Being a parent is interesting, it is a continuous learning process and a constant reminder on how much we do not know. On anything. Toys and playing for instance.
When you get your first child, you are excited and some of us go overboard with the toys. We read up on age appropriate toys, check reviews and buy them for our little tots, assuming they will be as excited as we are about them. Some kids are happy, at first. They will touch, sniff, try to taste the toy, throw it or even play with it. But the toys do not hold their attention for a long time. Many a time has a mum had to cook with a tot at her feet banging pot lids and plastic cups together. The child finds this more exciting than their store bought toys.
So you opt to get them a mini kitchen set to play with, but nope the real oven door is much more fun to try swinging with. Cake sprinkles are better for them to run their little fingers through than the beanbags you got them, and your cookbooks are much better finger painted on. Whew!
Anyway, as the kids grow older, you realise they are building and expanding their creativity and wonder how to help them enhance it. After a few deep breaths and a painkiller or two.
Both our kids are at the age where they are now learning their strengths, and what they want to work on. They are creative and innovative at what they choose to do. As a plus, they can now pick out the kind of toys they prefer. But it doesn’t end there. What they do with the toys or rather, how they play with them is where it gets interesting.
About a couple of years ago, my son got a really cool firetruck and my daughter a Christmas Holiday Barbie all decked in a red and gold gown with a faux fur cowl. You should see the doll now, first it was renamed. Then got bangs, then the gown discarded for a toga made from a cloth dinner napkin. The firetruck is still there unchanged but when it is being used for play, but it is not for fake fire rescue operations, noooo. It is used as a cargo truck to transport the smaller Hot Wheels from his room to the garden.
The most interesting thing for me though is how they incorporate other everyday bits and pieces they find around the house to enhance their play experience. I no longer discard kitchen paper rolls, cereal boxes, egg crates and even water bottle lids (for the big water bottles) once done, as the kids always find ways to use them up. I have seen my son turn an old egg crate into a ‘robot monster claw’, a woven shopping bag into a cape, torn socks into sock puppets, to name a few.
They each have a dedicated drawer for their sleeping toys, or those not being played with at the moment. In one drawer, Wonder Woman is sleeping next to GI Joe covered by a paper napkin, and the bigger dolls are seated watching the smaller dolls sleep in little repurposed boxes. An old cereal box has been used to hide toy cars from batman (who is a villain) in one of their games and Chase from Paw patrol will lead the other GI Joes in a sting to bring down the villainous Batman. Their story lines are humorous but intricate cliff hangers full of high speed chases, screams, rescues and happy endings.
They are also inspired by some of their favorite shows. I have been called upon to judge mudpies â la Chopped style, as well as been asked for plastic cutlery for them to showcase their meals like Tilly Ramsay. It is enlightening for me to watch them try new things, create stories in their minds and come up with characters and plot points all by themselves. I have to keep reminding myself to not interrupt them, but nurture and support their creativity. They still have to clean up after themselves though. There is no compromise on that here.
As I listen and watch them play, I can tell how they interact with each other, how they compromise, solve problems, fight and make up. By listening to them I am also able to know what influences them. The shows they watch, their friends and even the names they give to their toys do mean something to them.
It is important to let children play and let their imagination flow. Play teaches them organisation and planning skills. How to arrange for some things and how certain actions produce certain results. It teaches them social skills; communication, teamwork, patience, how to handle their emotions, empathy and sympathy, self control and how to love too.
I am learning a lot about my children by not only observing them but also playing with them. I have realised that the more interaction we have in relaxed play, the more they open up about themselves; what they like and do not like, how they want something done and it never ceases to amaze me how much we as parents and adults take this for granted. I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t buy toys for our children, if you can do so, just get them age appropriate ones. Let them play with their toys as well as those boxes and rolls you are about to throw out. Let their creativity amaze you and once in a while, ask to join in their fun imaginative world too, you will not regret it!