Do you have a good toy library near you? We've recently discovered our local toy library and it is fantastic.
Our local 'toy and games library' is located within our public library which makes it super accessible (easy to find, central location, easy parking, good opening hours, safe) however, there is a membership fee and a separate borrowing card. We can borrow up to eight toys at once, which we've found is more than enough. Our toy library caters to children from 6 months to 12 years of age. We've found all the toys to be high quality, in good order, and clean - which were concerns for me before joining.
We have so many toys at home what are the benefits of using the toy library? I love that our children can experience lots of different toys and learning materials. It gives us the opportunity to try toys that we wouldn't think of buying and trying more toys than we want to buy or store in our homes. This is important for those who may be on a budget, live in a small home, lack storage or trying to buy less.
The toy library allows children to pick out toys they want to try without using a toy catalog or taking them into a toy store. For children who are not attending daycare or preschool, it may also expose them to toys that they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to use.
Toy libraries can teach children to look after and respect the toys as they have to be returned and makes them familiar with the borrowing and returning process. We count to make sure we have all of the pieces every time we finish using a toy and are extra careful about not losing pieces. It also teaches children there are other ways of using our resources, perhaps it will lead to more out of the box thinking as the children get older.
I love spending time at our library, it's an important community hub. Having the toy library in the local library gives us another excuse to visit and as a bonus, we end up borrowing and reading more books. Young children can learn very early on how to use the library and all of its resources. Perhaps toy libraries can help us address social inequality, making it more affordable for families to access high-quality toys and materials.
From a Montessori perspective, I found that many of the infant materials are plastic (easy to clean) and less suitable for a Montessori home, but for the toddler and preschooler age, there were many toys that we know and already have in our home and most are suitable for a Montessori home.
Borrowing toys especially those that are high quality (less likely to break) can contribute to less waste and more reuse of materials. As you may know, we have a street library outside our home. Buying and selling second hand, using hand-me-downs, and sharing resources with friends and neighbours are other fantastic ways we can participate in the circular economy. I want my children to see and participate in these alternatives.
Our toy library has a good range of ride-on toys, small climbing/balancing toys, puppets, blocks and construction toys, realistic model animals, games and strategic toys - including family and board games and wooden puzzles - many that are realistic and relevant to our everyday life.
The toys in our toy library have been selected by early childhood educators and I can see that there is a focus on educational toys rather than entertaining or passive toys. I don't recall seeing any commercialised or branded toys (with characters). Once returned to the library the toys are quarantined for 48 hours, inspected, and cleaned before being put back on the shelves. Our library also quarantines all returned books for 48 hours. If there are concerns the toys can be further quarantined at home and most of the toys we've borrowed can be easily cleaned before being used. Toys like blocks and puzzles are easy to wipe down.
I love this kangaroo and joey puzzle. It's local, it's realistic and it's beautiful!
These jumbo blocks have been our best find so far! They connect just like lego, they lock together and require a bit of strength for the child to connect them and to pull them apart. Otto likes to make towers, fences, cars, castles, they are wonderful. The blocks are really durable so if you knock them over on carpet they are fine, unlike our large wooden blocks which can dent or even hit the child.
We've enjoyed this Recycling Game which is both a matching and a sorting game.
This game has led to us going through our recycling bin for Otto to analyse what can be recycled. It is a good example of a toy that I would not buy but it has been so useful and has stimulated an interest in a topic.
Our toy library has heaps of different model animals. We currently have on loan some lifelike lizards.
We also liked the Guidecraft Barnyard Activity Boxes.
I hope this inspires you to give your local toy library a go!
Many toy libraries (and libraries in general) in the EU, UK, and US are currently closed but some cities are offering pick-ups in limited locations, it may be worth checking.
I don't know of any Montessori specific toy libraries however in Sydney Guide & Grow offer Montessori rental boxes for the infant stages (I haven't tried them, let me know if you have).