Thursday, March 25, 2010
The best toy money can't buy
And my heart just broke for the sake of this little boy.
I am aware that daycare centres and playschools these days offer a variety of 'extra-mural' activities, where trained people come to the premises to teach children all kinds of skills. I was at a playschool just yesterday to drop off a catalogue, where a very energetic young lady from one such outsourced company was doing some physical exercises with three little toddlers. She was dressed in shorts and a pretty T-shirt with the company's logo embroidered in fun, bright colours, and even had a little whistle dangling around her neck. She was friendly and I am sure she is very well trained in what she does. But...she's not the mother, and the children were jogging up and down in what looked like the front hall, distracted by the care givers tending to about 5 or 6 younger babies in baby seats and high chairs. The young instructor was trying her best to engage the three little ones, but by the looks of it, they were just going through the paces.I felt sorry for the instructor, who wasn't really getting anywhere. And I felt sorry for the children, who probably didn't have much choice in whether they felt like jogging up and down on a sweltering hot day or not, because their parents paid for the lessons. And I felt sorry for their parents, who were working hard so they could give their children the best, and probably thought that the trained young instructor from the reputable company could do a better job at teaching their child than they could.
Dear mother, I have some pretty amazing toys in my catalogues. And I can show you some very impressive educational games that has the potential to really stimulate your child's brain and develop his or her skills. But none of these are intended to replace YOU. The very best toy in my collection will be just about useless unless an loving parent takes time to show a little one how to use it, or to play the game with them, or to help little fingers that still struggle bit with threading the large beads.
Please understand that I am not saying children should be entertained at all times. They are part of a family and as such have to learn that they are not to be indulged all the times or be the centre of the universe. (I like what Kevin Leman says: "No one in the family is more important than...the family!) It is important that children are encouraged to play independently and keep themselves occupied. But we teach them this not because we want to be rid of their demands for while. We show them how to be engaged in focussed. independent play, because we want them to grow into well-adjusted, resourceful, contented people who will contribute meaningfully to society.
Sweetpea can play on her own for very long stretches of time. But I believe she is able to do so firstly, because she knows I am close by when she needs me (I'll stroke her head in passing or she'll look at at me for a reassuring smile and resume her play), secondly, because she is doing something stimulating and pleasant that I have shown her how to do, and thirdly, beacuse she doesn't have to vie for my attention. When our children are used to us frequently spending time with them, their 'joy cups' remain full and they don't feel anxious. This in turn creates a very pleasnt atmosphere in the home!
So where did the high flying, over-tired career mom I mentioned at the beginning lost the plot? In the first place I think she just doesn't realise the value of together time with her little boy. Our children shouldn't have to choose between quality time and quantity time, by the way. They want, and need, both. If this mom could only see how important it is for her to sit down on the carpet with her little one and guide his hand as he traces the dotted lines with the dry-erase pen. Or to share the joy her toddler derives from pulling the sheep stickers off a sheet and sticking them on the picture of the green pasture. And sharing in his enjoyment and seeing the world through her child's eyes will go such a long way in releasing the built-up tension from her stressful work week!
But I also think this mother has been taken in by the lie that our children need constant entertainment. I am sure that if I visited her house, I would find a myriad of toys that make an impressive array of sounds and light effects and are sold as 'stimulating' or even 'educational'. If you are a parent that believe a toy should make a sound in order to capture your child's attention, and if you are going to spend a little fortune on such a toy, may I suggest you rather spend that money on a solid brass bell? It will be a much better investment in your child's education, because, as opposed to the plastic thingamabob, she will be able to SEE WHY the bell makes that sound! Our children do not need hi-tech electronic, flashing toys. Let them sort the cutlery tray while you do the dishes, instead. This way you get to be in the kitchen TOGETHER, which is a great time to chat about the week or teach her a new song or tell her about things you used to like when you were her age. At the same time she'll be doing something useful and contributing to the smooth running of the household, AND..ta-daaaa, her little brain will be engaged in an essential pre-maths activity!!
As Easter time and Freedom day and Worker's day draw closer, let's turn off the TV and rather build a puzzle as family, or go for a long meandering walk with your toddler, stopping when he stops and really taking an interest in that stick or leaf of beetle. Let's do WITH them...! YOU are the best toy your children could ever ask for!!