One of the most common questions one hears in the Waldorf World is about toys - those beautiful, expensive, wooden, natural fiber toys. How does one transition into those, what does one do with the plastic toys, how does one handle inappropriate gifts?
Uh, pour yourself a cup of tea and come back, because this is a big subject.
I really respect all the natural toymakers out there and Waldorf sellers of natural toys. They are wonderful. (Also, I am not against plastic toys at all, some of them – legos come to mind, some families love Playmobile or matchbox cars). However, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding toys, before you start adding to your child’s toy collection with natural toys.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you do not need many toys at all. I wrote a post about this awhile back, why not click over and see if it resonates with you? Here it is: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/23/holiday-gifts-for-children-how-much-is-too-much/
Kim John Payne also gets to the heart of this in his book “Simplicity Parenting” (for a review see here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/26/favorite-waldorf-resource-2-simplicity-parenting-using-the-extraordinary-power-of-less-to-raise-calmer-happier-and-more-secure-kids-by-kim-john-payne-and-lisa-ross/) I believe Marsha Johnson also has a wonderful article in her FILES section of her Yahoo!Group (firstname.lastname@example.org to join) addressing this very topic. Both of these resources talk about the positive effects of LESS.
Under this topic, I have to mention that a beautiful wooden kitchen is still a beautiful wooden kitchen, but a box can be a kitchen, a spaceship, a house, a cave…the possibilities are endless! So, I guess my point is that whilst I too love the wooden toys and natural toys, do keep in mind that the simplicity of it all should be in toys that can be more than one thing, toys that can transform as a child’s play flows from one thing to another.
Toymaking with children or with your children in mind is also important. You don’t need a lot of skill to start, and the book “Toymaking With Children” really lays this all out for you: http://www.amazon.com/Toymaking-Children-Freya-Jaffke/dp/0863153674/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266602196&sr=8-1 Why not consider making your own toys?
The second thing to keep in mind is the age of your child and the development of play, so you know what toys are appropriate and needed. This way you do not put out all the toys a child from birth to seven will go through at once, but only the ones specific for that age and only a handful so you can rotate them in and out.
Ages Birth – Two- and –a- half: Their own hands and feet are the best toys in the first year, and perhaps I would add a beautiful mobile or Nature Table to look at. Around the toddler years, one could add a VERY SIMPLE knotted or bunting -style doll. There are instructions on how to make one of these in “Toymaking With Children” Meredith has a nice post regarding dolls here over at Waldorf Reviews: http://www.waldorfreviews.com/?p=66
Wooden spoons, pots, bowls are all welcome as well, along with baskets to fill and dump, and also some playcloths to set up a corner in which the child can hide or rest. I would also add blocks, pails for the sandbox, a basin to put water in for play.
It is important that every toy has a home and is cared for with love and reverence. A doll should be included in your rhythm as part of the family and cared for with love. :) Here is an article from Gateways regarding the relationship of the child to the doll: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW56raichle.pdf
More Notes About Play During This Period: “Toymaking With Children” has this to say about birth to the third year: “The adult’s actions are absorbed not consciously but lovingly. At first, children limit themselves to apparently purposelessly imitative activity. They go around the room like their mother, picking up things which she has just tided away, only to put them down again somewhere else. When the mother fills her pot with potatoes, the child fills a basket or cart with building blocks.”
So, being able to show your child some WORK is of utmost importance.
Ages Two-and-a-Half to Age Five: This is where fantasy and imaginative play really emerge. The children of this age take the toys and pretend they are whatever they need at the moment – things for a store, things for the farm. Open-ended toys such as playsilks and clips to make a house is wonderful, playstands are often used at this age, and baskets filled with open-ended objects from nature such as shells, stones, pinecones, etc that can become whatever the child needs in the moment.
Playing in nature is very important at all ages, but especially at these ages. Mud, sand, water are all the child’s playground.
Work hard into picking up WITH your children and making it fun; they will not go and pick up by themselves with just a verbal command. They are imitating you, and you get to be the leader of a fun game for cleaning up. Put the time for clean-up into your rhythm.
Ages Five to Seven Years: A doll with arms and legs to dress and undress is important at this age. Simple toys and crafts Waldorf sellers that focus a bit more on fine motor skills may be appropriate at this point for those times of inbreath, but time in nature and developing gross motor skills is still so important – can your child ride a bike? Walk on stilts? Do the monkey bars? Swim in the deep end? Jump rope? Play hopscotch?
You might be saying, this is wonderful, Carrie but what do I do with all of my plastic toys?
Families I have known have approached this in several ways. First, do sort through the toys and discard the ones that are broken. Your children may enjoy finding toys to give away to goodwill, but in my experience, many children do not. Yet, many parents feel badly about going through their children’s toys and donating them. Sometimes what works is to leave out a few toys and put the other toys in boxes for rotation into the play area. If you arrange your toy area in a beautiful way, you may be surprised about your children being more content with LESS. You may even be able to donate a few of those boxes of plastic toys as no one asks for them ever again as some more open-ended toys come in to the space. I also encourage families going through this to cut back on media and plan some activities outside. Get the children involved in your practical work. Set up play scenarios to show them how this would work. Tell them fairy tales, spark their imagination.
Here are a few back posts to help: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/29/more-about-fostering-creative-play/
and this one: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/05/fostering-creative-play/
Most of all, please be confident! You are not taking toys away from your children but increasing the quality of their play through the power of less!