Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Idle Parent - THE MYTH OF TOYS

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 7 – The Myth of Toys

All toys should be banned.  That's how Tom starts this chapter.  Small plastic pieces that get spread around the house only make more work for us - cleaning them up.  Children don't actually need toys.  They WANT toys, they tell us they NEED toys, but actually, they often have many toys that rarely get played with, and the real fun games where you get joy and laughter are usually the ones involving a few improvised props, rather than proper toys!  Tom also talks about the joys of making toys.  As a parent of a youngster, what could be better than seeing your baby chewing on the sock puppet that you've lovingly made, or as your child gets bigger, you can teach them to sew or do woodwork and make toys together.

We're not talking about rejecting play.  Rejecting bought toys is different.

It doesn't help that kids TV sells stuff.  Commercial TV stations do it in an obvious way, with lots of adverts for plastic toys, but CBeebies does it in a sneaky way, just by selling lots of merchandise branded with Night Garden, or Andy's Wild Adventures, Mr Maker or whatever show your little darling adores.  Avoid advertising, and also, if possible, trips to toy shops!  If you do face a trip into town, and a possibly demanding child, apart from being the demon who just says "no", if you really feel compelled to buy them something, get them sweets.  They'll be just as delighted, but the sweets will be consumed without leaving you with some plastic trash taking up space in your house.

He does concede that a wooden train set is a great toy.  Adults have fun putting it together too, and as the child grows, relatives and friends can be encouraged to add to it for Christmas and birthday gifts, so that it becomes more and more complicated and elaborate, thus keeping it interesting to play with. 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I've been sucked into toys gradually.  When C was a baby, nearly all his toys were home made, but as they've got older, and seen other children's toys, it's hard not to.  For a start, they need something for their Birthday and Christmas!  I do try to operate a one-in-one-out system, for example by having a clear out before birthdays and Christmas.  Bug is very reluctant to get rid of anything - I was trying to reduce the number of jigsaw puzzles and that wasn't at all popular.  But most of the toys they have I'm quite happy with.  They have:

  • the model railway - not really a toy at all, but a long-term family project
  • the wooden railway - see Tom's comments above, a great toy with many hours of pleasure still regularly had.  In the Summer I like to see it winding around the patio.
  • Lego - I know, lots of tiny pieces.  I love Lego.  I love building with it, I love seeing Cs creativity and engineering develop as he is beginning to build things which actually look like things, and also his ability (now that I've sorted all the pieces into tupperware boxes based on colour and brick type) to find the pieces he wants and follow instructions.  Bug is still just placing random bricks together and deciding what it is afterwards.
  • Wooden castle - we don't have enough medieval folk to live in it yet, and when constructed it takes up a lot of space, so this doesn't get played with all that much, but I think it'll be erected in the garden during the holiday, and we'll add a few more characters too.
  • Playmobil - Nearly all our Playmobil has been bought second hand on e-bay or has been gifts.  At the moment the individual components are played with separately, rather than in a big townscape scenario, but I know that these will be played with more as C and Bug grow.  All the stuff is quite BIG, and I've seen from my nephew's bedroom how it can easily mount up and then you don't know where to start, so I'm reluctant to add too much more to the collection, though people and animals from e-bay make great rewards.
  • Farm - this tends to need setting up, so hasn't been played with all that much lately, but again, it's something that I can see being laid out and played with a bit more during the holidays.
  • Dolls House - I love a dolls house.  This one is well furnished, though I think could do with some interior decor.  C plays with it more than Bug.
  • Dressing-up box - you can't go wrong.  This stuff is played with all the time.  I turn around and Bug is dressed in a cloak, a blanket, a cowboy hat and a pair of sunglasses or a mask.  Other role-play items include bags, makeshift tents, chairs being arranged as trains, planes or boats and cushions as beds.
  • Kitchens - they both have an array of plates, pans and tea-pots, as well as toy food and real packaging, and at least once a week will bring me a meal they've prepared in their kitchen.
  • Dolls, doll clothes, pushchairs, highchairs and cots - They both play with these, but Bug is besotted with her baby (teddy), and will change his clothes and feed him breakfast before she can be persuaded to do anything else in the morning.
  • Cars - C has always loved his cars and lorries.  On the rare occasion when he retreats into his bedroom to play on his own, you can guarantee that when you put your head around the door he'll have a story CD on, and be playing with his cars.
  • Outdoors - scooters and bikes, a tent, a trolley, a swing
  • Other bits and pieces include Mr and Mrs Potato Head, some K'Nex, some Meccano, model animals and dinosaurs, magnadoodles, aquadoodles, fuzzy felt, jigsaw puzzles etc.
Okay, okay, when it comes to toys I guess we don't fit Tom's ideal.  But I'm okay with what we have.  I see it being played with, we don't have TOO much plastic tat, and I'm comfortable that we're not inundated or over indulgent.  I see plenty of creativity and self-directed play.  I rarely get involved in their play, apart from occasionally to set something up to spark their interest or to make a suggestion, "maybe you could use a sheet across the top of your cave, it'll stay in place better than your dressing gown?"

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