Day 24 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Do kids need toys and if so, which ones?

I follow a blog called ‘Apron Stringz’ written by a fellow homeschooling Mum. I came across her because I try and read as many homeschooling/unschooling blogs/websites as possible. There are hundreds of blogs out there and I have hardly skimmed the surface yet. I haven’t read many of her posts (and I don’t know the author’s name) but I’ve liked most of what I’ve read. Her post today is about toys. She says, “Do kids need toys? I honestly don’t believe they do. Well, let me re-phase that. I don’t believe they need purchased items which were designed solely to be toys. In the dynamic environment of the DIY household, kids will make toys out of anything and everything. Often, even when there are myriad designated toys littering the floor, my kids will be running around playing with a piece of cardboard and a tin can.” For more, you can visit http://apronstringz.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/a-stick-a-bucket-and-a-piece-of-rope/ but I warn you, she does use some awful language I’m afraid which, whilst I’m very sympathetic to the emotions she’s expressing, I can’t condone the swearing!

Since I’ve become a homeschooler, I now think about toys with more anxiety than ever before.  This is in addition to the anxiety about us not having enough books, at least, not enough edifying books, despite feeling like we are drowning in books! I have been addressing this and loved doing so – any chance to borrow or buy more books is a pleasure to me! But the toys issue is creating more anxiety. I hate spending money on MORE toys! Which ones really are educational? Are there toys we have, that the kids play with, that are ‘wasting their time’? The great thing is that we don’t have ‘video games’ for Edward to, in my opinion, waste his time with. I am absolutely against them in the house. But Edward can play with them at friends’ houses so he knows what they are about. The fact that he is instantly addicted to them confirms my decision not to have them. But I know this is controversial. And a Wii is something he’s pestered me for more than anything. But I will forever stand firm. Debates about amounts of TV watching is stressful enough (well, DVD watching, I don’t allow TV watching either). 50% of the time they watch a DVD I feel stressed that they should be doing something more enlightening. Their choice of DVD ranges from ‘Tintin’ to ‘Postman Pat’ to ‘Barbie’s Mermaid Story’ to ‘Star Wars The Clone Wars’ to ‘Caillou’. Since TV watching is limited the kids watch each other’s choices which is, I think, a good thing. I’ve noticed that it helps avoid gender stereotyping between brother and sister because Petra loves being a Jedi and Edward admits some of the Barbie stories are good (and they are, the ones for younger children are well-told, gentle stories). It helps them understand each other’s interests and share in them when they play and it helps them learn that they each have a turn to make a DVD choice and that their choices are respected by the other, even if they’d prefer a different choice.

Back to ApronStringz. This afternoon, I thought some more about the question she postulated, ‘Do kids need toys?’. We were over at a dear friend’s house for one of those fantastic lunch get-togethers that finish at 7pm in the evening, when the kids should be in bed. We were having a fabulously interesting discussion about Middle Eastern politics, the value of school systems if all they do is prepare kids to get credentials rather than give them an actual education, what will happen when water is recognized as being more precious than oil, will there be a third world war (please God, no) and so on! My favourite kind of a Saturday afternoon!

Then my 3 year old daughter came in from the playground and said, “Mum, there’s tear gas” and went inside. We continued chatting outside whilst I commented on what a sad indictment of our decision to bring our kids up in Bahrain it is when my 3 year old can articulate perfectly that she’s suffering from tear gas; that she’s coming inside because her eyes are stinging and her nose is running and her throat is itchy from tear gas blown over from, probably, the highway but far enough away that we didn’t hear the pop, pop, pop of the police firing it. Earlier today she also heard construction noise and said, ‘Mum, gunfire!’ The kids never seem worried or afraid, I have to say. Although it sounds bad, we don’t have much to worry or be afraid about. But it’s not exactly an ideal situation to be living in. Anyway, moments later my eyes started stinging and my nose started watering and I went inside too. However, the other adults, who unlike me, had had a few glasses of wine, seemed to be immune so they continued with their thoroughly fascinating intellectual discussion whilst I went inside to stand amongst shelves and shelves of toys, watching the younger kids play, whilst I waited for the air to clear. To try and forget my frustration at what I was missing outside (a nice precise of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict perhaps?), I tried to do something useful.

