Around my house, I’m the CEN — the Chief Executive Nobot. I feel like all I ever say to my four year old is NO, particularly when it comes to her frequent requests for toys.
“Mom, can I have that doll?”
“Can I have that plastic squirrel thing?”
“Another Dora microphone?”
“I’ll give you a hint: It rhymes with bo.”
I don’t like saying no to toys all the time. It actually kind of sucks. But I’ve realized in my short career as a parent that more toys don’t necessarily lead to more play. I mean, they can lead to more play. They’re intended to lead to more play. And very often, they do lead to more play.
But one does not absolutely beget the other.
Besides, all too often, that promise land of play is fleetingly short-lived. Like, five seconds after the package has been ripped open, when the child realizes the plastic fairy thingy doesn’t actually fly. It just sits on the ground shoved under the sofa until a parental comes along and inadvertently vacuums it up. Another $19.99 bites the dust.
You know this to be true if you’ve ever watched a small child tear open a gift and end up playing with the box it came in. Or amuse themselves for hours (okay, 5 minutes) with the wrapping paper while the toy just lies there, already forgotten.
Toys are for kids like cosmetics are for women: We’re told by our culture we need them. We’ve absorbed the message we can’t be our best selves without them. Yet most end up like that giant pile of unused, unworn eye shadow and various concealer sticks that lie in a dusty graveyard bin in your bathroom. We don’t use it, we don’t wear it (except for a few key staples) yet we keep buying it.
What a glut of toys will do is lead to a house full of chaos and clutter and give you, the parent, an irrational hatred of all things Bratz.
I realize I probably come off to some like a rigid, unsmiling ascetic who expects her child to have a hum dinger of a fun time by rubbing sticks and tossing pebbles into the air. This is incorrect. June has tons of toys. I bought her Skate and Spin Dora, Goldieblox, Legos, puzzles, card games, various dolls, and cherubically cute animal figurines. She has plenty of toys (three quarters of which I don’t even where they came from), I just don’t rely on them. Because I’ve found she actually plays better without them.
Here is the gist of the conversation at my house after June comes home from preschool:
“Hey, Mom, can I play with the iPad?”
“Can I watch a movie?”
“Will you play Super Skater Dora with me?”
“No … I’m, um, folding laundry and taking care of the baby.”
The truth is, I intentionally leave June with not much to do. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s actually my strategy for stoking unstructured creative play.
She typically grouses about the injustice for a bit but within a few moments I watch from the kitchen as she slips into this amazing, imaginary dream world in which she stars as the princess in her own fairy tale, meandering around the castle talking to herself and the pillows and making friends from socks. She concocts whole scenes and scenarios; the staircase becomes a secret ladder. A scarf becomes a cape. My shoes become a pair of invisibility boots.
I like to think a dedication to aimless, pointless, unstructured fantasy play wires kids for deeper creative thinking down the road, no props or dolls or gadgets necessary. She doesn’t need a gadget to tell her how to have fun. She creates her own amusement from imagination alone. Either that, or June is just weird. But I don’t think so.
Sooner or later, the spell wears off and she’s back to asking me for toys and screens again. I eventually acquiesce – I’m not that hardcore – and get down on the floor for a game of Memory, or some such, but I take pride knowing my little girl is equipped to create her own fun, not a single prop necessary. At least for a little while.More On