Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What a Kid Wants

Parenting thoughts from The Conscious Shopper

Every time my boys have a playdate, I'm always amazed at how few toys we have compared with my kids' friends. As I've built up my kids' toy collection, I've tried to focus on the classics - blocks, dress-up toys, puzzles, games, art, and music. I've tried to avoid toys with flashing lights and blaring sounds - partly because I'm too cheap to buy batteries. And yet, every night when it's time to "clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere," I shake my head. We have too many toys.

In fact, the longer I've been a parent (six years as of this past week - sniff, sniff), the more I've become convinced that any child could get by with just a handful of treasured toys, some balls, some crayons, and a bike. That's all they really need.

Who needs toys when there's the great outdoors?

Who needs toys when there are playgrounds?

Who needs toys when there are museums?

Who needs toys when there are festivals?

Who needs toys when there are boxes?

Who needs toys when Mom needs help?

If you hope your kids will become so preoccupied with flashing lights and buttons that you never have to see them, then by all means, buy some more toys. Going to museums, playgrounds, and festivals require your time. But in six years of being a parent, I've learned that your time is what a kid wants the most.


Debra said...

I really wanted to like this post, but it does come off extremely judgemental. Not all kids love going to the places you mention, particularly if you live in an area with inclement weather.

Nor is it feasible to spend every waking hour of the day at the park, etc. or interacting/entertaining your children. Yes, they do want your attention, but learning to play by themselves is valuable as well.

I'm not suggesting that the alternative is all flashy lights and electronics, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There's a happy medium out there.

I'm equally suspicious of parents who buy only "old fashioned" toys as much as those who buy all the latest gadgets. It seems like there's some control issues with the former, just as it's easy to accuse the latter of being lazy.

Karen Moser-Booth said...

Awesome post. Kids learn creativity through play, and that play can be through nature objects, old-fashioned toys, secondhand dress-up clothes, and regular household items--in addition to museum outings, field trips, and the like. They don't need a bazillion toys.

Amber said...

There must be something in the air today 'cause I posted about something very similar.

I do agree with Debra about finding a happy medium but I didn't find your post overly judgemental, although the first sentence of the last paragraph does make some assumptions that could be interpreted that way.

When I was watching my neighbour's kids, I told them they had to keep themselves busy while I did some cleaning. I wasn't fully engaged in their play, but I was there with them to set up a fort, mediate squabbles, redirect them as needed, answer questions and play various roles in their games. I did this all from the kitchen sink, with a broom in my hand, folding laundry, preparing dinner...

Also, I wonder if having more and more fancy, flashy toys doesn't in some way make children more needy of attention, in that there are less opportunities for a child to engage in imaginative play?

I'm not a parent, so I really can't speak to these issues too deeply, but they're just some thoughts floating around.

However I wholheartedly agree that children can have a very rich play environment with much, much less toys than is currently the norm.

Eco Yogini said...

you know, as a Speech Pathologist I get asked all the time from parents what the 'best toys for language/speech' would be (especially around xmas).

My answer- there are no 'best'. I am not a fan of Baby Einstein or most gagdety 'learning' toys. There are SO many things children can do with blocks, doll houses, ball, boxes, puzzles and animals. Way more language opportunities with a mobile toy animal than a magnet on the fridge that spells 'cat'.
Children learn from engaging with others and communicating with their parents and peers.

There is a nice balance- for example some children really like the flashing lights- busy ball popper type toys. but there's less language that can be had than say a farm set.

I don't know a lot of children that haven't learned to play by themselves, however I am more concerned with the opposite- those that would rather play by themselves...

I would say that 90% of the parents that walk through my door have forgotten how to play- or don't understand the cognitive value of symbolic and functional play. Perhaps my population is skewed (I do usually only see children with communication disorders) but then, it's the parents I'm talking about.

Anyhoo- thought it was a fantastic post and although I didn't find it judgemental, I do believe that not everyone has the time to go out to parks, festivals and museums (I would assume we mean working parents).

I just don't like the pressure that's out there today on the best "intelligence" gadget for your child, as opposed to the best way- interaction.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I didn't mean to sound judgemental, so I apologize if it comes across that way. That's what comes of blogging - no editor to tell me when I'm saying something offensive.

As far as a middle ground - I don't think kids should have no toys (as I say in the post), but they should have fewer toys. In fact, much much fewer. And I don't think parents should spend all their time with their kids, but they should spend more time. In fact, much much more.

I agree that independent play is important, but more toys are not necessarily necessary for independent play. Sometimes I'll buy toys for my kids and then regret it later because a stick makes a perfectly good pretend guitar, upside down pots make a great drumset, rocks make perfect Little People, and a box is a good dollhouse (and much much more).

To quote my sister (a preschool teacher), "Play through imagination is the best way children learn, and if they have toys that do everything for them, they're not going to learn."

June said...

Somebody sent our kids a gift that required batteries. We didn't have any batteries in the house...on Christmas morning. Our kids too make fun out of the stuff of our lives. To this day, cooking is not a chore for them but the greatest fun of the day: They are with their parents talking and laughing and chopping and stirring... with a pay-off called supper. Great post!

It's probably true that kids take to this approach more easily if they grow up that way. Our two played with whatever they could reach in our house. We had a kitchen cabinet filled with cooking utensils they could incorporate into their play. Of course they have cherished dolls and other toys, but they rarely ask for any new toy.

Penny Basket said...

This is so true. I grew up with both parents working full time. However, they still made time for us in the evenings. Now, some of us have to work late nights, leaving little time for the kids.

Kids are getting busier too. Where I'm from, kids are sent for endless extra classes. Not much of a childhood there.


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