Toys ... Naturally Wonderful!

Posted by Stacey Wallis on

When you think back to play in your own childhood what do you remember? How did you learn about and explore the world around you?
Can you remember the feeling of the wet grass on your bare feet or the gooey mud as you created your own outdoor restaurant complete with mud pies and leaf and flower salads all stirred with sticks?
There has been a shift beginning to emerge in Early Childhood centres and homes recently with a return to wooden and natural toys. This is developing with an increase in the information we are getting about the importance of connecting with nature as we continue as a society to become more sedentary as we engage with technology more and more.
With Christmas fast approaching I have been guilty of standing in front of my children’s (rather large) toy collection and wondering what else they could possibly need as I take stock of the ‘collections’ of plastic toys they have available to them. Pulling out one particular collection I took note of a set of plastic trees and rocks. Noticing the ridges and bumps that had been added to this single coloured grey item in my hand I noticed that while it represented a rock it was so far removed from the object that it represented and felt … like plastic.
This is concerning to me as an Early Childhood Teacher but also as a mother. But it is so easy to discover something that resonates with your child in their play and continue to ‘collect’ the set. It is not until we are trying to find room for more or until we are in the midst of a ‘cleanse’ (plastic toys which end up in a number of other homes or gasp landfill) that we notice the way that these plastic objects are taking over our homes and the play of our tamariki.
I once attended a professional development session and while the speaker escapes me, the message that I received there has stuck with me. When you see a leaf it can feel soft, hard, sharp, furry, thick, thin, slimy, waxy … and so many other things; whereas a plastic tree feels … like plastic. There has also been a greater movement towards heuristic play and treasure baskets for infants over the past few years and when they are exploring these items they are engaging with all of their senses. Looking at the colours, feeling the textures, tasting and smelling the differences provided by the different items, and listening to the sounds the different objects make when they are banged together or bitten with new teeth. Compare this to a store bought teether which looks like plastic, feels like plastic, tastes and smells like plastic.
I know that if I was starting my children’s toy collection again I would love to use the power of hindsight and make some changes. Don’t get me wrong there are some amazing plastic toys out there and I am not saying ditch all the plastic toys but I think that I would be more mindful of what I was purchasing.
Needless to say there are some natural items waiting for my children under our tree this year. But not only that… we are also building up a ‘collection’ of our own, on the weekends as we explore our community. There is now a growing number of toy containers in our home which house the growing collection of rocks, pinecones, seed pods, sticks and wooden toys that we are seeing used in so many ways during play. The trick is now trying to get the children to put all their treasures in one place rather than in the car, under the couch cushions and in school bags… but that is a story for another day.

- Written by Amy Nancarrow, mother to two busy young boys and centre manager at an early childhood centre.

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