Yesterday we visited a Tunisian toy store. The little store was packed to bursting with a delightfully eclectic selection of toys, books, and stuffed animals. The owner told us that he gets a lot of hand-me-downs from the many tourists who visit Hammamet. He had games and books in Arabic, French, Italian, German and English. Our best find was an adorable little secondhand Haba game with tiny wooden wheelbarrows and farm animals.
I have what might be excessively particular tastes when it comes to toys. When we lived in the United States, I carefully sought out playthings that encouraged open-ended play, like blocks, balls, scarves, and stuffed animals. I also went through the toy baskets periodically to eliminate the toys that featured cartoon characters and battery-powered noise, which we somehow always seemed to accumulate when I wasn’t looking.
Choosing toys to take with us across the Atlantic Ocean, though, posed some new challenges. Since we were moving to Florence with only suitcases, everything had to be small and light. There was no way our wooden kitchen with miniature Ikea dishes was coming, and we couldn’t bring the tricycles either. We also needed to bring only toys the children would play with all the time in different ways. Luckily, most of our toys already fit that description. I must have packed fairly well, since most of the toys I originally brought have traveled with us not only to Florence, but also to Ireland, back to Italy, and now to Tunisia.
Here are our top three well-traveled toys:
The stick horses.
These we’ve had since the children were each two years old, so I already knew they were sturdy and well-loved. It’s a bit of a hassle to take off the heads every time we move so that they will fit in the suitcases, but in the end we all agree that it’s worth it.
The play silks.
I read about these when I was investigating the Waldorf method of homeschooling (thence also the little kitchen now resting peacefully in our storage unit). They are just square pieces of colored silk hemmed around the edges, but what they can become! Ours have served as everything from capes, cloaks and dresses to dog leashes to swords to roofs and walls of play houses. Even Tony gets in on the action every once in a while. One of his best moments ever was as a pink-and-purple wise man in our church Christmas pageant (aka comedy of errors).
The silks are about as open-ended as open-ended gets. They are also feather-light and pack down to nothing. A perfect travel companion.
The British Airways backpacks.
We got these on our first trip to Italy three years ago, I think. They were just little free backpacks that the airline gave the children, with crayons and coloring books and stickers inside (you know, to keep them occupied on the eight-hour flight). Since then, every time we’re traveling they want to wear them. And often when we’re not traveling. We especially like to take them to the park. They’re good for packing individual snacks (so you don’t have to stop playing to eat), rocks, leaves, feathers, and other goodies collected at the park, and that toy car, ball, measuring tape, and special shell from the beach that Raj just can’t leave home without but won’t fit in his pocket.
And a special honorable mention to the bicycle helmets.
We’ve lugged them around with us to every single house, planning to get bicycles sometime. We have yet to acquire the bicycles, but that hasn’t stopped the children from wearing those helmets all the time, mostly on the days when they are medieval knights or Nephite soldiers.
Someday, we hope to settle down and get our own house, and maybe our own horses too. But until then, you’ll find us building a play-silk house under the coffee table and riding our stick horses. And in the meantime, I’m always on the lookout for great new travel-friendly toys, so if your family has favorites, let me know what they are.