Children and Minimalism – My top 10 fav super versatile toys

Alright, to all the parents out there, I know you are going to love this post. Whether you are are looking to simplify the toys in the house or you just need help figuring out what toys are REALLY worth spending money on. This post will hopefully help.

Because let’s be honest, we have all been there as parents, when you look into your child’s play bins, and all you can see is endless amounts of plastic junk toys that have become one, big, mess.


This post comes from more than just being a minimalist mom but also from many years of experience working with young children. I am bringing you MY top 10 toys according to the experts at AKIDEMY preschool. If you live in the Calgary area you may be familiar with our preschool.

AKIDEMY is founded on the belief that children have an innate desire to explore, play and learn, and are naturally competent and capable learners. Akidemy believes that intentional play with the use of loose parts and the right equipment will help children to develop socially, emotionally and cognitively. You can learn more about this unique program by visiting here:  AKIDEMY  or visiting the AKIDEMY FACEBOOK PAGE

These toys will guarantee lots of exploration, curiosity and wonder time for your children. They are easy to store, easy to maintain and will provide lots of opportunity for rich play. These toys are great for young children (under proper supervision) and I will even go as far to say that you could use these toys for older children ages 8-10.

I swear that if you even had just these 10 things in your house you could get SO MUCH PLAYTIME out of this simple inexpensive list. Let’s look at the list first and then I will show you how you can set these items up for endless ways to play, create, imagine and learn.

So let’s get started!

  1. A basket of people and animals. You could easily pick up a small rattan basket and fill it with a handful of little wood people and/or animals. (land animals, dinosaurs, water animals etc.)
  2. A small rattan basket of cars and trucks (firetrucks, police cars, roller, digger, dump truck, garbage trucks)
  3. A storage container or Tupperware to store Kinetic Sand
  4. A storage container of Lego or Duplo (depending on the age)
  5. A quality set of wood building blocks
  6. Play-dough and cookie cutters and not the store-bought kind. You can make a no-cook play-dough at home in under 4 minutes. Make a batch and store in a container in the fridge for up to a month! The best ever recipe is here: BEST EVER NO COOK PLAY DOUGH
  7. A container full of colorful Gems or rocks (you can find these at Micheals)
  8. Craft supplies basics– pad of construction paper, glue stick, Elmer’s glue, pair blunt tip scissors and a pack of fine tip markers.
  9. A set of play food with cutlery and dishes
  10. A palette of watercolor paints and some different size brushes (I love the Ikea ones!)


Whether your child is 3 or 8 the set up would be similar when prepping a play activity for your child. My 9-year-old will still jump in on the play with his younger brother. Of course, he has different interests so this is something he will outgrow but the above toys and equipment are so open-ended that it allows children of all ages to engage with the materials in meaningful and creative ways.

I would highly recommend buying your child a tray to work on. This will help you set up, create boundaries for materials. (so it doesn’t end up all over the floor)

You could combine equipment to set up an invitation to play; as we like to refer to it at AKIDEMY. Here is a list of some play ideas that will take five minutes to set up and 5 minutes to clean up but will provide lots of quality play time.

  • Set up a tray with kinetic sand and trucks. Extend this play next time by adding gems and rocks.
  • Set up a tray with play-dough and cookie cutters. Extend this by adding a small container and a spoon.
  • Set up a tray and place a few sheets of white paper, your watercolor palette, a cup with just a little water and a paintbrush.
  • Set up the kinetic sand with the animals and add gems or rocks for some fun dramatic play!
  • On the floor set up, the pretend food with dishes and cutlery. Extend this by adding a recipe book, a pad, and pen (so they can take your order!)
  • Set up your tray with your craft supplies. Allowing your child to explore with glue and scissors (effective supervision would be needed for younger children handling these materials)
  • set up the lego bin on the table and place your child’s tray there, put some pieces on the tray to invite them to come build and explore.
  • Set up the wood blocks on the floor. To extend block play you can add the people, cars, or animals!
  • Set up the play-doh with a pair of blunt or plastic scissors (Crayola make a great starter pair of plastic scissors) Allow your child to explore cutting play-dough. This is a great way to practice scissor skills at home. To extend this add gems and rocks.
  • Set the plates and cutlery with the playdoh to create their own food ideas! you could extend this play by adding household items like a cupcake tray, ladle, a pot, etc.

