Thursday, March 25, 2010

The best toy money can't buy

A while ago a lady came to visit and hearing that I sell toys, asked about a birthday gift for her little boy, whose favourite things right now are farm animals. I had just the thing - a set containing a sticker book, dry-erase pen and activity book, and a colouring book with crayons, all of it about farm animals. I was still opening the box to show her when she stopped me and said she was not interested - she was looking for something that the child - a toddler of nearly 3 - could do on his own. She said she works hard all week (she's a very successful business woman at a large international company) and that she just doesn't have the strentgh or inclination to have to sit down with her little one on a weekend to do the kinds of things that she is trusting the day-care lady to teach him.

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!!


  1. Hello Grietjie

    I was going through your blog again this morning – wow you are such an inspiration! Especially your blog on ‘the best toy money can’t buy’. As a first time mother it amazed and shocked me how many nannies are being trained in first aid and baby stimulation classes, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that they have these skills, but having attended them myself and being surrounded by nannies I just kept thinking – where’s all the mommies and daddies? Don’t they want to know how to do these things? The Saturday morning classes and weekday classes for parents don’t seem to be so popular. I must confess I’ve even now tapped into the ‘nanny training era’ where I offer workshops to nannies, teaching them to sign to the babies.

    Too often parents say to me they don’t have the time to teach their baby to sign . . . but do you know what an amazing opportunity it gives you to spend time with your baby/toddler? Can you imagine the interaction you achieve during a simple activity as nappy change, bath time, bed time and supper time. Yes, signing to your baby does mean you have to make a bit of an effort, doesn’t take up your time, but it gives you an opportunity to ‘talk’ to your baby, colour in the picture, explain and show her the world around her and help her communicate with you. Having been a full time working mother I realize how difficult it is, our time is precious, but so it the time we share with our little ones. They grow up so quickly and before we know it they won’t need us so much anymore.
    Lots of love Clea

  2. Hi Clea! Thanks for your insights! I've just realized again this week that for my little ones, love is spelled T-I-M-E. The baby blossoms when I play swinging and rolling games with him, and my little girl thrives on a little pockets of my focussed attention scattered throughout the day!
    Isn't it amazing how we already 'own' all of the best the things we can give to our children? Be blessed as you raise your precious little boy!

  3. Wow, you hit the nail on the head! My brother and me were actually just talking about this subject. I love spending time with my little girl, I cannot for the life of me imagine sendig her to a daycare or school. Thanks for sharing!

  4. How true this is! And encouraging for those of us who have made the commitment to be there for our wee people at the expense of things we would love to give them. Mummies sometimes forget to fill our own 'joy cups' so thank you for filling mine this morning!

  5. Jillybean - Thanks so much for your lovely comment! It has been a while since I read this post myself and I am glad to have returned to it. Yep, I know what you mean about neglecting our joy cups - glad I could add a dash of cheer to yours! Much love and blessings to you and yours!


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