First, I want to say that we are always grateful for everything E and V receive. The fact that others think of our children and choose to purchase or create materials for them means the world to us. For many family and friends, gift giving is their love language. That being said, I am the protector of my children and it is my responsibility to make sure their environment is safe for them physically, emotionally, and developmentally.
Paraphrasing Marie Kondo, the gift-giver receives joy in the act of giving and I don’t need to keep items out of guilt. Remember, we’re responsible for our child’s environment. What enters or leaves, goes through us and our children depend on us to provide them with the materials they need. It’s easier to go through the items they receive, purging those that won’t benefit them, when looking at is as a responsibility to our children’s development.
How I treat gifted items that don’t fit the Montessori method depends on a few things–is it handmade, will they be able to enjoy it later, or can it be modified? We currently don’t read fantasy books or books with unrealistic animals, so if we receive one, we save it until they are older (around 6 years-old) and can truly understand the real from the make believe. *We love the art work of Eric Carle and in one of his books is a purple cat. When we come across it I ask, “Are cats purple?” then laugh, “No, cats aren’t purple, that’s so silly.”–so there’s that. This also goes for famous art pieces we enjoy that aren’t necessary realistic.*
There’s something extra special about handmade items. Some may see them as a “cheap” gift, but we know how much work and love goes into such treasures. There are a few things the girls have received from an Auntie that I have placed in their room, on the shelf that holds their monitors where they won’t be influencing the girls. As they get older, they will be there for them. In the meantime, I’m reminded of the love my dear friend has for my children.
-Can I make an item Montessori-friendly? I do this a lot (example), even for items I have purchased for E and V. They received puzzles from my cousins, but the background is rather busy, so I asked my cousin if it would be okay if I sanded it down to the wood (we really love natural wood around here) and I explained why. She was completely fine with it. When I showed her the modification version later, she loved it and completely understood, even more, what I meant by “busy” and how it was better for the girls now.
-Battery operated toys. Are they Montessori-friendly without the batteries? If so, I just leave them out. If they aren’t, we honour the gift-giver by allowing that toy to bring joy to someone else. We donate it to the children’s hospital. They need loud, obnoxious toys to help children who need treatments. In Montessori, we prefer the method of redirecting over distracting (more about that here). But when a child is fighting an illness and needs uncomfortable treatments, distractions are often a necessity. What a blessing that toy becomes!
-If it’s an items that they will just outgrow and I can’t make it fit the philosophy we follow–which we follow because we truly believe it is best for our family–then we donate it. If the children’s hospital does’t want it, like if it’s not plastic, there’s a shelter we donate it to. We don’t sell anything as we wish to pass the love and kindness from the gift-giver on. Although selling, or returning, the item and using the profits to purchase something that would truly benefit your child is an option too.
We ALWAYS write thank-you notes because we are always grateful. We are also honest. If It’s a material that won’t find their way to the shelf, I thank them for their thoughtfulness, but won’t go on about how the girls will enjoy playing with it. And thank-you notes are not a time to teach but to be appreciative. There are times I’m asked about a specific item and I explain that we rotate their toys and that it’s currently not out–because, honestly, it’s not.
When asked for gift ideas, provide honest ones that fall in different price ranges and can be found from different sources. I’d hate to have only $100 Grimm’s sets on a list when someone was only looking to spend $10. I know people who refuse to support Amazon, so I provide an Etsy list from businesses that have been vetted–supporting shops that actually make their items opposed to purchasing from someone who just buys in bulk to resell. I also know people who don’t buy online, so I make sure products from Target or local stores are on the list, too. This may be too late for this holiday season, but a great reminded for birthdays and the next gift-giving holiday (which seems like them all, haha). I used to be a, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll like whatever you gift them,” kind of person, but have come to realize they people ask for a reason and I need to respect that. So I keep ongoing Amazon and Etsy lists (which I even purchase from) for a quick share when asked.
When the girls open items, we don’t yank them away if they aren’t ideal. Usually, if they are opening gifts, there are others to be opened. So I wait a moment and then move on to the next one. If they play with something for a bit, no harm, it won’t find a place on their shelves.
And that’s a generalized look at how we handle gifts that aren’t a good fit for our children.
Do you have an alternative way to handle gifts like these? Please share, I’d love to hear them!