you can also change the sensory products (sand and play-dough) and use things like

  • lentils
  • water beads
  • water
  • water and soap
  • rice
  • dry beans
  • shaving cream

just add your cars, your people, utensils…whatever! I can guarantee your little ones will have lots of fun!

till the next post,


A Little Less Do, A Little More Play

When was the last time you played? And I am not referring to playing with your child in this case. I mean, when was the last time that YOU played? Think of something you did as a child that you loved so much. Listening and dancing to music. Lacing up your skates and jumping on the ice. Pulling out your paints and a canvas. Dusting off the old guitar and strumming some tunes. Picked up a book and fulfilled your desire to just find time to READ!

Having fun.

We put so much emphasis on the importance of work. We dedicate so much of our time to focusing on clocking in and clocking out. The shocking reality is that most people find a job they can tolerate and count down their days to retirement. (Steve Siebold, Huff Post, 2013).

“A recent poll found that 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs. Of the 100 million people who hold jobs in America, the survey found that 30 million are actively engaged, 50 million are not engaged and 20 million are actively disengaged.” Steven Siebold, Huffington Post,  2013.

Most people promise themselves they will have fun. Once they retire. However, the reality is that most people are so depressed, worn out, worked thin and fed up. That following retirement, IF THEY RETIRE, they have no more passion left.

AND WAIT….Due to our life of consumption, our desire to buy more and have more. Most people can’t even retire when they want to. The new retirement age they say is actually 70. We are wasting money on things we don’t need. Living in homes or paying rent we can’t afford. We are spending without saving and we are stressed as…..

you get the point.

“The vast majority of these Canadians retiring without an employer pension plan have totally inadequate retirement savings,” said the report, which was authored by pension consultant Richard Shillington. Among all Canadians ages 55 to 64 without pensions, half have only enough savings to last for one year.”  Shawn Maccarthy, The globe and mail, 2016. 

I get that not everyone can do what they are passionate about. I refused to just be content in my job. I have always been this way. I always felt that if I truly did what I loved, that the rest would come. I don’t think I am an anomaly. My happiness isn’t based on luck. I am not lucky. I don’t even work hard. Because what I do, I don’t consider work. I do what I love because I find value in it for myself and for others around me. Needless to add….my work is focused around play! My husband would say the same for his work. We both bring home a family income that we have budgeted to include saving for short-term emergencies, long-term living, and play.

Miss Dina. I am lucky to co-own a preschool with my best friend. I LOVE WHAT I DO.

This brings me back to PLAY MORE. Play makes us happy.  It is critical that we take the time, find the time, to do what we enjoy doing. If we graduate from school or college, get a job doing what we don’t necessarily love because we have been conditioned and raised to believe that it’s important to make money, we lose ourselves. Unless we take the time to carve out time to play. Revisit our passions. We need to make the time to do the things that bring us joy, NOW. Why wait till you retire to travel, take up painting, learn a new language, take up dancing lessons?

Part of the draw of moving towards a more simple and minimalist lifestyle is the ability to free up more time. “Less time wasting time” is my motto. Stuff ways us down. We need to clean it. maintain it. organize it. More stuff just wastes my time. It isn’t just the physical stuff either. There is also the relationships stuff. Clearing out the relationships clutter. The relationships that require too much effort; the superficial relationships, the “beneficial” relationships, the emotional suck up my energy kind of relationships. Clearing those out, freeing up more of my time was the best decision ever! Now I make time for quality relationships. meaningful friendships, that hold value in my life. I engage in play with those friendships. We go to shows, concerts, movies, for a run, etc…

My children’s schedules also took up a significant chunk of all of our free time. It was so important for us to really reflect on what sort of value all these extracurricular, super competitive activities were imposing on our family. Not only mentally but financially too. Was it worth it? and at what cost? I wanted my children to do and learn things that they loved and enjoyed. Sure swimming was important (my mom drilled that into my head) but was hockey, skating, soccer, music, guitar lessons, taekwondo, skiing, and basketball all a must do?