After reading ApronStringz’s post, I looked at the toys on those shelves with a more critical eye. Which toys had my dear friends, with a similar child-centered parenting philosophy, got on their shelves? Well, not much that was different to mine, except that we don’t have the neat shelves! There were masses of books, fiction and non-fiction (actually, we have less of the latter, my kids are heavily into fiction). There were puzzles, a couple of different sets of building blocks, a globe, some animal figures, a little ball pit and probably quite a few other things I can’t remember.

Is ApronStringz right, are toys a terrible waste of time (spent clearing them up), space and money? Yes, certainly, a lot of toys do fall into this category. I’m afraid to say that gifts received at birthday parties are sometimes the worst offenders because the parents want to buy your child the gift that looks the most generous, sparkly and will make your child’s eyes widen in delight. However, these are usually the expensive 5 minute wonder type of toys. Amazing fun for the 5 minutes of use it’s intended for but after that, the surprise has worn off and you can’t do anything more with it than that. More Lego would always be welcome instead! I agree with ApronStringz’s list of favourite toys (playdough, figurines (my son is mad on a seemingly random variety of these), building sets and art supplies of course, and she interestingly included ‘collecting and carrying devices’ which I thought was interesting because my 3 year old daughter is also mad on bags and putting random things in them and carrying them around. And I am not a handbag loving kinda mother. I have an extremely boring tote bag. So I always wondered about this but maybe lots of girls enjoy this for some fascinating but unknown reason! Although in my opinion, she left two things out, which I think she’d agree with – dress up and a dollshouse. My son adores dressing up, sometimes it’s one of his store bought outfits like ‘Superman’, sometimes it’s totally homemade, like a Jedi outfit from a towelling dressing gown and a belt used to hold weapons like wooden spoons as well as real light sabres (which I thought would be a 5 minute wonder toy but all the boys we know absolutely use them to destruction, because they are used in imaginative ‘Star Wars’ play). We really bought our daughter a beautifully made, at least as large as her, wooden dolls house. I think this will give her years of creative, imaginative play. I certainly adored the, much smaller one, my father made me. Although I would have loved a bigger one, especially when playing with it with friends.

But the toys I disagree with her about are puzzles. My kids have always loved puzzles so I definitely like to have a bunch of them around.

I read ‘Franklin is Bossy’ tonight to the kids. There’s a part where he’s fallen out with his friends and gone home to play alone and what he does epitomises the kinds of things Edward loves to do alone in his room, given the chance (or with friends), “In his room, Franklin built a castle. He made a cape to be brave in. He made shields and swords and suits of armor. He drew pictures. He played house. He read stories. He played by himself for one whole hour, and then he didn’t know what to do.” Franklin seems to be a ‘kid’ who doesn’t watch TV or play video games so I wondered if kids like these play ‘edifying’ games like that when left to their own devices! However, Franklin did play with toys, he didn’t do what ApronStringz’s kids apparently do regularly which is, “….when there are myriad designated toys littering the floor, my kids will be running around playing with a piece of cardboard and a tin can”. Since I’ve been a mother, I’ve somehow come to know that this is the ‘holy grail’ of play. If your kids can reject toys in favour of the box it came in, you have super-creative kids you can be proud of. Yikes. My kids haven’t often done this. They like their toys, the ones we’ve discussed as being worthwhile. But that’s OK. I see they love them a lot and their imaginations are fired and since we have them, and can’t apparently stop buying them, they might as well enjoy them!! So what toys have I decided we still can’t do without? I came across a cut-price ‘Logiblocs’ set. It’s not something I’ve ever heard of and I’d love to hear from anyone who has an opinion about them, but they seem to be some sort of superlative building set with a bit of robotics and automation thrown in. We’ll see. Clutter or a keeper?

What are your favourite toys and why?

