Had enough of toy clutter and expense but want to keep stimulating your child’s inquisitive nature? Lori Evans learns about borrowing toys from a speelotheek, with insights and experiences from Madhu Mulbagal.

The Speelotheek – A Library for Toys!

Children love to explore new toys. And we parents can’t keep up! We buy new/used toys for birthdays and holidays, relatives and friends give presents and share hand-me-downs. Favorite toys are played with over and over, but many toys, after that initial exploratory period (which sometimes lasts less than 10 minutes – oh the horror!) are relegated to a heap in the corner and never touched again. We don’t have space in our tiny, Dutch living quarters for too many toys. It is expensive to keep on buying more. And we wrestle with the environmental consequences of buying stuff while still wanting to spoil our dear little ones and keep their brains challenged and growing.

A speelotheek can be a great solution to many of these problems! I was unfamiliar with this ingenious, toy-lending library concept until recently. What a great idea! Just like a book library, a speelotheek lends toys out for a period of several weeks. Your child gets the fun of playing with new toys every few weeks. And yes, you can extend the length of time a favorite toy stays at your home. Each speelotheek has different hours and rules/rates so check this list to get the scoop on one near you in Amsterdam. The Vereniging Speelotheken Nederlands has info on speelotheek locations throughout the Netherlands.

A Trip to a Speelotheek

Madhu goes to the Speelotheek Hoofddorp. It is very accessible by car, with cheap and easy parking, and as an added bonus, it is right next to a very big library! She especially likes the space and Dutch children’s book collection there. So from time to time on a Saturday morning she borrows books and toys and sets herself and her little one up for the coming 3 weeks!  

Most Speelotheeks have toys for ages 0-10 years:

  • Big toys like loopfietsen (balance bikes), doll strollers, tricycles, steps, a plastic slide, floor mats, etc.
  • Puzzles of all sizes from small to big floor ones.
  • Playmobil toy sets like castles, farms, funfairs, garages, all kind of cars, fire-trucks.
  • Musical sets to try out different instruments.
  • Art and craft sets with beads to make necklaces or stencils to draw.
  • Educational toys like science kits, shapes and forms, or board games.

How Does it Work?

Like a library, you have to become a member, pay a small fee, and leave some information about yourself. For example, at Speelotheek Hoofddorp, the one-time registration fee is € 5.00. The yearly family plan is € 18.50 (yes, that’s for a whole 12 months!). A strip card costs € 6.50 for to borrow on 20 different occasions plus a further 40 eurocents per toy. There are different rules about how many toys and what category of toys you can borrow at once.

You can usually borrow for 3 weeks at a time, and you can mostly get a one-time extension to your loan for a further 3 weeks. Some speelotheken have online or telephone renewal, which can save you a trip in person. Of course, just like a library, if you return items late there are fines.  

Cool Special Extras

Some speelotheken offer some extra services that can be really helpful in special situations. These may be shorter rentals with no possibility of renewal, such as: a birthday bag of toys or a special party slide that can be borrowed for a limited period of one week; baking trays; or a deal for a company party to rent toys for an event without paying the subscription fee.

Some locations offer specially-altered materials for children and adults with visual impairments. Games are made larger than usual with extra contrast in colors/letters and possible relief elements added, such as dice with dots that you can feel. What’s super fun about this is that it’s not just for the kids: it also makes it possible for a partially-sighted grandparent or a parent to play along too.

Why a Speelotheek May or May Not Be For You

I have a friend who is a bit afraid to use the speelotheek in her neighborhood. She has two rowdy boys and she is afraid they will destroy the toys. You need to return the toys complete with all their parts and in a clean and tidy condition or you will incur fines. However, children can also learn useful skills about sharing; if they appreciate having a puzzle with all its pieces, they will understand why it’s important for the next child to have all the pieces too. Checking the inventory list before returning an item can be a fun game in and of itself. The speelotheken try to make it easy to borrow. Often, you pay a small deposit for a missing piece (like 1 euro) and then if you find the piece later, you get the deposit back.

Using a speelotheek/toy library is great for reducing the clutter in your own home and good for the environment. It can be a great way to teach gentle playing and sharing of toys. Most of all, it’s a great way to have a changing variety of toys for your child on a small budget.  

Lori Evans

Lori Evans is a writer and musician/piano teacher from the USA, now in the Netherlands for over three years. She recently moved to Haarlem with her techie husband, her delightfully grumpy 16-year-old son, and two easy-going cats, and thanks technology for keeping her in touch with her daughter in college in NYC.