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February 26, 2008

Will That Toy Make My Kid Stupid? Imagination May Be Best

LindaFor those of us with toys scattered in every room in the house (isn't that everyone?)--toys that aren't played with, touched or looked at--we might wonder why even bother with toys. Between recalled toxic toys, age inappropriate ones, and the ones taking over our homes, what's a mom to do?

After reading this NPR article yesterday, I realized the answer might be a simple one -- to stop the influx of unnecessary toys. This article talked not about particular toys, but what toys in general do (or rather don't do) for our kids. Toys and organized/structure play just take away from our kids' imagaination and ability to make believe. According to one of the sources in the article, making believe that they are pirates, princesses and super heros is what children should be doing -- since this self regulation is what helps kids better able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

But even more than that, learning to use your imagination is just a good learned skill. I always think back to Anne in Anne of Green Gables when she's floored by what little imagination adults might have. I mean, even in her day, what toys did children have? Maybe a doll, a ball or some blocks? But certainly everything was basic enough to help spark the imagination.

What I relief this all is to me. For years I've been wondering what I was doing wrong in the toy department. My kids each play with about three of their favorite things and besides those, they ignore the rest. I have stopped buying them and started giving them away since my kids seem more interested in playing ghosts or chimney (that's where they crawl through things and pretend they are Santa) than playing the latest and greatest toy.

I remember as a child -- even with all the toys I had -- some of my favorite memories were playing Little House on the Praire or Annie in the woods outside my house. In fact, I saw a perfect example of imagination on the playground a few weekends ago. Although it was being "led" by a mom. I walked by an area of sticks with paper plates attached, a few looking like spaceships. Some of the sticks had paper with drawings. This one mom was leading a group of children in a creative story creation. Each kid was drawing pictures of princesses and dragons, and making up their own characters. Then each child was given a chance to tell the story the way he/she saw it happening in their imagination. They would pull things from the nearby wooded area -- sticks, rocks, leaves -- to help flesh out their fantasy.

So back to the toys....every Christmas and birthday, grandparents/friends ask what my kids would like. Every year the answer seems to be the same, "They don't need anything. They don't play with toys, really." If it's not puzzles, games or books, my kids just wander around the house making PVC piping into tunnels, boxes into spaceships or flashlights into swords. (Yikes, Ok, I didn't say it was safe.) Perhaps, now I can at least feel justified in my response to the family each holiday. Just skip the loud, overstimulating toys, they might be making my kids stupid! This will make the toy pruning process so much easier.

Linda writes about her kids at Monkey Business.


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