This is a particularly tricky situation, and I honestly don't know how to handle it even after a year+ of practice. We try to avoid plastic any/everything in our house, and are firm believers in the 10% toy & 90% kid formula (for more info on that, take a look at this excellent explanation of what this means) for toys. We eat mostly organic food, and we use our small toy budget to select high-quality, safe, and long-lived options. So, we have a collection of wooden blocks (which my husband likes building with at least as much as Mecha-Lukazilla likes to smash those creations down), many things that Luka's technically "too young" for right now that he will grow with and has already found novel ways to
But we also have some "learning" contraptions that have been gifted to us, brightly-colored objects that light up, sing, repeat vocabulary, and so on - sometimes with a logic that makes absolutely no sense to either of this kid's parents, and often with a response pattern that doesn't actually seem to interact with the child so much as disrupt his attempts to play and learn.
I'm reluctant to call these buying tendencies purely problematic, since it's wonderful that we have people in our lives who want to help contribute to Luka's fun and learning. But at the same time, these plasticy things are very expensive and often actually impede the learning process (for some evidence-based claims to back up my assertion, Nurture Shock is a good place to start, specifically Ch. 10 for this issue; a slightly-older but even more compelling argument comes from Einstein Never Used Flashcards). They're TOO much toy, and don't leave enough room for the surprising, serendipitous ways that kids end up manipulating the world around them. I guess another way of putting this would be to say that I want most of the noise in the house - the singing, the weird screeching, the repetitious sound-making - to come from my kid (or, er, his silly parents...) and his natural interactions with a wide variety of objects. I want to prescribe these interactions as little as possible.
One of the best resources I've found online to help solve this "problem" is here. I'm sure that there are others, and that other parents have founds ways to gently (but insistently - marrying these two important qualities is always the key, right?) shape the giving behaviors of others. What suggestions do you have? Or, perhaps, to many of you, I'm being ungrateful - should we just lighten up? I'd love to hear your thoughts!