Toy Libraries

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Little Borrowers

Did you know there is somewhere you can go where your child can have an unlimited supply of toys and where you can meet other mums?
Yes - your local Toy Library.

We all know what kids are like when it comes to toys. They get so attached to one toy that losing it would prompt an international air sea search and rescue, the next minute that same toy has been forgotten about at the bottom of the toy box.
And to be honest, we mum's don't have an endless cash supply to blow on playthings only for them to be discarded and forgotten when the new 'in thing' your little angel has begged you for has taken over. Only for it to be replaced when yet another new 'in thing' toy comes around.
That is just one reason why joining your local Toy Library is such a good idea.
There are more than 1000 toy libraries throughout the UK, each stocking a huge range of toys suitable for newborns to five-year-olds, from bath toys and musical instruments to activity centres and ride-on toys.
'Toys are expensive, so joining one of our libraries can save you a lot of money,' explains Helen Goodman, chief executive of the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries (NATLL). 'By borrowing toys, your child can play with a much wider variety - ones that are right for his age and his interests.'

How it works

Toy libraries lend toys to children, in much the same way as normal libraries lend books. They're mainly based in community centres, village halls, church halls and children's centres, although some are mobile and make regular visits to towns and villages. About half are affiliated to local authorities and staffed by paid professionals, but others are run by volunteers - mostly mums themselves.
Choosing items from your local toy library gives you a great chance to try out expensive toys that you may not be able to afford, unusual playthings that are hard to find in the shops, or large toys that you haven't got room to store permanently.
Toy libraries are also useful to road-test the latest object of your little one's desires to make sure he likes it before you splash out. You can also usually have a trial play with the toys before you decide to borrow them.
'Toy libraries have relaxed, informal play sessions so you and your child can try the toys out first,' says Helen.
No mum wants to risk borrowing a potentially dangerous toy (or one covered in drool) so toy libraries make sure everything on the shelves is in good condition.
'We only buy toys that meet British safety standards, and everything is washed between uses - that's why we need so many volunteers!' says Helen. 'The libraries also label loose parts carefully, because there's nothing more annoying than getting home and realising there's a piece missing.'
Luckily, they're also tolerant if your little darling mauls or mislays one of their toys.
'Toys don't have an infinite life-span, so the libraries have insurance to cover loss and breakage,' Helen adds.
So, does all this come for free? Not quite - but almost.
'Some toy libraries offer free membership, but most make a small charge, usually only around £2,' says Helen. 'Most libraries also charge for each toy you borrow, but just 50p or so.'
You can usually borrow the toy for two weeks to a month and, if your child becomes besotted, you can renew the loan.

Great for your baby
It goes without saying that the biggest benefit of joining a toy library is that your child gets an unlimited supply of exciting toys - but that's not all. 'Play is one of the most important things a child can learn,' says Helen. 'It teaches them so many different skills.' Participating in play sessions will give your child a boost by getting him used to other children and helping him become more sociable, not to mention teaching him all about sharing. In fact, joining a toy library might even make your baby brainier. 'We've studied the language development of children who use toy libraries and found measurable improvements because they're being stimulated by the company of other adults and children.' Helen explains. 'The more attention children have, the better.'

Great for you, too
Joining a toy library isn't just about your baby: it can also be a great way to meet other mums while your kids are kept occupied by all the toys on offer. 'The play sessions are very sociable,' Helen says. 'In fact, some toy libraries run special group sessions, for example for teenage mums or single parents. It's very important to get to know local mums in similar situations.' When you go to a play session, you'll also pick up advice from the staff on how to play and communicate with your child - invaluable if inventing ways to amuse your baby doesn't come naturally. Some toy libraries even offer home visits to make sure you're coping with your baby's demands and lend must-have safety kit like stair-gates and cupboard locks. And if you're confused about money or your baby's health, your toy library might just prove to be the complete one-stop shop. 'Some library projects are linked to the local health authority and the health visitor comes to sessions to give advice,' says Helen. 'Others can give you information about benefits.' Not all libraries have all of these services, so give your local branch a call to see what's on.

Mums have Their Say
'Visiting the toy library means Abi can choose her own toys. I'm often surprised by the things she picks - I wouldn't have thought to buy them for her. She learns how to do things like jigsaw puzzles very quickly and then gets bored with them, so borrowing them and returning them after a fortnight solves the problem.'
Amanda Bowens, 33, mum to Abi, two
'We love the toy library because Adam gets to play with as many toys as he can get his hands on and I don't have to worry about where to keep them. We've borrowed lots of toys that I could never have afforded, let alone found room for in our flat.'
Ellen Lockwood, 26, mum to Adam, 20 months
Help for you

To find your nearest toy library, contact the NATLL on 020 7255 4600 (0131 664 2746 if you're in Scotland, or 01874 622097 in Wales) or fill in the enquiry form at And check the opening hours - as they differ from library to library

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