Contributed by Jennie Marable Toys. Children want them. Grandparents buy them. Lots and lots of them. I have a conflicted relationship with toys because:
- Kids, much like cats, when faced with a choice between an expensive, brand-new toy or the wrapping paper it came in, will choose the latter every time, so why waste your money?
- Many of the toys that we receive are tied to an empire.
A certain talking train was introduced into our lives when the twins were around two, and at first it was fine–talking trains, how sweet. And while the train is nowhere near the juggernaut that some of the other kid toy characters are, still–train clothes, train hats, train sunglasses, trains, trains everywhere. From birth, I think, you have to battle with corporations for your kids’ hearts, minds, and imaginations. These companies want to sell them entertainment, and in doing so (I think), take away their ability to entertain themselves. Navigating the maze of consumerism while maintaining perspective isn’t always easy. My husband and I aren’t interested in our kids becoming 3 ft tall cogs in the capitalist machine. On the other hand, seriously Etsy? Because, in the end, whether it’s highly toxic plastic from China, or hand carved, sustainably harvested wood from Indiana, it all gets the same treatment in the end: Almost five years in, I realize it’s not the toys themselves I object to (because they do get played with), it’s the removal of any effort or engagement on the part of children in creating fun for themselves–they are presented with a story, characters, and all of the accessories they need to recreate that story just as it was presented to them. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not underestimating the power of children’s imaginations. I think even when they are handed pre-packaged fun time, they make it their own. Kids are brilliant. They just can’t help themselves. But to me, taking from kids the job of making their own fun is just criminal, because it’s a job that will teach them skills that will carry them through a whole lifetime of NOT BEING BORED. So, if you believe play is the work of children, here’s what you can do:
- Read. Read your brains out. Read when they’re in the womb, read when they’re out of the womb. Read to them, read in front of them. Talk about reading. Leave books everywhere. Take them to bookstores. Take them to the library. Get piles and piles of books.
- Let the stories that you love be a springboard for the games you play and the toys you make.
- Save cardboard boxes.
- Let them help. There are so many sites with these perfectly perfect crafts, and it’s obvious a child was not allowed within 10 feet of them. Ignore Pine-terest and embrace the janky– let your kid get his or her hands on what you’re making. In my experience, participation in the act of creation is an almost certain guarantee that my kids will enjoy the ever-loving bejesus out of an object.
Making things from junk was pretty much the cornerstone of our first official year of homeschooling, and it was a silly, joyous, and highly productive way to play and learn. Below are some of our most beloved handmade toys, and the stories* that inspired them… *all of the books mentioned are available through the Multnomah County Library. Making Scarecrows out of leeks, after reading The Wizard of Oz. An airplane costume for Halloween after reading Come Fly With Me. Check out the site Oh, Happy Day! for design instructions. A pirate ship after reading Treasure Island and Peter Pan. Shields, crowns, swords, and the sword in the stone after listening to Camelot, and reading Merlin and the Making of the King, and King Arthur (this last one breaks my rule about abridged books, but the audio version of this–included in the book–is read by Sean Bean, and is glorious) Bows and arrows after reading Robin Hood. A little research and development. Happy Making!