The Toy Swap – How to Organize One For the Holidays

Please note – this article was written about a Hanukkah project but certainly applies to Christmas or anytime that involves kids (especially if it’s a toys time).A few years ago, as my children started to discuss what Hanukkah presents they thought they would like, I took a look at all the games and toys that they already had. Now, my kids really aren’t exceptionally spoiled, but somehow we own tons of toys. If you consider birthdays, holidays and visits from their grandparents, who live out of town, and multiply that by 5 kids, you’re talking a lot of new toys every year. How often do we throw out a toy or give one away? Certainly not at the rate they were coming into the house.Toys are often a parent’s fantasies of how some day their children will leave the computer and go back to wholesome playing like we grew up with. To kids, toys are something to hoard. They can “never” get rid of anything. So, toys are collected and collected.With a quick mental sort I found that our toys fell into five categories:1 — Toys our child really likes and plays with often — Keep those, there aren’t too many.2 — Toys our child might play with about once a month — Get rid of them, once a month never happens.3 — Toys our child used to like. Now they just sit on the shelf — Get rid of them, they’re just collecting dust. The next child will never play with his sibling’s hand–me–down toys.4 — Toys we thought our child should play with. Toys that are ducational, creative or the type we had loved as children — Get rid of them, get real!5 — Toys that were almost new — basically the ones grandparents had brought — Get rid of them, but first take a picture to send Grandma.We had to find a way to get rid of some toys before the holiday influx, but how?Then I had a brainstorm. We’ll have a “Toy Swap”. Trade those “dust collecting” toys for ones that might peak the children’s interest. The neighbor’s toys always look better than yours do. And it’s easier to throw out or give away swapped for toys, later when you bore of them. Once I told my kids they were swapping, and they would get new toys in place of old ones, we managed to fill up two big cartons with toys.I got my friend, Shoshana, to work on this project with me and we made it a Synagogue activity for Hanukkah.We distributed fliers to all the parents explaining the idea of the toy swap and the rules. All toys were welcome. The only rule was that the toy had to be in decent condition. No pieces missing. No cars without wheels. No bears without ears. No ripped books…The toys came by the boxfulls — I guess I wasn’t the only parent with too many toys.We marked the boxes so that we’d know who they came from. Then we sorted the toys into four categories putting colored stickers on each toy:Purple — Nice boxed gamesGreen — Big baby toys (we gave that a high rank since people brought brand new baby toys that they had gotten as baby gifts), puzzles, very big toys (pottery wheel, electric trains, racing cars…)Yellow — Simple toys — Stuffed animals, books, discs, CD’s, balls, cars, trucks, dolls…Red — Very small, cheap toys — little cars, action figures — we allowed almost anythingWe had coupons in each of the four colors. As we ranked a toy and put a sticker on it we put a matching colored coupon into that family’s envelope. Shoshana and I basically made up the ranks as we went along. We tried to be fair, but it was really hard. It didn’t really matter. Once someone took that toy out of their house they didn’t really care what its value was.The day of the Toy Swap We got some girls (about 14 years old) to help. We handed out the envelopes with the coupons to each family. Though people had brought cartons filled with toys, they were still surprised at how many coupons their child now had available to use to purchase new toys.We arranged tables around the four corners of the room, each with tablecloths the colors of a coupon. All the toys with purple stickers were put on a purple table in the purple corner…At the purple table (the highest color) you can only buy with a purple coupon. At the green table (the next rank), you can buy with a green coupon or a purple coupon. At the red table (the lowest rank) you can use any color while a red coupon can only be used at the red table. We had signs at each table listing what color you can use.There was no option of combining coupons to add to a higher rank, and no “change” was given if you used a higher color at a lower table. If you didn’t see something you liked at the purple table, you can use your purple coupon at a lower ranked table. A child who wanted a doll (yellow) didn’t care that they were paying for it with a Monopoly game (purple).The swap worked beautifully. We couldn’t believe it. What I think made it work so well was that very few mothers hung around. This may sound silly, but grownups rate the value of something on its monetary value. The kids rated it on its “play value”. A purple coupon (maybe Monopoly) for a bag of marbles (yellow) made a little boy very happy. Sounds like a good swap to me. There were so many toys involved and the kids had hands full of “money”. Everyone was happy (except maybe not the mothers when their kids came home with lots more toys to replace the ones they had just cleared out).We ended the day with a magic show. Then everyone went home to play with all their “new” toys.EpilogueWe did another Toy Swap three years later (this time we did it right before Passover, when people were cleaning out their houses (or spring cleaning)). A few of the toys came with our stickers on them from the previous Toy Swap. Those toys had found a new child to play with them for three years, and now were ready to go home with even another child.