Parenting: Money Well Spent

Every time I clean my house, I think about the objects I purchased that were a waste of money, and those that were worth every penny.  I wish someone had discussed this point with me before I started a home -- there are only a few objects in your child's life worth investing in.  Save the rest of the money for family adventures, your home, donations and essentials.

Here's my short list of valuable items.
  1. Bikes:  Bikes are awesome items.  They foster adventure, exploration, healthy activity and family/friend fun.  When your children are little, bike seats, tag-a-longs and trailers give parents a chance to get out and move at their own pace while children enjoy the ride too.  If you're a novice, start biking on safe trails, then sidewalks and finally advance to the road.  Train your children in bike safety before letting them venture out on their own.  Buy bikes that are the right size and style for your riding adventures.  Bike specialty stores typically sell bikes that will last, while toy stores often sell bikes that are not as good.  I also advise buying a great bike rack as that easily facilitates bike trips and adventures.  (And, please support bike friendly initiatives in your communities.)
  2. Swing Sets:  Most parents obsess about the swing set.  If you live in a suburban or rural area away from a local park, a swing set is a must.  The swing set fosters imagination play and healthy activity.  It's a good spot for socialization and friendship.  A well-made, sturdy swing set will bring your young family hours and hours of fun.
  3. Building Toys:  Building toys develop imagination and mathematical skill.  Make sure that you add blocks and other building toys to your child's toy shelf.  Then make the time to build, play and imagine with them.
  4. Character Toys:  Dolls, stuffed animals and other character toys help children develop their imagination and play out their life events.  You don't need lots and lots of these, 10-20 will due as your children will make and remake the toys' character as they play.
  5. Books:  Every house needs a collection of classic story books.  It's not essential to have lots and lots of books as regular visits to local libraries or online collections will enrich your home library and reading diet.  
  6. Computer/WIFI: Computers are essential today -- children from about third grade on (and perhaps earlier) need regular access to the Internet and computer capabilities.  Technology today is your "questions answered" and curious children deserve that.
  7. Music: Listening to music enhances children's ability to learn.  A regular, diverse opportunity to listen to, and create music will enhance a child's experience of life.
  8. Writing, Arts and Crafts: Paper, pencils, pens, markers, recyclables and other creative materials will allow your child to invent, create and express himself/herself.  
  9. Games:  Games teach children how to get along, follow step-by-step directions/processes and strategize. Favorite family games in our house include Stratego, Chess, Scrabble, Risk, Trouble (for the little ones), Candy Land, Yahtzee and Monopoly.
  10. Sports Toys: Balls, raquets, scooters, nets, hockey sticks, whiffle balls, bats, and frisbees are among the many sports toys that your children will use again and again.  Sports toys foster outdoor play, friendship, collaboration, strategy and physical fitness.
  11. Video Games:  I'm not a video game fan, but my boys use video games to calm down after a busy day at school or camp as well as to socialize with friends.  Video games such as Madden seem to develop their understanding of sports rules, skills and strategy.  I hear their laughter and excitement as they play.  Some worry about video game addiction and violence -- that hasn't been the case in my house, and I think it's because video games are only one part of their entertainment and pleasure.  This is not my area of expertise. 
  12. Learning Experiences:  There are many, many camps, extracurricular and other experiences available to children today.  Finding experiences that match your child's needs and interests is positive.  Word of mouth is usually the best way to discover optimal camps and learning experiences.  If you plan early, scholarships are usually available if needed for the best programs. While it might seem expensive to support your child's involvement in these activities, it's actually a good investment.   What children learn through camps, extracurricular activities and other learning experiences later serves them well when they're looking for their first job, completing school projects and even choosing a college or a career.  Those activities help children know what they like and don't like, what they're good at and challenged by; and the types of environments that they thrive in.  

Cheap, inexpensive, "play without thinking" toys and activities tend to be tossed out or forgotten in only a few months time -- they're a waste of money.  Classic toys and experiences are often the best, though some novelty items spark creativity and excitement and are worth the cost.

What's your short list of essential objects for children and families?  What do you think money well spent is?  This is one parent's point of view for a larger conversation related to positive parenting.  I look forward to your comments.

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