As I've been spring cleaning and purging our house and lives of unnecessary and unwanted items, I came to the inevitable toy questions: which ones do I get rid of? which ones do I save for another time? which ones get to stay right where they are? (on the floor of course)
I have a new criteria to add (my existing criteria below*): I'm ousting all toys that promote strife rather than the possibility for children to play together. How do I determine that? Simple: if the toy is electronic and/or makes noise, it's automatically up for question. That's because most electronic toys (there are exceptions) are designed for the following scenario: one child playing with it at a time, no interaction with those not playing, and no logical end in sight where the toy can be passed off. I've always found the timer method a bit annoying (little Johnny can play with said toy until the timer goes off and then little Suzie gets it). In addition, toddlers and young preschoolers have a really, really hard time grasping the whole concept of time, so it seems like FOREVER that little Johnny is playing with it and no time at all that little Suzie gets it. Toys like this only promote strife, hoarding, running away screaming "Mine!", complaining about whose turn it is, and so forth.
Compare and contrast the following scenarios:
- three children are playing with some blocks: they can either build three separate towers, forcing the requirement that they share the blocks in question, but allowing each to build separate creations; they can build a tower together, forcing them to not only share the blocks, but to dialogue perhaps or at least work together in a joint creation; they can do whatever they want with them, sharing the blocks, talking over what each person has done, etc.
- three children are playing with one LeapFrog musical ABC toy: child A has the toy and punches buttons over and over, listening to the ABC chant, while children B and C watch and wait their turn, no one talking to each other except to complain that child A's turn is taking too long (or perhaps child A complaining that children B and C are in "her space" or "crowding her"); all three children are squabbling over who had it first and whose turn it is
Will there be fighting and so forth in the first example? Sure. But are there options that promote sharing and, at the same time, enable all three children to play together? Yes. In the second example, there is no option of all three children playing together and very little opportunity to even interact with each other. Which would you choose?
There are a couple of examples of toys designed for single-child use that can work in a group setting, promoting community, but each child will need his or her own toy. Toy phones are a good example of this. When each child has his or her own, they can at least pretend to talk to one another, or they can each play independently.
So, in our house, from now on, we are going to strive to purchase/accept toys that engender the possibility of community rather than ones that promote solo play, and thus, strife. (They are free to have solo use toys in their own rooms for their own quiet time; otherwise, I don't want to see it. Arts and crafts are solo use activities that can be used at the same time for everyone--still plenty of opportunities to share, but each person will work on his or her paper.)
*My new top ten toy criteria (I made up this list for this post; I've had some of these in mind for a while and others are new--I'm open to others' suggestions!!):
- Sturdy construction
- Multiple uses possible (LeapFrog ABC toy fails this, too, while blocks do not-->they can be towers, houses, trucks, cell phones, you name it)
- Adaptable to a range of ages (again, once you know your ABC's, how much fun is the LeapFrog toy going to be? In contrast, you can chew on a block, move up to stacking 2-3, then create towers, then create "birthday cakes" complete with "candles" that your brothers can "blow out"...)
- Promotes independent play/design (like arts and crafts or toy train sets)
- Promotes creative play/design (arts and crafts, dolls, etc.)
- Is not based on a licensed character.... :)
- Not electronic (preferably)
- Easily taken care of (stuffed animals that can be thrown in the wash v. those that can't)
- I couldn't decide here: reader suggestions welcome!
- Promotes unity and community rather than strife