Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some thoughts on toys

Napoleona's third birthday is coming up soon, and so I've been thinking about toys. Having two kids, I'm often thinking about toys, stepping on toys, telling them not to throw their toys, fixing toys, etc. But what are toys, and what makes a good toy?

Waldorf methods are pretty clear about some things: encourage the child's imaginative processes with simple objects that can be used in a variety of ways, choose natural materials that are pleasant to work with and connect the child to the natural world, and nurture the child's instinct to imitate the world and processes he sees in daily life (e.g. cleaning, cooking, caring for others).

Human beings in general, and small children in particular, are beings in the process of becoming. In his surroundings the child needs that which is in the process of becoming, and needs the possibility to transform and create anew. It is not the finished, completed object which is refreshing, satisfying and invigorating for children...A crooked branch with many little side branches and twigs, completely covered with a cloth, can be a mountain in a landscape; half-covered it can be a gnome's cave, a dollhouse, or a barn...Those materials which support and encourage the kind of play indicated above will best nourish the imaginative strength of the young child which develops into the faculties and capacities needed during school-age years and later in life. In such play the child can experiment freely and become acquainted with the world by being active. In a profound manner the child unites himself with the world creating self-confidence and a sense of security.

Well. Who knew toys were that powerful? Many parents have the instinct that tells them the "beep-boop" type of toy isn't the best. Witness the typical delight of the child given a cardboard box. SillyBilly played for several hours today with an empty tissue box. It formed part of a trash truck, and the last time I saw it, it had become a snug little bed for a stuffed animal. Give them some sticks, rocks, mud and a few buckets and scoops, and the Huntlings will have a ball in the yard. Here's Napoleona "fishing" off the back steps with a stick:

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent had a good post recently about one of our favorite "be-anything" toys, play silks. So far I've been hoarding all the silks for the nature table, but the kids have a big yellow silk that I plant-dyed a few years ago. It usually functions as a cape, but it has also been a wheat field for the matchbox tractor and bedding for numerous stuffed animals.


Lately the kids (especially Napoleona) have been making "houses": they take cloths, baskets, dining room chairs, and whatever else strikes their fancies to make little enclosures. Sometimes it's just Napoleona sitting on the floor by the couch surrounded by baskets that form her "walls." Other times I help them make grand dining room table palaces with flannel sheet walls and soft pillow beds inside. (Note to any grandparents reading this: we could use some more cloths and playclips to enhance this experience!)

Now, we don't have a total ban on non-Waldorf toys. A good friend gave SillyBilly a quite awesome plastic red and black dragon, which has become a favorite. Occasionally we give them markers instead of beeswax crayons. But generally we try to stay away from toys that are too formed or structured. So in general, blank drawing paper is in, coloring books are out. Wooden blocks (many made by Grandpa Walt) are in, Legos are out.

I'm still working on that farm landscape for the kids. It has taken a lot longer to crochet, knit, and latch hook a relatively little rug than I thought it would. Today SillyBilly sewed on a brown felt "bean field" all by himself. YES! Helpers! In any case, we are all looking forward to the farm coming to life soon, and I promise to take pictures.

3 comments:

(un)relaxeddad said...

We've tried to discourage friends from buying him electronic beepy toys as well (though we have the usual amount of prodded-and-cast aside expensive Xmas robots and so forth. Current favorites? Cardboard box, laptops, er, Harry Potter on the gamecube...The last actually triggers more creative play off the cube than on it. I'm quite a believer in WELL-STRUCTURED computer games being good pedagogic devices. Mostly, though, cardboard boxes and grown-up's consumer electronics - they tend to be more open-ended. He'll happily sit and draw for ages on my Windows Mobile thingy (and occasionally ring my boss who's good-natured about it. Yesterday we spent half an hour attacking a full-size electronic keyboard looking for the 'thunder sound'. All very un-Waldorf! But the key component is open-ended use of the imagination.

MC Milker said...

Thanks for the links! Our silks, after 4 years are getting a little ratty! I've been supplementing with all kinds of fabric- but silk is really the best.

Henitsirk said...

URD: Waldorf parents typically avoid all electronic toys until much later, perhaps even high school if they can get away with it.

But what I noticed about your description is that you are there with your son, probably engaging him on many levels other than interacting with a device. My kids were playing with blocks today, pretending that these were iPods, these were computers, and those were the batteries! So kids absorb and imitate what they see around them, and I certainly do not want them to feel that these things are forbidden fruit.

That said, even if computer games can teach concepts and inspire imaginative play, I would still want my kids to be moving physically and using their own wills instead of sitting still at a device absorbing passively.

Moderation in all things, of course.