Sticks and Stones

Yesterday it was humid and looked like rain so I asked the children to clean up their toys in the back yard, while I brought in the bikes and the chariot. They needed some coaching with this (for some reason cleaning up the back yard is much harder than cleaning up inside), so I was standing there telling Su in particular what to do next.

As I watched her put her dishes into the tub for them I realized again how many things the children play with that didn’t start out as toys! There was a collection of plastic cups that garden plants had been bought in, several important bits of wood, two old curtain rods, and a sizable collection of bungie cords.  I occasionally go through the back yard and get rid of the things that are truly trash but for the most part I just sit back and see what they are going to do with these things and the bricks left over from my garden edge, and the sand and mulch….

The other day F and Su (W doesn’t quite get pretending yet) had collected about a dozen fist sized rocks which they were pretending were chicks that they were raising… They carted these “chicks” around in the wagon, washed them in an old pot I had given them, and collected and mixed various dirt and mulches from around the yard for grain. It was a completely absorbing play for about an hour and like much of their play involved adapting what they had available to what they perceived as their need or the need of their “chicks”.

This ability to adapt is of course an important life skill. At the moment nearly all of their adaptions take the form of imagining that the thing they have is something different, although F is beginning to see the possibilities of attaching one thing to another and getting something different. His various methods of securing the back gate against W’s escape (totally unnecessary) usually involve bungie cords, sticks and at least one wagon and show a clear understanding of the problem that needs to be addressed if not a clear understanding of the most efficient method of addressing it. I’m waiting for the day he decides to tie up one of his siblings in order to keep them where he wants them!

On a serious note though: I think it important for children to have things to play with that are not purpose-designed as toys. They need the freedom to learn how different things will react to being jumped on as well as the opportunity to learn from bad decisions. For instance, filling a wagon with toys and then strapping them on will teach a child a lot about balance, tension etc. while deciding to cut the hair off of your stuffed animals because they need to lose their winter hair will also teach you quite a bit, especially when the hair doesn’t grow back! Yes, they did that yesterday.

I think as parents (and particularly as mothers who are trying to balance the need of play and the need to create order from chaos) we are often tempted to relegate play to purpose-designed toys in purpose-designed spaces. We need to remember that play teaches our children a great deal about the world they live in and encourage them to imagine, adapt and try.

The next time your children save a box from the trash and drags it around for a week remember:

  • it’s not really a box, it’s a kayak today and a train tomorrow…
  • if they stand on it and it breaks, they’ve learned that cardboard isn’t a good building material…
  • if they tear it to bits to feed to their “horse”, they can pick up the bits when they’re done playing…
  • if they fight over what the box has become you have an opportunity to teach negotiation skills…
  • if they are still fighting over it five minutes later, you have an opportunity to teach kindness…
  • it’s not trash, don’t throw it away when they’re not looking…
  • since it will get really beat up and look trashy set a time limit “You can have this box to play with until Wednesday, then we need to recycle it.”….
  • since it is a box and they are young it won’t always do or be what they want…this is a teaching moment…
  • their imagination can be very funny, so take a moment to listen in and enjoy your children…(F the other day “W you get in the kayak (a box from Costco) and I’ll climb up here (straddle the sides of the crib) and be the B________Bridge.” Really?)
This entry was posted in free play, preschool educcation, Preschool Play, Sticks and Stones and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *