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Guest Post: Toys Unleashed

admin August 15, 2011

This is a guest post by Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama!

In today’s material obsessed society, toys have taken center stage in most every home with children. The latest and greatest gadgets, the flashiest, wildest, most spectacular gizmos, and the most advanced “educational” toys have found their way into homes all across the world. This is on top of every doll, stuffed animal, toy car, farm animal, safari animal, dress up clothes, outdoor toys, pretend barbeques, lawnmowers, and the list goes on. Do children really need all of it though?

No. Not by a longshot.

In my circle of friends, there seems to be two types of homes. There is the peaceful, joyful home where mama and child(ren) are living together in a harmonious relationship with a rhythmical flow. Then there is the chaotic, boisterous, topsy-turvy home where mama and child(ren) seem to be at constant odds with each other, engaged in a never ending battle of the wills.

Even before I had a child of my own, I saw a direct correlation between the level of harmony in the home and the types of toys available to the children along with the opportunity for meaningful play. I am not suggesting that this alone was the end-all reason why a home was peaceful or not. There is a lot more involved in peaceful parenting than toys and play. However, there was a noticeable impact. Now that I am mothering an almost two and a half year old, I am experiencing firsthand how toys and play can aid me in my journey to peacefully parent my daughter and create the most warm, loving environment possible.

Natural Toys and Peaceful Environments

First – I am a big believer in and proponent of natural toys. When selecting a toy or play item, I close my eyes and physically engage myself in really feeling the toy. I try to feel it with a fresh set of hands. Does the toy feel warm and inviting like a smooth wooden block or a slick stone? Or, does it feel harsh and sharp, like most of the plastic toys thrust upon our children these days? Does the toy allow for the child’s imagination to run wild with possibility? Or, does the toy have all kinds of over-stimulating bells and whistles that simply mesmerize the child for 30 seconds?

Children under the age of seven are so very sensitive and selecting toys is quite frankly something that parents need to do with great care. Toys that allow for visual, physical and mental stimulation while at the same time not over-stimulating delicate senses is of great importance. An over-stimulated child grabbing this toy and that toy and tossing them about will be more challenging to parent peacefully. A child who is engaged in creative play with a few simple pastel play silks and natural wooden toys will certainly be more of a joy to interact with.

I have had friends comment that my daughter is deprived of educational opportunities since I do not let her play with plastic toys and toys that encourage learning. Quite frankly, I think that she is experiencing childhood how it was meant to be experienced and that is through the use of her own imagination and free will. A toy that sings the alphabet, tells you what time it is, and shares the colors of the rainbow does absolutely nothing to feed a child’s imagination. An imagination left uncultivated means a child who will become easily bored as he or she moves into their fourth and fifth year.

This means that said child will require constant stimulation either from more expensive, educational toys, or will constantly be wearing on mom’s nerves with “I’m bored” comments. Personally, I would rather see my daughter play with a sturdy, wooden flat bed truck that can serve as a fire engine, a farm truck, a delivery truck, and the like rather than some brightly painted plastic red fire engine that can only be a fire engine! Toys that inspire creative play will feed a child’s soul for hours. A well nourished soul helps keep a home harmonious.

What Toys Do Children Need?

You might be wondering what toys children in various age ranges NEED versus what we as parents THINK they need. Here is a brief breakdown of what I believe can be considered “must have” toys. There are certainly other appropriate, natural toys for each age group but there are the basics.

Ages Birth to One Year: Contrary to the clever marketing executives, babies really do not need any toys during the first year. Visual stimulation is more important than a toy to “play” with. A beautiful mobile created from natural items (shells, leaves, twigs, dried berries and fruits, etc…) or a low table filled with natural objects will captivate babies over and over again. Hands and feet will also keep babies busy for hours. A soft ball or a simple knotted doll are appropriate toys for this age range. Certainly, natural teethers and wood rattles are suitable.

 

Ages One Year to Two and a half: For the most part, household “treasures” are the most beloved toys for this age. Wooden spoons, pots, pans, and bowls are favorites. Bins and baskets which can be filled and overturned are also perfect for this age. Natural blocks, silk scarves, large squares of fabric, and a wooden push-pull style toy are also appropriate. Large rocks, shells, large sticks (not sharp or pointy), and sand make great outdoor toys along with buckets and scoops. A large ball for kicking and a smaller ball for throwing are suitable for this age.

 

Ages Two-and-a-Half to Age Five: This is where fantasy and imaginative play really emerge and it is important to cultivate this. Open-ended toys such as silks in various colors and baskets filled with open-ended objects from nature such as shells, stones, pinecones, etc… that can become whatever the child needs in the moment will be the most valued toys. Old clothes that can be used for dress up as well as sheets and blankets for fort making are certainly items to have at the ready. Crayons, paint, homemade playdough, clay, and other art supplies are perfect for this age. Having an assortment of craft items in your home will allow your child’s imagination endless opportunities to run wild!

