“What do you want for Christmas?” I remember asking my fourteen-month old. Since she could say “momma” and “dada,” I thought, for some unknown reason, she could communicate her perfect Christmas gift as we walked down the aisles of the toy store.
There have been many gift-giving holidays during which I’ve watched children play with boxes, paper and ribbon longer than new playthings. The most advertised toys seem to top our children’s wish lists. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as manufacturers spend over 12 billion a year advertising to pre-schoolers.
What is the purpose of a toy?
To babysit? To help a child develop thinking, creative and physical skills? To allow a child to explore and understand the world? What do children need in toys to help develop important skills?
Are we as a culture creating an environment that disconnects our children from sensory experiences that are critical for development?
In The Age of Missing Information, Bill McKibben recounts watching every channel of one day’s worth of cable television programming. It took him one year of all-day viewing to watch one day of cable show offerings.
McKibben describes the disconnection he felt with real life, along with sensory deprivation. He craved “three-dimensional” experiences. He wanted information that was missing from the TV screen. For McKibben no television show surpassed the sensory experience of swimming in a mountain lake on a summer afternoon, using muscles and his mind to solve a problem, cook food or visit friends.
We are creating environments that lack vital connections to our earth, that provide too few opportunities for the hand and the mind to work together in a three-dimensional, multi-sensory way and that do not allow interaction with people.
Here are suggestions for “toys” that will help our children connect to our earth, use the hand and mind together, and allow for family interaction. You won’t see them advertised. Your children won’t ask for them, but these items will help your children in significant ways:
- Child-size brooms and cleaning supplies
- Whisk rooms
- Watering cans
- Flower vases
- Gardening tools
- Gardening gloves
- Bolt board
- Lacing cards
- Potholder looms
- Bead stringing
- Children’s cookbook
- Rubber-band board
- Musical instruments, glockenspiel
- Art supplies
- Potholder looms
- Magnifying glass
A favorite catalog for “real” toys is For Small Hands. For more ideas, visit www.forsmallhands.com.