I remember a house I used to drive by quite often. It’s long, narrow, fenced yard contained a whole warehouse of large, plastic toys. I thought perhaps the home was a small day-care center, or babysitting arrangement. Since I drove by usually to or from work, I assumed that the reason I never saw any children in the yard, playing with all the toys, was because it was too early or too late in the day.
And then I received a request to make a home visit for a young boy in a special program. As I drove slowly up the street, peering at faded address numbers, I was somewhat surprised to see that the address I was seeking was the same address of that yard with all the toys.
After several home visits, with children in the home, I never did see a child actually play with any of those toys. I also had met and spoken with a young mother who was doing her best to be a parent, refusing all offers to have others give her assistance. Her children were struggling with age-appropriate developmental relationships, as well as with enduring a constant challenge to be successful in school.
All those toys. Never used. Never enjoyed. Never supervised. Toys that looked like there must be a playful family who lived in that home. Nothing to indicate that the family was failing.
Since that long-ago visit, I’ve seen several homes that had yards full of large, plastic toys of every color and description. As of yet, I have not seen children actually playing with any of those toys.
Does this tell us anything about our culture? How we wish for others to see us? How we believe that parenting may be enhanced by the number of toys that a child has access to?
Here are some of my thoughts: Most children will only play with a new toy for a limited (very limited) time, unless that toy can be part of the child’s metaphorical play-land. It’s why I believe that smaller toys that can be easily manipulated are played with much more frequently.
And does the parent engage with the child on the large yard toys or the smaller “creative” toys in the house? For example, how often does the parent go down the plastic slide vs. how often does the parent play with blocks and “Lego’s?”
For a child to enjoy the fantasy of imagination, and the interactive play with others, usually the child will opt for (as will the parent) the smaller toys, especially things like blankets and card tables, paper and markers, mom’s old dresses and dad’s old tools.
I would wish that parents could recognize the absolute value in the creative process, parallel play for the toddlers and interactive play for four and above–and use all the tools (TOYS) that promote healthy physical and emotional development.
One of the primary features of using one’s imagination is to be “sparked” into creativity. So, with all toys, indoor or outdoor–please try to find a “place for each toy” so that the child isn’t always “tripping over” or always sees the same toys–put the toys away and then bring them out, one by one, put them away and then bring them out again. A child will do much better with playing with her toys if she doesn’t always have them under foot, so to speak.
Toys for creative endeavors, parents who can join in with their child’s play, and the use of both best of indoors and outdoors will promote a child’s ability to grow at or above an age-appropriate developmental skill level. It is not the yard full of toys, but rather the heart full of inspiration and sharing, that provides the child with a healthy playful childhood.
I still see yards full of abandoned plastic toys. I still experience children who are struggling to have a healthy childhood. For your next gift, think “what can my child do with this toy WITH me.” And the follow through? How can I eliminate (recycle/re-gift) the toys that my child no longer plays with?
Be gentle with yourself and your children.