We had the boys really think about and choose only one extracurricular for fall/winter and another for spring/summer that they really enjoyed learning and loved doing. In addition to this choice, they can do swimming lessons in the spring (my mom insisted).

By simplifying our lives, we have had more time with the kids, more time to ourselves and more time to play.

This week, I headed over to the arena and went for a skate while my son had his own hockey thing going on (I love to skate). I also got tickets to a concert and went out with one of my best friends to dance and sing the night away. My husband and I headed out for a leisurely run together and had some time to catch up. I took the boys to the library and took out some books for myself because I promised to follow through on a promise I made to myself to read more before bed and leave the electronics out of the bedroom. I loved to read, let me rephrase that, I LOVE TO READ and yet I always told people that since having kids I have had a hard time finding time to crack a book. That wasn’t the truth though. I did have time. By minimizing my screen time to certain times of the day…I suddenly realized I had time to read. Actually, I also had time to pay more attention.

Kings of Leon Concert, Oct 14, 2017

What do you remember doing as a child that brought you so much joy? when was the last time you really played? I have some pretty amazing people in my life that have taught me this value. I respect them so much; artists, singers, band members, hockey players….that despite having grown up, still find time to do what they love. Play. This post is for you guys.

Till the next post,






The boys had to make some tough decisions this past couple of weeks prior to moving into our tiny condo. Their stuff wasn’t going to fit into 1000 square feet. They were going from having their own rooms to the three boys having to share 1 bedroom!

So the deal was, they had to part with at least 70% of their stuff in order to make this space functional. They had to decide which toys or equipment really mattered to them. They needed to really reflect on the way they wanted to spend their time.

Spending time with family down by the river

In order to help them make decisions on what to give up, we had some good conversations about what they enjoyed doing during their down time (ie when they are not in school or at an activity). They consistently gave us similar answers. They wanted to spend more time doing things with mom and dad. They wanted our time and not their stuff. They also wanted to have more play dates or have time with friends. Bottom line…they wanted to interact with friends, family and the world around them.

Bikes and scooter time

They wanted to spend more time going to the park, going hiking, splashing in the river, biking and so much more. Not one answer seemed to include a toy or gadget.

My three boys

I wrote down their responses. I shared them back a few days later. When I pointed out how they didn’t really need all the toys they had, it was much easier to donate the majority of their stuff. The morning of the purge we discussed how we were going to donate this stuff they were willing to part with.I explained how we were going to give their toys away to families who weren’t able to afford to buy toys. My boys became excited at the thought of helping other children and families out. What an amazing life lesson! We decided we would keep a handful of fun board games and family games. Lego seemed to be an important one to keep around, a set of blocks, a rock collection, a few stuffed animals and a small bin of cars, dinos, farm animals and people. That was it.

A couple weeks have passed and the boys have been actually playing with the toys they kept! I found before this, there was an overwhelming amount of toys that weren’t organized and the kids didn’t ever seem interested in playing.

Less is more! and this is the perfect example. Even my 15-year-old has sat with his younger brothers and built some cool things with the now organized lego set.


By listening to what my kids really wanted, we have grown. We have spent more time outdoors. We have spent more time riding our bikes and scooters. We have taken more day trips and played more board games.  I didn’t think it would be possible to get closer…I was wrong. I thought I knew everything about my kids…but by being more present (which isn’t always easy being a mom of three, a business owner and all the other things that life presents)  I am surprised at the small things I have been missing. It’s not easy…but by simplifying our life, I have been given the gift of more time, less stress and the ability to use that time more effectively, building relationships and creating memories.

till the next post,