Toys & the Child {part 1}

“The toy has become so important that people think it an aid to the intelligence; it is certainly better than nothing, but it is significant that the child quickly tires of a toy and wants new ones.”

– Maria Montessori, Education for a New World (64)

I remember someone being in our home and heard me refer to the activities on our shelf to Joey as “work.” They let out a little chuckle…as if beans in glasses, pink “blocks,” and lacing cards weren’t work.

It’s hard not to be offended at that type of attitude. Children work. Their learning is work and to disregard it as unimportant is to neglect the development of the child.

In our culture, work is something done by adults, usually with a means to an end, and not a child. Children play. It’s laughable to say they work unprompted, and so society pushes play at them.

And this “play” has become an array of noisy, colorful, cheaply made plastics in every shape and size. Our children are drawn into consumerism with their favorite TV show or even book character.

It’s everywhere. And most of it is dribble.

We’re told that these special toys will enrich our child’s mind and help them learn, when in reality they’re little more than mindless entertainment for the child. Instead of enriching and stimulating the child, they are conditioning the child to be a consumer.

What seems harmless can/may actually be doing much to hinder our children–their developmental growth, imagination, ingenuity, and independence. So often toys are given for entertainment rather than stimulation. They satisfy for the moment, but do little to grow the child.

I love what Paula Polk Lillard says in Montessori: A Modern Approach,

Instead of opportunities for serious accomplishment in our culture, we supply our children with expensive toys, hoping that these will occupy them and keep them from disturbing us.

In actuality, even in today’s world of the “educational toy,” most of the toys adults give to children do not meet their needs for growth and involvement with the real world. Consequently, they are a source of frustration to the child, and he does not remain occupied with them for long (116).

Children look for meaningful work, even in their play…especially in their play! How often does the child imitate his father or mother or another “real” job?

They crave to come alongside us and do the work we do. They see it has purpose. All too often we tell them “No” and to go play, but they love meaningful work!

Some of Joey’s biggest fits are when we tell him he can’t take the trash out or wash the dishes with me (usually barred by time or his dress). He loves to help me cook, wash dishes, and even clean the bathroom! If the broom is out, he wants a try. He’s favorite activities are taking out the trash and checking the mail.

While I’m not saying that children should not have toys, I do wish that as parents we’d choose toys that seek to engage the child in a purposeful way.

What are your thoughts on children and toys? How do you handle toys in your home?



9 comments… add one

  • Jen August 8, 2011, 8:09 pm

    I absolutely LOVE this post and agree 100%! I posted a link to an article about electronic toys on my Facebook today and I’ll be posting a link to your post as well!

    I just purchased toys for my son’s 2nd birthday and it took me weeks to be sure every single thing was just right in ways of what he needed to grow his individual desires, properly stimulating, and filling the gaps where I feel we have them with his things. I didn’t know about Montessori when he was an infant and had several battery operated toys. Ugh. It was so nice to dig them out from the basement, sell them at a recent garage sale, and buy new, thoughtful items.

    I can’t wait to read part two on this topic!

  • Joy August 8, 2011, 10:57 pm

    I have to agree as well. All of my daughters toys are hand me downs from friends and family. I personally am already bored with them and even at just 6 months old I am noticing that my daughter is as well. I have already set aside tomorrow as a day to go shopping for work for her and to then remove theses other toys from our home. Thank you for reminding me again why this is important.

  • Clairin August 9, 2011, 3:19 am

    I have 4 month old twins. I have four books on order for me to read and learn about infant and toddler toys and activities. Please post your suggestions.

    As of now, our days are filled with listening, singing and dancing to music (including but not limited to bluegrass, Bach, Mozart). We talk and read. I blow bubbles and toss scarves. We have different texture mats to lie upon. We have many types of blocks to touch, stack, count, and see. We have instruments and household objects to make sounds. We use mirrors, do yoga, stretch & roll, take baths, massage, and go on daily walks in the stroller.

  • Clairin August 9, 2011, 3:24 am

    I avoid tv, jumpers, bouncy chairs and the like. We focus on body movement, eye contact, language development, hearing sounds, & tactile stimulation.

  • amanda hays August 9, 2011, 5:42 am

    Great thoughts! I just found this blog and love hearing your thoughts. Even though we don’t have kids yet we often talk about how we want to be intentional in our parenting. Love your thoughts on toys/entertainment/development.

  • Alida August 9, 2011, 3:02 pm

    Excellent post. I agree that meaningful work is of utmost importance. If there is the need to buy toys, (as with grandparents) I suggest always buying toys made with natural fabrics or of wood. Simple toys that allow their imagination to flourish. We make corn husk dolls and little people out of walnuts and hazelnuts. Felt food for the kitchen area etc. Very little plastic (Lego’s are our only exception). I like a quote from Charlotte Mason and use it often when working on various curriculum for the kids: “Every day give your children something or someone to love, something meaningful to do and something to think about it.” Child development at it’s best!

  • jo August 10, 2011, 9:51 pm

    I absolutely loved this post and agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. I am new to Montessori and we do have quite a few plastic, noisy toys mostly op shop finds which my 14 month old daughter is totally bored with. I am starting to find alternatives to use as work for her and am really excited that there is another way. I love natural organic products and adventually we will take all the plastic back to the op shop. We don’t have much variety in the town where we live in regards to toys (thank goodness for the internet). Thanks again for this wonderful post and I will look forward to the next instalment.

  • MAR August 21, 2011, 11:26 am

    I could not agree more with you! I repelled anything with batteries and plastic for the most part, We use a lot of household items for our kids, crafts with recyclable thing that are around the house. I also TRY to keep the number of toys small and rotate them so they feel they have new things to look for often. It has been a difficult road to educate our families and friends and what I have notice is that the most effective way to avoid this unwelcome gifts is to let then know how annoying this electronic toys are that we dislike them so much that we usually take them to the good will.

  • Jodi Pollack September 22, 2011, 12:40 pm

    Bravo! Bravo! I love this post! Feel exactly the same way. I recently went through a Toy’s “R” Us store and old childhood favorite, it was not an enjoyable trip, 99% of what they had on their shelves was junk. I especially dislike all the toys promoting movies, cartoons and characters etc. I am avoiding this as much as possible with my son’s toys. I am very selective when it comes to toys.

    Trying to explain to grandparents what makes a good toy has been well interesting. My own mother is agast at the fact that I will not be teaching my son with Sesame Street. She actually said “How will he learn his numbers and colors?”, aahhhh! She finally got the idea I was trying to have more thoughtful, developmental toys, so now she buys V-Tech….sigh…..I don’t want to hurt her feelings or seem ungrateful but V-Tech wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. My in-laws have well turned a deaf ear to us all together and just buy my son what they want. Both sets of grandparents view the toys we do give him as old-fashioned and feel we are somehow depriving our son. The funny thing is he loves his Montessori and Old-Fashioned toys 1000 times over the modern ones, they are truly his favorites.

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