The other day I remarked on Facebook that my children, and by extension my daycare kids have a lot of toys. It looks like Toys R Us threw up in my living room, rec room, and children’s rooms. I found a my little pony in my bedroom and tin whistle in the kitchen today. There’s rubber ducks in the – You get it. Lots of toys. And yet, as I was making that Facebook post, I also observed that the kids in my care that day, aged 4, 3 and not quite 2, were playing with some plastic easter eggs, some pompoms and a bit of string. The millions of toys were on the shelves and in bins, ignored. And I got to thinking, what makes a good toy? Is it brightly coloured plastic? Is it flashing lights and robot voices? Or is it something that engages the imagination and makes the child manipulate their environment and their imagination in a new way?
I am not going to be one of those new age parents who takes away all of their kids toys and gives them “learning experiences” in their place. My daughter would explode if I took away her ponies and Legos. But more and more, I see her building in the sandbox, or moving the living room furniture around to create forts (forts and jails are HUGE at my house right now). She’s never been the kind of child who needed a fancy toy to be amused. As a young toddler, around a year old, her favourite thing to do was to empty my grandmothers costume jewellery on to the floor and admire each piece, putting on necklaces and clip on earrings and then rushing to the mirror to admire herself. The fancy toys in her toy box were ignored for the most part. Give her a tin of coasters, or a pen and a bit of paper and she was your firm friend.
And even now, as I finally sit down from tidying up the mess of having extra kids all day, i’ve noticed that yes, my house is full of toys but they are not toys that “are” or toys that “do”. The toys that are being played with are the toys that “can be”. The blocks, the Lego, the play-doh, the musical instruments and the kitchen and plastic food. The remote controlled car and the pirate ship with real voices and music and other toys like that are on the shelf, collecting dust. I don’t think they’ve been played with in weeks.
Fisher-Price’s slogan back in the 80s was “fuelled by imagination”. They didn’t make toys with batteries. And I think that’s how it should be*. Kids have amazing brains, and they can turn anything into anything else, and they don’t need to be told how to play with things. It’s wrong to stifle them with toys that only play one way, or to make them only play with one set of toys at time. The ponies and the dinosaurs should go visit Barbie in the dream house, and they should take the PotatoHead with them. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s loud, Yes, my house looks like a primary coloured bomb went off on a regular basis, but you know what? They are learning, and they are having fun.
*and batteries, my friend, are EXPENSIVE!