I was reading through the Oak Meadow Kindergarten syllabus tonight, preparing myself for the week ahead, when I came to a section on Creative Play. I loved what I read there. It summarizes so well Waldorf beliefs. But more than that, it summarizes what many parents around the globe have known, what “experts” are now realizing, and what I wish the billion dollar marketing agencies would realize – that modern toys are hurting our children. They are over-stimulating in negative ways, often bombarding our children with harsh sounds and visuals (not to mention being made out of cheap, chemical-filled, petroleum-based plastic), and yet under-stimulating in the sense that they do not require any real imagination.
I wanted to share an excerpt from what I read: “The traditional outlet for such imaginative play was [traditionally] through wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes, or handmade dolls with yarn hair and button noses. By the use of such toys, a child could create the characters and scenery for an endless variety of imaginative dramas. In recent years, however, the old wooden blocks and handmade dolls have been replaced by a bewildering variety of toys designed to fill children’s fantasies.
Although these toys are very alluring and fascinating at first, children soon discover that the possibilities in such toys are limited because of the detailed nature of their design. Thus, once the possibilities of such a form are exhausted, the child is left with a crystallized form and abandons it to the toy box. He then asks Mom or Dad for another toy that will do something that the [other toy] couldn’t do. The result of such detailed, crystallized toys is inevitably an insatiable craving for more and more toys, and less and less fulfillment with any of them.
A wise person said, “If we fail to give our children playthings that they can creatively manipulate, they will grow up to be passive consumers of prepackaged entertainments.”
When a child’s play centers around simple toys such as blocks, boxes, wooden spools, handmade dolls that don’t cry and wet and talk and walk, etc… her imaginative faculties are continually being strengthened and refined, for she must supply the details of her adventure from within, rather than having them supplied from without. A child who grows in such an environment develops the ability to see the possibilities inherent in simple things, which has far-reaching effects in her life.”
I have long seen the truth in this. I can see the difference between when I grew up and children today. And I had a lot of toys! But for the most part, they were dolls and Barbies, cars, instruments, Lego, kitchens etc… I may have had a toy phone – but it didn’t require a battery. I had to use my imagination for any sounds it might produce. And I certainly didn’t have hand held electronics! How far we have come in a quarter of a century – and not in a good way.
I can see the change in my own children. They are no exception to wanting more, more, more. And trust me, they have been given more, more, more. With a total of 9 grandparents who buy for them, not to mention ourselves, extended family etc… in the run of a year, they are given an overwhelming amount of toys. We have seen for ourselves, the more a toy does, the less it tends to get played with. Oh they love it for the short term, but then, just as this article states, they’re moving on to the next thing – because those toys have limits on the creativity they allow.
Our son especially, far prefers toys that give him creative control. He is a creative soul by nature with a phenomenal imagination. He likes to create – no matter what the medium. He prefers to use basic toys that allow him to act out whatever his heart desires. His favorites? Basic Lego blocks, cars, and toy animals. Things he has asked for: wooden peg dolls that he can paint into whatever characters he wants, and plain wooden building blocks.
Our daughter on the other hand would willingly lose herself in electronics. Imagination does not come naturally to her, and while she has a good one today – it has been taught and learned through copying. It has come about because we have refused to allow her to lose herself in mindless toys and electronics, and instead have pushed her to learn to play using basic toys.
And so, this article really hit home, and quite frankly, really validated some of the decisions we have made to reduce the plastic, battery-chugging toys the children own, as well as the amount of toys they own. And it works – a great example is just yesterday. The children entertained themselves with pine cones, rocks and chunks of wood (along with a few animals). And they had a blast building, creating and pretending. With toys, less really is more.
Top: My son’s “Emerald Forest” – where predators and nice animals play
Botton: My daughter’s horse corral