Don’t feel shy! Please always feel free to post comments on any of the days you read, however old they are. Your views are valuable and it’s always good to have debate. If you’re too busy to comment that day, but enjoyed what you read, please do press the ‘Like’ button at the end of the post. If you would like make life easier (who doesn’t?!) scroll down the right hand side of the page and click the ‘Follow’ button. Posts will be delivered to your email inbox until such time you may not want them anymore. Commenting, ‘Liking’, Following is much appreciated as it helps encourage more people to read homeschoolinginthemiddleeast! And commenting helps others who may well like to have more ideas or suggestions about the topic concerned. Any comments about Maths teaching is especially appreciated and suggestions about resources warmly welcome, as per the plea in my post https://homeschoolingmiddleeast.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/i-need-your-help-please-maths-resources/ Take care. Have a great day and thank you for visiting!

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is pjmontford@hotmail.com. I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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4 Responses to Day 24 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Do kids need toys and if so, which ones?

  1. Christiane Laubner says:

    Hi Penny, it’ s Chris. I am a fan of your Blog, not because I believe in homeschooling, I don’t, in fact not even a bit! I feel my daughter thrives in school and school has ignited her thirst for learning, she comes home with so much energy and if given a choice would always go to school even on weekends! She loves being part of that community. But I can only speak for Jena, your child might be different and therefore needs a different way of learning! I admire you for having the courage to do it the unconventional way and I wish you success and hope you get the desired results. I read your blog because this journey you embarked on is really fascinating, and it never hurst to read about a different perspective. Oh, and I wanted to answer your question about toys, Jena also adores her doll house and I like everything where the girls can use their imagination, barbie dolls or Lego girl keeps them entertained for hours. My arts and craft table is in use every day. I hate all these educational toys like laptops, kid I pad and the likes. There are expensive and the girls never end up using them! Good luck Penny and keep on writing about your experience!

    • Wow, Chris, it’s great to hear that you’re enjoying my blog even though you aren’t interested in homeschooling on a personal level. That is so great to hear – that you are open to reading about other kinds of educational perspectives because hopefully you might find something useful too!

      The way you say Jena relates to school does sound fantastic. I’m having a really hard time with Edward right now because he is hardly interested in learning anything. He ‘just’ wants to go off into imaginary Lego, action figure, dress-up, ‘Star Wars’ worlds – ideally with friends. Actually, I think this is fantastic but he doesn’t see ‘learning’ as fun at all which is sad. He’s totally disinterested in ‘factual’ reading – ‘How this works and why’ kind of stuff so that makes it harder too. This is in part why he needed to leave school. It just wasn’t for him. It killed his natural love of learning that all kids have – all research says so. But I hope to get it back! With kids like Edward, all the homeschooling literature says they will get it back in time, ideally after a break after leaving school. I’m not quite brave enough to take that break but if he doesn’t get it back in a month or two, perhaps that’s what we’ll have to do. At least he still enjoys Maths, somewhat, so that helps my anxiety levels!! I just needs to find some fun resources for him.

      I am also hoping that learning to type will help with the literacy side of things. Once he’s freed from having to do beautiful handwriting and can type fast, I hope his creativity will flow and whilst he’s writing his imaginary stories and emailing friends and family he’ll learn spelling and grammar on the way (which I hear happens a lot with other homeschoolers). He’s only been learning for 3 weeks and he’s doing pretty well so this should happen soon.

      I agree with your toys suggestions and I’m afraid I don’t do video games or ipads or anything like that. And we don’t do TV either, but do DVDs instead (plenty of those!!)

      I do hope that I can keep writing perspectives that you find interesting and useful. And please do pass on the blog URL to as many people as you think might find it interesting. I haven’t got any readers in Germany yet 😉
      Very best wishes and take care!

  2. shaema imam says:

    I thought i was the only one without a tv subscription! We also do just dvds. I have expanded it to one hour of “screen time” in general since my seven year old likes computer games (alas, not the math and reading ones!) but am ambivalent about those at this point. Have you read the book Room? It is adult fiction, really fascinating reading for an unschooling mom… Indeed what toys does a young child need!

    • Do you mean ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue? I’ve never heard of it but looked it up on Amazon and it sounds like a very tough read. Is that true? It looks like a great story of maternal love and a very bright little boy but in a horrible situation. I find it very hard to read about children suffering, it’s hard enough when I read anything about Palestine to face that, have you read ‘Mornings in Jenin’ by Susan Abulhawa? I could hardly function for a few days.

What do you think? Please do let me know. I would love to hear your opinion!

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