This can be the time of year that many Waldorf families dread in that the gadgets and plastic toys that many families do not value seems to come out in full force this time of year for children of all ages. I am sure many of you have seen the horrible bouncy seat with an iPad holder currently on the market, and it certainly doesn’t get that better from there. (See here for more about the bouncy seat atrocity: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-sher/an-open-letter-to-the-executives-at-fisher-price_b_4386165.html )
For many of us, the thought of receiving gifts, especially for our children, revolves around questions such as is it sustainable in how it is made, is it beautiful and lovely, will it nourish our children? And yes, will it be fun? And other questions, such as, how many gifts do children really need and isn’t this season more about giving than receiving? All good thoughts.
However, for many of our family members and friends who are not used to this line of questioning, perhaps they are asking things more like: is this the “hot” toy of the year, will the child be totally wowed by this “over the top” gift, is it electronic and perhaps therefore more “educational” and therefore can it be viewed as an “advantage” for children?
In the Waldorf community, we often look to toys that are homemade by ourselves or by others on places such as Etsy (see this back post with the Etsy sellers my readers love most here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/12/06/link-to-your-favorite-etsy-sellers-here/) because these types of products not only positively and affirmatively answer some of the questions poised by parents above, but also promote the foundational development of one of the most important senses a human being can develop: the sense of touch. Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley write in their book “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From Birth to Seven”: “What children touch and what touches them is important. In a Waldorf early childhood program, toys are made of natural materials, such as wool, cotton, wood and silk. Each of these has something unique to teach to children about the world around them.” In contrast, this article traces the development of commercial toys: http://www.mothering.com/community/a/no-more-junk-toys-rethinking-childrens-gifts
However, I also urge you in thinking about the sense of touch to think about the touch of the person who loves your child and is giving your child this gift. If this gift was given out of love to your child, there is an energy and love there that helps transcend the lack of natural materials at times. It is something to think about, because an essential part of Waldorf parenting and education is the thought that gratitude in the early years leads to love in the middle years of ages 7 through 14 and then to the child feeling a duty to humanity in the ages 14 to 21 as they go out to meet the world. How important it is to look behind the silk playcloths and wooden toys at ourselves and what we are modeling and how we truly feel. Can we be gracious, can we have gratitude? Perhaps that is the biggest gift of all to show our children in this season.
Many parents write to me that their family is not really giving out of a loving, well-meaning but not knowing sort of gesture, but rather one of wanting to contradict the parents and the values set by the parents despite repeated discussion and conversation. It is hard to feel gratitude in this situation, to be sure. Yet I think we are called to try. It doesn’t mean we necessarily keep the toy and love it, it doesn’t mean that we have to live with the electronic gadget, but maybe we try to see the gratitude in someone helping us clarify even more what we believe in and why. Maybe we see that this person who is not doing what we think is helpful is trying to “help” our child because they are afraid to see our child not up on the latest trends and this is important to them. Maybe this is a call to communicate and dialogue. Maybe it is a time to set boundaries and to see this through in a clear manner before the holidays ever even hit. Perhaps this becomes our touch on the season of light and the world before us as we control the only thing we can control: our response.
Some family members truly do need a reminder as to what is age appropriate as well and that the time-tested toys are often the best ones.
Here is a quick list by age:
Ages Newborn to Two and A Half: their own bodies – hands and feet are the best, and not putting an infant he or she cannot attain by him or herself. Simple ideas include a simple bunting doll if the child is not walking and then a doll with simple arms and legs when the child is walking, pots and pans and bowls to play with in the kitchen, baskets, sandbox and sandbox toys (once the child is past wanting to eat the sand), a little cradle for the baby doll, a felt ball, an empty box with a lid and small cloths.
Age Two and A Half to Five: a rocking horse could be nice, a basket of simple building blocks made as naturally as possible, outdoor toys, a wheelbarrow, perhaps a few (!!) good picture books. Wooden playstands are wonderful for this age and older. A doll’s hammock is often appreciated. In my own experience, a balance bike is good for this age. Boards for balancing and sliding are also good.
Ages Five to Seven: materials that can be transformed for any kind of dress-up game, simple marionettes, perhaps a sewing basket (suggested in Freya Jaffke’s “Toymaking With Children”, a small bike, knitting supplies for those at the tail end of this age range, or yarn for finger knitting (might appeal to four year olds as well), loop looms or spool knitting, ice skates, marbles, roller skates.
Ages Eight to Ten: Paper dolls, baseball or soccer balls, Parcheesi, Monopoly and other games, bikes, scooters, rip sticks, collections of things, jumping ropes and other outdoor toys, knitting supplies, art supplies, a nine or ten year old may be into collections of things, stilts, string games, workbench and tools for the nine and ten year old. Many families, even Waldorf families, do like legos or playmobile or some other plastic kind of toy. I think this is up to the family to think about their choices, what age this choice would come into play for, to set the boundaries, and to clearly communicate those boundaries and why.
Ages Eleven to Thirteen: a tree house to help build, collections of things, sewing for dolls or themselves, knitting supplies, eleven year olds may still like to dress up, outdoor games, games of strategy, anything to do with a interest in a particular sport (this could be football, baseball, tennis, roller skating, rope jumping, sailing, golf, fencing, horseback riding), woodworking and building projects, model planes and cars, puppets, sewing, knitting, hooking rugs, drawing, painting, stilts, unicycle, juggling balls, collecting and arranging things may still be popular.
For thirteen year olds in particular, I like this quote from the Gesell Institute’s book, “Your Ten-To-Fourteen Year Old”: “Mothers may report that their thirteen-year-old son or daughter has put away “all childish things”, but this is more a trend than an accomplished fact.” Collections may no longer have the hold and focus as in the younger years, and certain books may have been outgrow, but many thirteen year olds still enjoy playing and acting silly. The remarks I made regarding legos and playmobile or other plastic collections of toys above can now be extended into electronic gadgets for the teen-aged years. What, when, what age? Find your boundaries and stick to it!
To inspire you all for a simple and lovely holiday season:
http://www.mothering.com/community/a/no-more-junk-toys-rethinking-childrens-gifts for tips on how to look at natural children’s gifts