THIS SERIES: SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE
The point is, simplified lives promote rest and freedom….. And if we’re wise, it’s part of a value system we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
The UK spends the highest amount on toys per child annually in Europe; approximately £350 per child in 2016. A survey in 2010 showed that each child owned on average 238 toys, but played with only twelve of them on a regular basis. The amount owned will have increased in the intervening years, but my guess is that the number used regularly will not have altered much.
My concern as a parent of adult children, a grandparent, and retired teacher is that we really are ‘spoiling’ our children.
In addition to the sheer quantity of toys owned, today’s youngsters are so often presented with play materials all boxed up & ready to go; solutions to boredom served up on a plate. And of course it is now common for children from a young age to have their very own supply of digital entertainment, literally at their fingertips. Boredom has become a dirty word, so our offspring are also frequently rushed from one out-of-school activity to another, with no time just to be, because we are afraid if they are ever bored, then it’s an indictment of our parenting commitment.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
A huge excess of toys leads to sensory overload; the ability to make choices, and apply concentration to one activity for an extended period is hampered by distractions. If play solutions are always presented ready-formed, we take away the opportunity for children to employ their God-given creative, problem-solving faculties. And when too much time is spent in front of a screen, passivity is developed rather than engagement; but conversely, a full time-table of extra-curricular activities often leads to over-stimulation, and exhaustion – witnessed in many a primary classroom. By trying to avoid boredom at all costs, we deprive our children of time quiet, time to reflect and time to come up with creative solutions.
Two things we can do to foster powerful play is to provide free unstructured time and raw materials:
When our daughters were young, their favourite play materials were found in their dressing up box, which was stuffed with garments and accessories gleaned from family, friends and charity shops; items chosen for their bright colours and potential, rather than ready-made costumes. These ‘props’ were the means for them and a host of friends (girls and boys) to enter into bright new worlds for hours on end.
And out of doors, among the best days out for our family, in our land-locked area, were picnics on a safe stretch of a river, where the children and friends, of all ages, would happily paddle, splash, and build dams & structures, again for long periods without issue.
In later years, as a teacher, I built an ‘air-raid shelter’ out of tarpaulins in the corner of the classroom as part of our studies on World War 2. My sophisticated 11-year-olds with their I-pods, I-phones, and gameboys, would beg me to set off the recorded air raid siren so they could gather up their home-made ‘ration’ books & ID cards, and crawl into the ‘shelter’ to play old-fashioned word games, sing WW2 songs, and listen to stories… Children haven’t actually changed that much.
Perhaps it’s time to consider reducing the amount of toys and games our children own, and the amount of extra-curricular activities they are engaged in; maybe instead of adult-led or ready-made activities we could provide more raw materials and more unstructured play time?
Not only will it be a counter to the modern culture of instant gratification, our children will develop creative resourcefulness, and it will also have a positive effect on the amount of clutter in our homes, and importantly, on our financial status. And happy, occupied children means more rest – for everyone.
What do you think?
If you are surrounded by a huge pile of your children's toys, consider...
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[**Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema @ Unsplash, with thanks]