We went to visit my brother and his new fiancée yesterday. My 18 month old was asleep. My eldest whispered to me, “Mommy, where are the toys?”
“I don’t think they have toys, Sweetheart. Go and see what you can find outside.”
He came back after 2 whole minutes. “Mommy, please can you ask them where the toys are.”
Ok. The property is massive. It’s also the home where I grew up. There are big hills to roll down, bushes with ideal holes for dens, trees to climb, sticks to find, rocks and stones for construction. Despite the wonderful space, warm weather and blank slate of nature, he was going to need some guidance.
Dad took him outside and wandered around with him, until he found a few sticks that could maybe pass as guns. One stick was so realistic it might’ve been a gun in a previous life. I’m not a fan of weapons and associated play but yes, here we were. We have reached That Stage.
Yet he was still bored. “Mommy, when can we go home?” Home to heaps of cars, sports equipment, clay and crayons, animals and superheroes, swings and the trampoline.
We don’t have tv. My kids generally spend most of their free time building Lego, paging through books, or climbing the jungle gym. They like to help me “cook” dinner (James called himself Jamesie Oliver yesterday), water the garden and ride their bikes. Yet here in a new environment, my child’s dependence on accessories for play caught me off guard.
Why do our kids need to be entertained? We can’t just blame screens (as I often do) because ours could perhaps be described as a techno-phobic household.
This generation lacks two things.
- a) The effort that must be put in to develop an active imagination
- b) Simple props for play that don’t suggest what the end product should be
I’ve caught myself giving my three-year old way too many suggestions. I think I’m helping him with ideas, but I’m actually hindering the creative process by leading his mind down a certain path. Want to check whether you’re doing the same? Ask your child to draw something. Then ask them what it is. Don’t make any suggestions! Their answers will blow you away.
We played with kites. Today’s kids have drones. A kite requires a stable posture, reactivity to sensory feedback from arms and eyes, and physical strength. A drone requires strength in those same to thumbs that get so much practice on the phone.
We dialled numbers on the landline to call our friends. We had to remember the number, or look it up alphabetically in the telephone book. We had to dial. We had to have manners to request from our friend’s parent whether we could speak to them. Today it’s all one touch, very little mental effort required. Oh wait, they don’t even need to speak.
Some of the reason my children might be a little lazy to put in the creative effort stems from my own desire for a more peaceful home. I have found the last year to be really challenging with my youngest, and if I was prepared to be Mom Entertainment after school, a little less boredom might mean a little more quiet, a little less nagging. So we buy new “educational” toys, organise play dates, follow Pinterest for “101 ideas for play with your preschoolers”, and bring more clutter into our homes. I see you, tired Mommy. I understand. Me too. If my children are “impressed” by my efforts, they’ll play happily at home.
But when it comes to toys –have a look at the demands they place on your child. Are they simple or complex? Do they leave anything at all up to the imagination, or do they have so much detail that “they can do so many things”. Is there any room for creativity or do they aim to “WOW” your child? Is your child playing actively or just being entertained? Was developer really bothered about your child’s best interest, or was he selling to you, the parent, to impress you and make a quick buck?
Your child can learn so much more from simple props/loose items. A colander becomes a space helmet. The laundry basket is a boat. Let them think – what can be added to this “toy” so that it can go/be longer/reach higher/ move faster? What do we have in the house that can be used for x/y/z?
We naturally want the best for our children. I myself looked at the baby toys this weekend and wondered which ones could get repurposed, yet I found myself hanging on to them just a little longer, scared to abandon a potential learning opportunity to Hospice. But if I’m honest, I know that my kids would do so much better with a blank slate, less clutter. Imagine what would happen if they came home to empty toy chests and just a few play props lying in the middle of the garden! I tell you what, there might be some whining at first, but then…the magic would start to happen!