Car culture and kids toys

Like many families, we’ve just had a channukah-induced influx of toys into our house. Recent improvements in storage mean that we actually do have space for these toys, and they have been keeping our kids delightfully busy. We are also blessed with considerate grandparents who remember our space constraints, often giving our kids craft sets that get used up, adding to existing “sets” which saves space, or pooling for one big extra-fun present instead of lots of teeny-tiny ones that make organizing a challenge. We know not all parents are so lucky.

But there was a definite theme to this years gifts, especially for R.




And more cars.

Taken one at a time, all these gifts were perfectly appropriate and both the kids love them. But taken as a whole, we found it a little disconcerting that our stash of pretend motorized vehicles approximately tripled during the span of a week.

So, on a bit of an impulse, feeling compelled to balance things out a tiny bit, we found the one and only bicycle toy set at our local toy store and got one for each kid for the last night of channukah. It’s a playmobil set that includes two kids, a crossing guard, a crosswalk, and a bicycle. Setting aside for a moment that it’s more teeny tiny plastic junk in our lives, that’s our kind of play set. (and now that I’ve looked up the link for this one I found this awesome bike cargo set!)

It was delightful to see how the kids played with these little sets. Immediately the toy-children went on the toy-bikes (with their included helmets) and started having pretend conversations with the toy-crossing-guard about when it was safe to cross the street. H corrected one of the children for weaving her bike on the pretend sidewalk. A dragon found its way into the game, as did a bus* (I’m afraid there was one rather unfortunate bike-bus accident but everyone recovered).

Kids work out all kinds of stuff in play, and hearing their immediate ease and detail in imaginary conversations over this one small toy set, made me realize that a big chunk of their lives was not reflected in the toys we had on hand. We’ve had a toy city bus (courtesy of grandma) in the mix for a while (bus and subway games are very popular around here, and come complete with incomprehensible PA announcements), but our pretend towns were remarkably devoid of walkers and bikers (and our town playmat completely lacks sidewalks or bike lanes). We’ll be on the lookout for more toys along these lines, and probably making more of our own since they are hard to find. The pretend town in our house, of all houses, should certainly have a healthy infrastructure. Do you have any favorites?

* Aunt Cami and Uncle Howie get the prize for finding a public transit toy to add to the mix!

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking, Child-related issues, Links and reviews, Problems and issues, Sustainability and consumerism. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Car culture and kids toys

  1. Casey says:

    This is awesome. We spent most of the afternoon making bikes out of duplos that didn’t have wheels. It was just three pieces that sort of looked like a bike. Riley went with it and made 20 of them, lined them up and said they were at the bike shop. Then the drove to the grocery store to get lots of food. She has two cars that came with that set but set them aside for the “bikes.” It was great, but we definitely need to find a bike set.

  2. Melanie says:

    I got the other set you had a link to for Ryan after a similar realization about our vehicular toys. Finding toy bicycles is HARD. But to be fair to the toy makers, I think it’s harder to make structurally sound toy bicycles than simple toy cars.

    • Dorea says:

      That is definitely true Melanie. These little bikes don’t look like they’ll last forever — I’m guessing Riley’s duplo “bikes” are much sturdier…

  3. I love your commitment to making sure that bikes and public transit are represented in play! I think that, otherwise, kids get the not-so-subtle message that cars and trucks are the things that are “cool” and that driving a real car is something to really look forward to about being a grown-up.

    What do you think about the common obsession about play trains for kids? I can’t decide whether that’s good because it’s public transit or bad because it’s still not a bike. :-)

    • Dorea says:

      Oh, we’re good with the trains — we’d better be given R’s current train obsession. We are eyeing a set of subway cars for his wooden train set though…

  4. Catherine says:

    My daughter survived three years without toy cars, just ikea trains (lots and lots and lots) because I have similar feelings. We just got a few for my 7 month old son because they are just such good toys for older infants / young toddlers – the fairly abstract kid-o variety that I try to pass off as “an interested shaped object with wheels.” (Nobody is buying that.)

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  7. Mamabloguer says:

    As a long time teacher of young kids, I find that, in addition to providing kids with toys that represent the values we want them to take away from playing with them, it is also very important to provide them with toys that represent their own experiences. Doing this validates those experiences, gives them confidence and pride, and an outlet to work through/better understand their personal feelings about those experiences.
    Great post and thanks for the links for the Playmobil bike sets. I wonder if countries like Holland have more bike focused toys. Just a thought.

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  10. Valentine says:

    We had the same issue. We worked with several folks who make wooden toys on etsy to fashion a bike, a trike, and a skateboard a few years ago. It was fairly reasonable and they are incredibly sturdy and are on kid number two with little wear.

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