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Dec 182012
 December 18, 2012  Posted by  Family, Kids, Summer Fun With Kids

We teach our kids to share their toys, but toy co-ops and toy libraries take that idea to a whole new level. Toy co-ops form when several families pool their toys and take turns letting the kids play with them. Toy libraries operate on a larger scale, lending out toys just as traditional libraries lend out books and audiovisual materials.

Toy co-ops and libraries provide several benefits. Your wallet is happy that you can take home toys without having to pay for them. Borrowing a toy instead of purchasing it also saves you space and ultimately reduces waste. Rather than buying a toy your child will use for a short while before losing interest, you can give that toy a temporary home before exchanging it for something else. The outgrown toys filling your shelves can be donated to the collective so other families can enjoy them. Finally, toy libraries serve their communities by promoting play as a meaningful part of childhood and by making toys available to all families.

Here’s how you can participate in a toy co-op or toy library:

Look for a toy library in your area. Visit the USA Toy Library Association directory to find out whether you’re lucky enough to have a toy library in your community. If so, don’t just borrow toys. Support the library. Many of these organizations are underfunded and, because of limited marketing capacity, underutilized. Some toy libraries face closure, especially since strict compliance with current Consumer Product Safety standards means replacing older inventory. (The Northwest Denver Toy Library, for example, recently replaced 80% of its inventory. Happily, community support has kept Denver’s toy library open, but time will tell how the new safety standards affect other toy libraries.) Support your toy library by donating toys, volunteering your time and spreading the word far and wide. Even friends without young children may be interested in accessing the toy library on occasion. Think grandparents, family reunion hosts or anyone looking to entertain visiting children.

Start a toy co-op. If there’s no toy library in your area, consider starting a co-op with other families in your community. A co-op allows you to share toys without assuming the administrative responsibilities involved in operating a larger toy library. To start a co-op, you’ll need: toys; a common location or a plan for rotating your inventory; regular hours or another predetermined distribution method; a consistent communication system, such as an email list or Facebook group; a point person to keep the system operating smoothly; and a written agreement detailing all of the above. (For example: What toys will be accepted by the co-op and how will they be obtained? When, where and how will families swap toys? Are new families welcome to join the co-op, and what are the requirements for membership?)

With gift-giving season almost upon us, it’s an ideal time to round up three or four other families and launch a small-scale co-op. If each family purchases just two toys for the co-op, every other family will have access to six to eight toys they don’t have to purchase. Decide in advance how much to spend and which toys each family will buy. Look for toys that span a wide age range and are appropriate for extended indoor play. Consider co-owning items that are too bulky or too noisy to justify permanent space in your home but that your family would enjoy playing with for a few weeks. Avoid toys that are difficult to transport, have many small parts or use lots of batteries.

Here are some ideas:

Share the wealth by starting a toy library. Once you’ve experienced the benefits of toy sharing firsthand, you may be inspired to start a community-wide toy library. The USA Toy Library Association offers a how-to guide to get you started and ongoing support for Association members. Allow several months to plan and organize before the toy library opens. In addition to the logistics involved in starting a co-op, you’ll need to consider funding, staffing and regulatory compliance. Contact agencies that serve families in your area to inquire about partnership possibilities. Most large-scale toy libraries are housed in public libraries, early childhood centers, churches or similar venues. All of them began with someone’s vision. If you have that vision, use the ideas and resources mentioned in this article to make it reality.

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Kim Kankiewicz

Kim Kankiewicz writes fundraising and marketing communications for nonprofit organizations and ghostwrites executive articles and speeches. Her byline has appeared in Brain, Child magazine, The Saint Paul Almanac, MinnPost and Denver’s Westword weekly. Kim is a seasoned re-user, upcycler, and secondhand shopper. Her favorite discount purchase was the wedding dress she found for $25 at Savers, which she wore when she married her equally frugal husband.

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