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?
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