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National Play Day: Pre-loved toys, saving money and helping the planet!
By: Louise King, Baby Bank Network Bristol Volunteer

Louise King, volunteer, in the toy and book room

Today is National Play Day UK and this year’s theme is Playing on a shoestring – making every day an adventure’.  Here at Baby Bank Network Bristol we know just how important play is for young children, and that play doesn’t need to cost the earth.  We asked Louise King, one of our wonderful toy room volunteers and mum of two, to tell us about what play means to her.

I'm sure it's a familiar story to many new parents, but my daughter's first Christmas was well planned. I had scoured local toy shops for some tasteful and handmade wooden toys (by this point I already had a suspicion that loud plastic ones were more to her taste, but that is another story). The beautifully wrapped gifts were torn into and then… she played with the wrapping paper, and the boxes, and the gift bags. The lovely toys sat there all day waiting to be noticed… Needless to say, my second baby's first Christmas presents were all pre-loved!

Lou sorting donations in our toy room

At Baby Bank Network Bristol, I'm one of the volunteers who coordinates the toy room. We have a cosy room filled with all kinds of toys and books that are carefully organised in drawers and on shelves. I love preparing the toys for families and hope that they are as excited to receive them! 

Play is incredibly important for babies and young children. Maria Montessori said that “play is the work of the child”. But why? Very simply put, children are recreating and making sense of the world when they play – even if driving a tractor through a sandpit, or dressing up in their Mum's shoes and an old net curtain. They are also developing their understanding of concepts when they line up toys by size, talk to a doll or carefully fit a puzzle together – early maths and literacy skills which really lay the foundations for their education.

However, play definitely doesn't need to cost much. Last week, whilst in a busy public place, my four year-old very carefully set up a “shop” of pieces of bark and pine cones laid out on a wall (to be fair she had drawn on the bark in biro to…. improve it). Her issue was that only members of her immediate family seemed to want to come to her shop, and she got a bit cross that strangers weren't as interested in her wares! Many of my children's play inspiration has come from the awesome Bluey cartoon, such as turning some chairs into into a taxi, or a washing basket into a hotel check-in desk. A cardboard box holds endless possibilities, as does sand and playdough.

At Baby Bank Network Bristol we provide pre-loved toys and books to young children whose families are experiencing poverty or crisis. Toys and books are kindly donated from local families. Volunteers then carefully check them over, clean and pack them into bundles. Each bundle is chosen specifically for that age group.  For example, a one year-old will receive a shape sorter, teddies, puzzles, a ball, building blocks, a pram toy, a pull-along toy and other similar items. Whereas a newborn will receive comforters, teethers and soft toys. Once packed up the bundles are delivered to the families by our referral partners.  

We simply could not do this without the generous donations that we receive.  Currently our toy room is looking quite bare, so if you have any toys or books for children 0-5 years then please do check our wishlist and book a slot to donate them.

Can you help restock our shelves and draws with toys and books?

Sustainability has become increasingly important to parents over the last few years (there's nothing like looking at a newborn to make you want to improve the state of the planet), and pre-loved toys have definitely helped me through! Charity shops, carboot sales and online are all excellent places to start, as is simply passing toys onto other families, meaning the lifespan of a toy is increased and fewer new toys produced. After all, many toys are very quickly grown out of. 

Our new shop in Sparks Bristol, Broadmead has an excellent selection of pre-loved children’s toys and books, alongside clothes and other items – pop in and take a look! My top tip would be to look out for Christmas gifts all year round – often items in charity shops are brand-new or hardly used. As well as being good for the planet this is also a real money-saver!

I passionately believe that by using and passing on pre-loved toys, and making play opportunities from everyday items, families can help their finances whilst helping the planet.

How can you support

  • Donate toys and books for 0-5 year olds to Baby Bank Network Bristol – see our wishlist and book a delivery slot on our website.
  • Visit our shop in Sparks Bristol to buy your pre-loved children’s toys and books.