I have had a request to write a post on Christmas gift ideas for children, especially from a simple/natural point of view. I think this is a fantastic idea, so I’ve been ruminating on how to tackle this. I’ve decided to break it down into groups of fives, starting tomorrow: Top Five Most Played With (in our household). Stay tuned.
But first off, why simple? Our goal in free play is to encourage our children to use their imaginations and creativity, to work their minds – not simply to keep them occupied. This is really an important principle to understand; I think many parents (myself included, at times) fall into the trap of thinking that if their children are entertained and/or leaving them alone, then all is well. Certainly there are times when you just need your kids to give you some peace for a while, but overall, I think childhood is about learning through play, not just keeping out of a grownup’s hair. Thus, we avoid all things with screens, like television and videos (except when we they’re sick, or educational videos for school for the older ones) and things that require batteries. (Notice I said “avoid.” We always make exceptions, like the little toy that plays music that Asher fell in love with, and the camera for Maya that obviously requires batteries.) If all they have to do is push a button and watch something happen, we avoid it. We like things that require imagination and creativity to make them come alive.
So then, why natural? Well, if you’ve hung around here much, you know that we try our best to keep things as natural as possible, especially when it comes to things that go in and on our bodies, and things that fill our homes. Clearly there are exceptions, and technology certainly has a place in our home (she says as she types away on her laptop). But I want to keep my family’s exposure to harmful substances at a minimum. I know that in today’s world, I can’t eliminate all toxic exposures, but does that mean I should just shrug my shoulders and give up entirely? I don’t think so. I might have a laptop, but I don’t let my kids play with the cords. I have a cell phone for emergencies, but I don’t let my kids chew on it or play with it. And as much as possible, I want the toys my children play with to be safe for them AND safe for the environment AND able to be ethically disposed up after it’s useful life is over. Think about it: things like wood blocks and wool stuffed toys can be ethically and sustainably produced and harvested, safely and creatively used, last long enough to be passed down for generations, and can even be composted when they are no longer useful. You can’t say that about a bleepy, lighty, plasticky, noisy toy-thing.
I also think there’s something to be said for simplicity in general. For our family, it’s important that our money and energy be put toward experiences over accumulating stuff. Helping others rather than buying more stuff we don’t need. That means our goal is to not have a house full of toys at all, natural or not. I am constantly moving toward simplicity, not buying the newest green toy. Our children can be wonderful, intelligent, well-rounded individuals with only a handful of simple toys. They will have the rest of their adult lives to deal with technology, media, the accumulation of stuff, etc.; I want to try and give them a simple, natural, generous (with others) childhood as a good foundation.
This was quickly typed and probably not as cohesive as I’d like, but I think you get the idea. This is where I’m coming from when I recommend toys. A place of specific standards, but also with room for compromise, as you’ll see. Again, as I’ve said before, please don’t read what I say as judgement with regards to your playroom or your home. I want to get you thinking, inspire, and help those who want ideas for their own families.