Alexis Ralphs

100 Toys Talks To… Alexis Ralphs

Tell us about your family

I’m married and live in London with my wife and four children aged 7, 6, 4 & 2.

I run One Hundred Toys from home and, like most families, we are engaged in the constant juggling of work and childcare. We have a lot of early starts.

What are the three words that define your parenting style?

Tired. Grumpy. Impatient. Fun. Imaginative. Engaged

What is your child’s current favourite toy?

No. 1 son is happy with anything that isn’t from One Hundred Toys. The other day he said: ‘Daddy, I want you to buy me a toy and I want it to be plastic.’

No. 2 son is the resident scientist, always experimenting. While he often has a toy in hand his intention is to investigate. What if I drop it? Drive it through water or mud? Roll it down a slope? If he didn’t have a car, he’d be equally happy with a stone or conker.

No. 1 daughter likes soft toys – a Maileg mouse and Happy Horse lamb are current favourites. Or she’ll find a quiet corner to ‘read’ in. But, mostly, she enjoys playing alongside the boys, even if that means being the baddie in their game. They are her best toys.

What is your favourite toy of all time?

The teacher in me wants to say wooden blocks – they are so versatile; the ultimate open-ended toy. But I didn’t have them as a child, I had LEGO and I loved it. Either way it’s blocks. I think I love LEGO more though, because it comes with figures and you can create small worlds with them. I always loved construction but there had to be an element of imagination and storytelling to it.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Being in the greenhouse with my grandfather, tending to the plants. I loved the smell of the tomatoes on the vine and the warmth inside the greenhouse. You get this sense of prolific growth with a greenhouse; things come on so much more quickly than outside in nature, so it’s exciting for a child to see.

What have you found most surprising about your children and about being a parent?

I’m not as good at parenting as I thought I’d be. They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes. Being so busy (and sleep-deprived) means I don’t get time to do all the activities with my children that I always imagined I would. That’s kind of why One Hundred Toys exists – we wanted to provide children with the toys that will ask the right questions when you haven’t got the time to.

Do you have any tips for other parents? About toys, learning or anything else.

If you’ve got the time, your children don’t need any toys at all – they just need an engaged adult and an interesting environment. If you do buy toys keep them simple and open-ended – don’t buy one-trick ponies that leave no scope for the imagination and get tossed aside after five minutes.

Let children explore and make their own mistakes. Set them challenges and allow them to fail. They will develop the resilience they’ll need in later life.

Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Many of our expectations of our children come from mistaken recollections of our own childhoods. We may remember being able to read fluently at four and wonder why our child can’t. By all means have high expectations of your child (if that’s important to you), but remember that they are still young. They may just be tired or hungry or feeling unloved because there is a new baby. Give them space and take a gentle approach. Sometimes you have to say, “I am the adult and I know best”, but it should be a last resort.

And finally, anything else you wish to add?

The best thing you can do for your child – perhaps even better than leaving them to run free in a Rousseauian idyll – is to ask good questions.

  • Why did you do that?
  • What would happen if we did it like this?
  • What would you do differently if you had to do it again?
  • How would Henry have done it if he made the same thing?

Nothing is more important that learning to think critically. With that you can do anything. It’s a superpower, and the way to a happy life.

Read more about the 100 Toys story and our ethos here.