Play, Toys and the Point of it All
At this time of year we are all thinking of toys we can gift to our children for Christmas. What would they like? What do they enjoy playing with? And some of us think about sustainability and how that toy has impacted the environment when it was manufactured, shipped, and how it can be disposed of.
Most toys aren’t made to be long lasting; it’s no secret how the industries work and how we are brought to consume ever more. Bright colored, loud toys have the purpose of keeping children busy, rather than facilitating learning through playing.
Children want toys that still their learning wishes. What is play? It is learning, exploring, figuring out how things work and imitating life. Even my four year old’s cars serve the purpose of imitating; they may even have characters and missions, create geometry patterns when he parks them in a special way, and offer an insight to the laws of physics.
Most manufactured toys restrict the child’s play; they don’t allow for much fantasy, usually aren’t compatible with other toys and have a limited function. These toys clutter up the home as they are set aside.
It is mind boggling how children are given plastic lawn mowers that blow bubbles, instead of the real thing in small. When I wished for a microscope and a pottery wheel as a child I got toys that didn’t work properly and never learnt much about either interest to this date, to tell you the truth.
My son was given a huge doll’s house for his third birthday but never played with it. He preferred to make doll’s houses out of boxes and bricks, changing the rooms around as he liked. This year he wishes for a till to play shop. Ok. This gift will support his interest in imitating everyday life and also facilitate his current interest in money and numbers, linking it to something palpable and anchored in reality.
Once you begin to think about which toys support play and which are superfluous, the sense seems to come naturally. In our home less is more – I acknowledge my son’s fantasy to turn a stick into a sword, a fence, a doll, or part of a craft project. Stones become pirate’s treasure, apples or money; a row of chairs a car or a train, an upside-down table a ship.
We have toys that leave room for fantasy, making free play possible: Play silks, ropes, bricks of all shapes and sizes, Legos, a few small dolls, a wooden and an electric train set, and anything acquired from outside. We also play lots of card games and board games as the children wish.
My four year old loves cars over everything, so he has cars that have been manufactured to look like real sport’s cars. He learns how fast each of them is in real life, learns their names and brands.
When my elder son was four he wished to learn to play chess. Instead of buying a ‘child friendly’ version, we taught him how to play. We took his play seriously – he wanted to learn how to strategize and think ahead, plus he had seen adults playing the game and wanted to join in the fun.
When we take our children’s interests seriously and facilitate their play, they learn what they are ready to learn at their own pace, autonomously. When we give them knock-offs of the real thing, with a limited function, they grow bored and cannot develop their interest.
There is no reason why a child cannot cut real vegetables with a real knife at the age of three and learn how to hold the knife in a way that won’t cause harm. How strange to facilitate this interest with plastic toys in the shape of fake kitchen articles and have the kids playing with them while you prepare lunch in the kitchen. Children love whittling – my elder son spent many a day making his own toys from bits of wood he had found. Children are very competent and benefit from being taken seriously, instead of having a plastic knife for pretend play and not having the opportunity to learn how to use it in the correct way. By believing children are incompetent we hinder their development and learning.
Learning cannot be forced onto children. They will begin to tie knots when the need arises, either because they needed to tie a cloth to make a camp or to tie their own shoes, not when they see a piece of wood with a shoe printed on it and a shoe lace wound through it.
Children’s play shouldn’t be dictated by the industries or by adult thinking. The adult brain simply hasn’t the same capacities as a child’s – they know what they want and need for their development and are happier when we, with our rigid thinking, leave them to it.
They prefer the wild corners of the playground to the colorful climbing frames an adult thought would encourage agility; when left to it they develop better games than some adult, with more complex rules and strategies; when we don’t stick a name on a project and let our four year old tell us what it is we will hear it’s a ‘hypersonic space jet’ (and a long story to go with it) when we thought the heap of sand was perhaps just a sand-cake of some sort.
My children have what they desire and will also get their Christmas wishes, however I may feel about the items in question. Their interests are respected and facilitated and I know there is a reason for their choosing these things. If they lose interest quickly (which I often predict correctly) there’s either the flea-market or the internet. Yes, I am grateful for those options.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!