the children….Yes, children need toys, and not just because they are fun. If you get the right ones, they can be great for their development, and they can teach how to play alone or in small groups (ie, give Mommy and Daddy a break). Toys without 100 pieces are great while underway and not busy learning about sailing, nature, or playing games such as 20 Questions or I-Spy. Once in a while I’ll read to the kids on passage, but I tend towards motion-sickness when reading and moving, so I usually save this for time at an anchorage.
So, yes, on a day to day basis, toys are an essential part of life, especially for small kids (ours are currently 3 and 5), so how does one safely manage it? Every family is different. Some go for electronic games and their kids have their own mini dvd players. Personally, I think that just about anything in moderation is OK-- it’s just a matter of what you feel moderation is. For us, we sometimes let the kids watch a (carefully chosen) dvd when the batteries are topped off and we need peace to have adult conversation or have both hands on a boat project. It’s not every day, so I don’t feel too bad about it. When they are engaged in stimulating activity, I’ve noticed that they don’t miss tv or videos for a second. iPads and whatnot are more or less in the same category to me because it’s all screen time, though I feel less guilty about one of them playing a learn-to-read game on my phone for ten minutes than I do having them watch some form of mindless entertainment. It’s all what parents feel comfortable with, and I think the key is to be deliberate in what you allow in or not.

Where we used to store canned goods and canvas under the dining area seats, we now have two compartments dedicated to the kids’ active amusement. Just today, while looking for something in the “toy bin,” I noticed that many of the items are puzzles. Our older daughter loves them, and the younger one is starting to like them and be able to do more of them, so we keep them pretty well stocked. In there are also Polly Pockets (little dolls with rubber clothing—just got one that has a snorkel , mask, and fins), a small castle, foam letter and number puzzles (takes the place of magnetic letters—though I do have a nice board that is chalk/magnetic on one side and dry erase on the other).  A small domino and checkers set are in there, as are the plastic dinosaur and elephant.  Next to this under-seat compartment is the “craft bin.” Here, I keep paints, rubber stamps, special paper, sticker books, extra markers and crayons, the chalk board, play dough, and craft or project items such as this jewelry making kit someone just gave us, paper bag hand puppet materials, and so on. In an ideal world, they would be comfortable lifting the seat cushions, moving the seat board, and digging in there for what they need. I keep prime items on top for when they get the urge, but I usually end up digging out what they are going to use, myself. The upside to that is this: “OK, I’ll be happy to get the castle out. Hand me the case with the Polly Pockets in it, please, and I’ll put it away when I get out the castle.” This way, only one toy set per child is out at a time, and it’s not as hard to monitor. It also helps kids focus on what they chose.

What gets tough is the volume of toy, especially around holidays. All I can say is pick wisely. Even though Grandma will likely ignore everything on your “suggested toys” list, providing something like that might help get her into the mindset of looking for small items that pack a punch. I was in a great preschool group where the parents got together once a week to discuss child development. Before the holidays, we all shared some of our favorite toys, so I got a lot of good ideas there. For example, big Lego sets might not be practical onboard, but Magnetiles might fulfill a similar need and take up less space. Similarly, we recent got a Lego/book set that fits in a large freezer bag and has 17 pieces that make 4 or 5 toys. Whenever we get a new puzzle or game that’s in a cardboard box, we replace the box with a ziplock bag. If necessary, I’ll cut out the cover or box’s picture and keep it in the baggie.

Books are also a big part of our life aboard. Our shelves were once stocked with all of our favorite grown-up books on boat maintenance, great novels to read one day, bird guides, and so on. We have pared down our own book collection, though, and tried to move to an e-reader for current books. Now, we keep a lot of children’s books on shelves where they can reach them themselves. I recently revamped the big shelf under the companionway steps also to feature a few dozen of our favorite books as well as their beginning reading book collection. They stay in place well with one bungie around them. I just have to be vigilant about closing the hatch when rain comes through—don’t want to soak the books! So far, this is working out well. Magazines and activity-oriented books such as Highlights and math workbooks are kept in a tote bag hanging on the small window handle in our older daughter’s room. They could be more accessible, so I’m going to have the think about that one. Hanging nearby is the doctor coat and “doctor supplies” (toy stethoscope and whatnot). They have a great time fixing the occasional boo-boo.  

Lately, we’re into card games, so we keep them, along with some crayons, in a small rack sort of thing under the magazine rack. The magazine rack has recently been transformed into the coloring book rack since our five year-old could color all day. The kids can pick these out themselves, easily. I realize it’s a fine line to walk: you want them to be able to pick things out themselves, but you don’t want total chaos, either. But hey, if your child has ever gone to school, they aren’t allowed to just pull things off of shelves and not clean up when they’re done, right? Home can be the same way, and on a boat it’s a total necessity. 

There are other ways to let them feel control over their environment. When we established their berths, we had them help put up stickers. Removable decals are a good option so that you can change as their interests change and not ruin your walls. We even had a purple painting session last year with our older one’s room, though I have to say it didn’t stick so well on the walls. 

So my best advice is to try to find as many ways as you can to both contain the chaos while at the same time allow the kids to have free access to stimulating toys and activity supplies. Please leave your comments if you have other ideas for good compact toys or how to store them!

No comments:

Post a Comment