 

Ages Five to Seven Years: A doll that can be dressed and undressed becomes important at this age along with “toys” that encourage movement such as a bicycle, trampoline, jump rope, roller skates, and other similar items. Again, dress up clothes inspire imaginative play and allow children of this age an escape as well as a way to work through their feelings.

Please do not think that I am accusing anyone of being a bad parent if they have plastic toys and lots of them! Heck, even we have a couple of plastic toys. My dear friend gave my daughter a tea set and she LOVES it! I have no problem with her playing with it because it does engage her imagination. So certainly, do not go out and replace every plastic toy you have with natural wooden toys. This is not feasible for most families nor would it be healthy to rip your child away from all of their beloved treasures.

What I am suggesting is that you limit the number of toys available to your children, rotate them, and create a family centered play area for your children. I am also suggesting that when you add to your child’s toy collection, you select well crafted natural pieces that will grow with your child. A wooden play kitchen is one such item that is well worth the expense. This can be used from the time a child is about 18 months old and will remain a central play item for a good six to eight years. The kitchen’s purpose will evolve as your child’s imaginative abilities grow. In addition, a doll made from natural materials with simple facial features is invaluable for both girls and boys. A doll without over exaggerated facial features and expressions leaves a lot to the child’s imagination!

Mothering a child or multiple children is tough even on the best day. I believe that consumerism has burdened mothers unnecessarily by convincing us that our children NEED every newfangled toy with all of the bells and whistles. In my observations and experience, more toys and toys that do not open a child’s mind simply lead to boredom, toy fatigue, a disengaged mind, and chaos. For those of us trying to balance motherhood with daily life, we need to embrace every opportunity available to keep our home calm and rhythmical.

Yours in Peace, Love, and Mothering,

Jennifer

My name is Jennifer and I am former government recruiter turned stay-at-home mama to a precious daughter (“Tiny”) brought earthside in early 2009. I am passionate about breastfeeding (especially extended breastfeeding), bed-sharing, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, cloth diapering, green living, babywearing, peaceful parenting, a Waldorf approach to education and parenting, playful parenting, getting children outside, as well as cooking and eating Real/Traditional Foods. Why call myself the Hybrid Rasta Mama? Easy – I see myself as a hybrid mama. I take a little of this and a little of that and blend it all together into something that works for me, Tiny, and my husband. As for the Rasta part of my moniker. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE reggae music and the Rastafarian culture and way of life. Reggae music touches my soul more than any other music out there. The Rastafarian lifestyle is based on clean living and a devotion to expanding oneself in all areas of life. It’s something that I can embrace with ease.  Follow Hybrid Rasta Mama on Twitter or Facebook!

 

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article Jennifer! This feels particularly timely to me as my daughter just celebrated her third birthday and received a TON of toys. I agree with you, I think she gets a lot more out of the open-ended toys like paints, blocks, her play kitchen, and dress up clothes. I love when she gets wrapped up in play, she has quite an imagination, and I want to do anything I can to encourage that!

    Reply

  2. I couldn't agree more Jennifer. I am struggling with what to tell people to get our son for his first birthday next month. He is perfectly content with a some spoons from my kitchen drawer and the pots and pans. We do have some plastic toys, mostly small blocks and the like, all are consignment store purchase and one or two things that folks have gotten us but I don't think he needs a plethora of toys.
    I do like the idea of rotating out toys so that it helps keep their interest. I think I will start tying that!
    Blessings,
    Danielle

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  3. What a great post! I read "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture" by Juliet Schor and it sparked my interest in "open-ended" toys, which I think is how most of the toys you mention would be categorized. I think imaginative play is so important for exactly the reason you said – children need to learn how to amuse themselves or they are setting themselves up for a life of being bored. I love "lincoln logs" and similar wooden building sets – they can inspire so much fun playtime.

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  4. No males in these families???

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  5. Great post. Toys are a tough subject becuase people always want to buy things for my daughter and its hard to tell them not to!

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  6. Interesting post. I would actually ague that natural toys are indeed educational toys – exactly for the reasons you state: natural toys engage imaginative play and creativity – very important factors that stimulate and nourish the child, and much more interesting than a toy with only one "solution" or right and wrong answers!

    Reply

  7. THANK YOU for this blog post, it has really opened my eyes to the toys that my 2.5 year old son actually "needs" rather than what has been commercialised (if that makes sense…). I think it is time to sell a lot of his old toys that he hasn't touched for months, and find some natural toys for Christmas!

    Reply

  8. When it comes to toys – less is more! Great post!

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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