In 1959, During the first episode of the “Mickey Mouse Club” the Mattel toy company introduced a new product, a toy gun that the tv newscaster claimed to have “broken the sound barrier”. This was the first time that a toy company advertised on tv in October as opposed to before Christmas. Prof. Chudacuff, a professor at Brown University, who recently published a book on the history of child’s play, claimed that this advertisement transformed the focus from play to the toy itself. Wow, I was shocked. Toy advertisements changed the way we raise our children. Toy companies have begun a frenzy of educational toys. Toys were made to help your child’s cognitive development- put this square into the square hole. Toys were made for pretend play because kids couldn’t imagine things without the pretend play kitchen, doll, puppets or phone? Toys for learning dexterity, toys for learning patterns, shapes, spelling, fine motor skills- the list goes on. Then toys were made for entertainment, where the child takes a passive role in his playing. Do we need toys for playing in today’s world? Someone has convinced us that we do, someone has convinced us that providing this excessive number of toys is what a child needs and what makes us good parents. Do you think that?I recently packed up my house as we redid the floors. I thought I had too many toys and things in general and it would be a great time to minimize. When I was done packing up the toys I had two medium sized boxes including the baskets they lived in- that’s it. Now that the toys are unpacked again I started to notice with what my kids actually play. My one-year old practices her fine motor skills by trying to put a noodle into a bottle. She uses pots, pans and Tupperware to sit in and be spun in, for pretend cooking and for making music! She climbs on my couch, chairs and table then jumps off to exert physical gross motor energy. She takes a comb and uses it as a phone and combs her hair too. She hides things in the two cupboards that aren’t childproofed. She plays with an old computer keyboard when I work on my computer. She looks at books and makes animal noises, our dish rack (when its empty) is used as a cage for the animals that are just sticks, and pinecones glued together. The small suitcase is used as a push toy.
When we allow our children to use the things around the house, the loose parts can become or already are exactly what the child needs to develop. Loose Parts are objects that have loosely defined purpose and can become anything that they want for playing. What does a battery toy add? “A child is required to push a button to send the toy to ecstasy of beeping and flashing and tinny music. Such toys do the playing while the child is reduced to the passive role of an audience.” (Penny Wilson, The Play Work Primer). Things found around the house and nature liberate the imagination, add to the creativity of the playing child and allow them to master the world around them in ever changing ways and communicate more effectively through their playing. I’m not an extremist. Some toys are great. My kids have a lot of fun with Magnatiles, blocks, puppets etc. Though, I am saying to be reflective and when you buy toys think how it will contribute to your child’s playing. If it doesn’t, maybe reconsider. Think if you want to accept toys from friends at birthday parties or from family that aren’t adding to their play. Ask for experiences instead- kids will remember those more. Let kids take ownership of their play not their toys!