“Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.” ― C.G. Jung
Sometimes, living simply and being a simplicity parent isn’t simple. Simplicity doesn’t agree with our culture. We are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us that what we really need is material abundance and that more stuff will lead to more happiness. We are also getting the messages that screens and apps are good teachers for our children; that we need to expose them to more, involve them in more, and get them to grow up faster. Even when we embrace different values (those of simplicity), we are not deaf to these messages and we are open to doubting our own position.
As my kids get older (they are almost 2 and almost 4), it’s getting less fun to take them shopping. All the sudden they notice toys and gadgets lurking at every corner. And they are drawn instantly to the ones that are battery operated, make noise and flash lights. And I see that they light up when they push the button and the doll says “how are you?” Of course, I know that this amazement is short lived and that they won’t be playing with this toy for very long. It also helps me understand why people love to gift these toys. What a kick it is to give someone something and get an immediate response. A bucket of blocks or a bag of marbles might not get the same response.
At the bottom of the question of “what toys do children need” and “how many toys do children need” lays the fundamental question of “do they need toys at all?”— I hear you all gasping. —And I’m not suggesting taking all the toys out of the playroom. But I think the fact that children do actually quite well without toys might be the best argument for right-sizing in the playroom.
In Germany, the project toy-free preschool was developed by members of a study group to prevent addiction. They based their idea of former research that reported that habit-forming behaviors start forming during childhood and that toys can be used to cover up unsatisfied needs. For three months, all toys and craft materials are removed from the classroom. Only furniture, pillows and blankets remained. Some materials could be distributed upon the children’s request. Teachers are only there to observe and keep the kids safe – not to entertain them or provide quick solutions.
The study found that the following skills and competencies were enhanced during the toy free time:
• the capability to form relations with other people,
• the perception of personal needs and self-confidence,
• communicative competence, creativity and critical thinking,
• the toleration of frustrations and the capacity for play.
One of the major observations the teachers made was that the possession of the toys was often more important than the actual play. Therefore, the toys actually kept children from playing.
It needs to be pointed out, that this project was not supposed to be anti-toys. Neither am I anti-toys. However, it does highlight that a) some toys dictate a certain play while others foster creativity, and b) that – as so often – less is more.
Even though we might be bombarded with messages that tell us that we need more, if we take the time to listen to the messages we get from our children we will easily discover that they tell us otherwise…