Depending on what parenting circles you roll in or the parenting theories you subscribe to, there has been a lot of talk the last couple of years of getting back to basics with toys, especially for younger kids. Most of the time the votes for such gear include non-toxic, safer, better for the environment – which are all good things.
But, after watching lots of kids around me (including our own) grow up with everything from blocks made of actual trees and silk scarves to My Little Ponies and Star Wars action figures, I’m going to put it out there that natural toys may just be helping our kids minds stretch and grow a bit stronger.
Is that to say we are damaging our kids with Playmobil and Barbies? Not likely. But, there is something magical about watching kids create their own play, magical worlds and use their imagination without any help from television or Mattel.
I’d quote the research, which there seems to be a lot of these days, that shows that getting back to basics with kids – building forts, making rock people, playing with wooden toys, having fun with dress-up – all make for creative, well-rounded kids. Really, though, the proof is in the pudding.
I’m always amazed at the creativity that our daughter and her friends have with toys I have made (like the gnomes above, bean bags, felt fairies and more) as well as the fun gear in the dress-up bin, Waldorf-inspired wooden toys and creatures that have personalities the kids must define for themselves.
While there is plenty of My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop play too, they are two very different scenes when it comes to group play and playing by herself.
The biggest thing that became really obvious to me was level of noise, rough play and frustration with the crew. With the toys where they could create the whole scene in their heads, playing together was more collaborative. The kids didn’t argue over which creature was supposed to do what or what the world HAD to look like. They just created it together (let’s not joke, there’s plenty of bickering. But, way less.)
The other part I love is the amazing imagination that comes into play when kids HAVE to make up their own stories. There are definitely great benefits to toys like Lego that get kids thinking and developing systems. But, watching kids play freely, without any boundaries, is truly magical.
I also very much appreciate that giving kids a pile of sticks or rocks and seeing what they come up with is not only fun, it’s a great way to keep the pile of stuff in our houses way down (unless, of course, you have a kid like mine who likes to pile said rocks up in her room).
As the sun comes out, try locking up the action figures and commercial toys and send kids out into the world to do some playing with toys that they get to make up their own stories about. It may be frustrating for them at first. But, I think you’ll be surprised at the creative, smiling, colorful results.