No matter how much your little one begs for a toy, chances are it'll be forgotten in the corner of their room in a few days or weeks. Toy-sharing subscriptions are hoping to change that. For a monthly fee, companies like ToyLibrary and Green Piñata Toys deliver exciting (educational!) toys right to your doorstep. Once your family has their fun, send the items back and wait for your next box of goodies to arrive.
Here's how it works: Sign up for a monthly plan—options start at $20 or $25—and then comb through digital toy catalogs to pick your favorites or leave it to the pros to curate boxes based on your child's age and stage. Depending on which service you pick, you'll get two to four items in each delivery and can hold on to them for as long as you want. Need some inspiration? Check out this year's Best Toy award winners.
Before you decide to keep that block set forever, keep in mind you won't get another shipment until you return the last one. "I really like that I can send back the toys at my leisure without any pressure or deadlines," says Lena Schewn, business owner and blogger at Holistic Wife Happy Life. "If my son likes a certain item in the box more than others, I can keep that one longer." Don't stress if you realize a piece has gone missing when it's time to return. Most toy-sharing services won't penalize you for normal wear and tear, and some even offer low-fee insurance plans. Plus, if your little one can't bear to part with something, you can easily purchase it at a discounted rate.
The inspiration behind toy-sharing companies: Busy parents often don't have the time to spend hours researching and shopping, says Shiva Kashalkar, founder and CEO of Green Piñata Toys. As a mother of two, her own experiences inspired her to create the company in 2015. She struggled to find high-quality, age-appropriate toys that wouldn't break the bank for her daughter, Aanika, and wondered why there wasn't an option to rent toys instead. "It's the way many millennial parents shop now. We want to access the expensive products without having to spend a ton on them," she explains.
The benefits of toy-sharing
Not only will you save money with these services, but they're also great for families looking to declutter or those living in small spaces. That's what originally led Schwen to try toy-sharing. "I'm a mom of four boys within four years and the first few were truly insane. When we signed up for Green Piñata Toys, we were living in the Washington D.C. area and just didn't have the space for a ton of things," she says. Now she mainly uses the service with her youngest son, Nico, and says it creates a special time for the two of them to sit and play while his brothers are at school.
This at-home play is especially important for children's later academic success according to a study published in the journal Applied Developmental Science. Researchers at New York University followed children from 2,204 families from birth to fifth grade and found that kids with access to toys, books, and games at home, and parents who played with them, were more likely to excel in school.
"Toys that support pretend play like dollhouses or kitchen sets help children understand how to participate in daily activities," explains one of the study authors, Rufan Luo, an assistant psychology professor at Rutgers University-Camden. "More importantly, these materials provide great opportunities for children to engage in and learn from social interactions." It's these social interactions that are key to learning and success. A 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report stresses the important role that play has in developing social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills, and helping kids create a buffer to deal with stress.
Variety is also helpful from a learning perspective. "Having an array of books, toys, and games might encourage parents and children to engage in play and learning activities more often, and further promote developmental outcomes," explains Luo. But every parent knows how often kids get bored with something once its newness wears off. That's why toy-sharing subscriptions are so great—you're able to constantly introduce different toys, without fear of overloading your space or spending a ton.
One question you might be thinking: How can I be sure the toys are really clean?
Kashalkar explains that returned toys are sanitized through a three-step process using soap, water, disinfecting wipes, and diluted vinegar. "I don't hesitate to take a clean toy off the shelf and give it to my four-month-old. It's much cleaner than giving him a new one straight from the packaging or even one from a friend's house!" And once an item looks too beat up or is missing pieces, it's retired from the subscription.
Not sure if you're ready to commit? You may be able to test out the idea of toy-sharing. Similar to how public libraries let you borrow books, toy-lending libraries let you borrow toys. Los Angeles County's Toy Loan Program is the oldest and largest in the country. First founded in 1935, it serves over 35,000 children a year.
"Kids can choose from a variety of toys that spark their creativity and imagination, and also encourage them to go outside and play without the dependency of technology," says Marcia Blachman-Benitez, director of the DPSS Toy Loan Program. Visit USA Toy Library Association to see if there's a location in your area.