Thursday, 24 May 2012

At play

Before I had my own, I assumed that children instinctively knew how to play. I had a vague idea that they would potter for hours blissfully consumed by their games. This has not always been the case for our family, which has caused me some concern and a lot of learning to let go of pre-concieved ideas. Children do not always do what we think they 'should' be doing.

Many thoughts have been spent on what to do about such an unexpected thing as a play-challenged child. I have considered whether our selection of toys is too limited or whether we need more exciting playthings - would greater choice or more novelty be enough to 'fix' my percieved problem?

Now for the soap-box: I am troubled by plastic. I am troubled by how it is produced, how it is disposed of and how unquestioningly it is embraced as an essential part of our lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the mass consumption of plastic toys. In every home, baskets and boxes overflowing with garish coloured plastic toys, many that will be tossed away into the bin not long after they arrive as they inevitably break under the strain of play. Having the latest must-have toy means that what our children 'must have' is always changing, meaning more spending from us parents and an early instilling of our culture's throw-away mind-set in our children.

To turn our back on the vast array of toys that are available to our children is not an easy job. I know I can sometimes worry that I am denying my children 'stuff' that others have, feeling that they may be missing out somehow. I am increasingly confident however that these concerns are largely unfounded - didn't our own parents tell us that they could play for hours with nothing but a stick and a smelly rag? I believe creativity can be nurtured by a limited number of playthings, and if those things are simple and can be used in a variety of ways then all the better.

Simple wooden toys may seem unexciting at first glance but they often invite creativity. Blocks and construction sets that feel satisfyingly weighty in the hand can become robots, castles, vehicles, animals and on and on if you're five years old. We have wooden animals that are made by hand which links the child directly with the maker. Wooden toys are often beautiful and durable, two qualities that many of us would look for in products that we might purchase for ourselves.

We still have many days when the boys find it difficult to play independently - they're social animals and understandably prefer the kind of play that involves others. But, I think I'm starting to see that we could be on the right track. As they get older, the pressure will really be on to buy into more complex toys or even enter the world of the video game. When I see them hammering rods into blocks and manipulating little wooden pliers, I sigh with relief - not yet, not yet...

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