Friday, May 05, 2006

Healthy bodies - Healthy minds

As a disclaimer, I want to say that this post is simply meant to raise awareness on the issue of toys. In no way are we condemning people who happen to have a house full of "twaddle" toys. Most people simply buy or give toys because they love to see kids smile... and who can be blamed for that?! This post is just meant to get us to think a little bit deeper about the things we are offering to our children, not as a fire and brimstone speech against those who have not yet adopted these play methods... we too, are works in progress after all.

Most parents would object to feeding their children three steady meals of Twinkies and Pepsi each day. We all usually try hard to make sure our kids aren't eating junk food and are getting their fruits and veggies in. Healthy bodies are important...about this we don't think twice. Ironically, the same care and concern is rarely invested into what goes into our children's minds. I want to explain why we seem so adamant about classical toys and classical books. It's not just that we have nostalgia for things of yesteryear. We want to feed our children's intellect and souls with the best the world has to offer. I try to buy toys that encourage imagination and toys my kids can play with...not toys that play for them. What can they do with a big box of wooden blocks? The possibilities are endless. What can they do with a plastic machine that has buttons and bright lights? Only what the machine allows.

It is the same with kids' books. I've found that the library is both your best friend and your worst enemy. While I let my kids pick out their own books, I always pre-screen them for anything objectionable (you'd be surprised at what makes it into kiddy books). But not only that, I always throw in a couple of books that will really stimulate them with rich pictures and meaningful stories. We "won" some free Maisy books at our last library. No offense to Maisy, but these books are worthless. There is no rich art. Just chunky words telling mindless "stories". Now I'm not going to go so far as to say that this is BAD for your children...but it certainly isn't edifying... it doesn't promote any kind of emotional, mental or spiritual growth at all. It's empty calories.

In the same vein, I feel strongly about music. I've heard many kids' tunes that are fine and tinkly and annoying: the stuff kids love. And there may be nothing wrong with that; I won't outlaw the sing-songs from our house (my kids get cookies every now and then). I simply make sure to balance it out with the good stuff: real Mozart, real Beethoven...not the tinkled down baby versions manufacturers so thoughtfully install into mobiles. That stuff is saccharine. Stimulate their brains with the real world...let them hear the violins and pianos in their fullest glory. They don't benefit from this watered down/dumbed-down version of reality we call "kid-friendly" music.

I'm sure you can tell by now how I feel about most television programs. I admit to turning on cartoons so I can take a shower in peace in the morning. But I am VERY watchful about what movies or programs they see...when they see them at all. A topic for another day entirely.

Finally, there's the tricky part about gift-receiving. Most family members or friends, with the best of intentions, give kids SpongeBob slippers or flashing, plastic toy garages (I'm not entirely against plastic...we are Lego fans after all). They feel good being able to say, "The kids love it!!!") Of course they do!!! And, I love double-fudge chocolate cheesecake!!! Kids have a natural sweet-tooth. They also have a natural attraction to any kind of bright, interesting toy. In such cases, we kindly thank the giver... let the kid play with the toy for a while, and then pass it on to Goodwill when they aren't looking; they rarely know the difference. And you can tell yourself that a poor child will be getting a nice gift this way (then there's the ethical dilemma of passing on mind-junk to begin with... but I digress). We must always remember however, to be thankful for any gift given out of love, and realize that most people aren't reflecting on the "deeper significance" of the toys they give; so be charitable! That said, gift givers shouldn't get bogged down by the consumer rat race to begin with. Girls don't benefit from having the newest talking Barbie on the store shelves. Buy her a real baby doll and let her mother it. I've found that the gaudy, flashing, noisy toys lose their novelty really fast anyway. The best toys my boys have received have been their Radio Flyer wagon, their die cast metal cars, their blocks and their wooden train set.

This is the stuff they play with in the long run...the simple things with imaginative potential. Kids don't need a lot to be happy...indeed it's foolish to buy them excessive toys just to make them excited. Their minds just need to be introduced to the possibilities of what a giant cardboard box can be! Show them! Play with them! Open up the world to them! Avoid the Twinkies...

-Ellie writes from Oak Harbor, WA


one of us :: 1:09 PM :: 2 Comments