I was fascinated this week when I saw a report on BBC Breakfast about a ‘back to basics’ experiment in a UK nursery which, it’s reported, has stimulated creativity and improved communication amongst the children involved (especially the boys, apparently) – and decluttering the rooms in the process. I also found an article about it in the Mail Online (published back in March of this year).
Matt Caldwell, the Head of the nursery was, apparently, inspired by similar schemes in Germany which replaced plastic toys with everyday items and real size objects – so, for example, instead of a miniature/child-size/toy version of a musical instrument, they would have an adult-sized, real one to explore.
Other items were day-to-day objects such as kettles, bottle tops, egg boxes, corks, pine cones, conkers, lavender and pots.
The backs were taken off electrical items so the children could see how they were constructed.
This reminded me of my brother, when he was a toddler (back in the 1960s), sitting on our kitchen floor playing with my Mum’s Kilner jars for hours on end – taking them apart and putting them back together again – he’s now a successful architect, by the way.
And it made me think about other things differently: what is a toy, anyway?
Taking the definition from Merriam Webster, it’s something:
- for a child to play with
- diminutive especially : a diminutive animal (as of a small breed or variety)
- that can be toyed with
- (such as a preoccupation) that is paltry or trifling
- like a literary or musical trifle or diversion
- a trinket or bauble
Nowhere here does it say that a child’s toy needs to be purpose-made or made from plastic – and we all know we need to re-think our use of this incredibly durable (and, we now realise, environmentally damaging) material.
We seem driven to fill our children’s nurseries and homes with as many toys as we can afford, but who is it that says we – or they – need all this? The people who want to sell it to us, that’s who.
We’ve all fallen into consumerism to a greater or lesser extent. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’, making sure our children have no less ‘stuff’ than their friends.
Less really can be more – what a great use for an old item that is beyond repair – to re-purpose, recycle it by giving it to a child to play with, pull apart, put back together…
And much cheaper than buying expensive toys.
I realise that there are health and safety issues to be considered here re sharp edges, choking hazards etc – and appropriate preparation and supervision needs to be in place – but there’s also something here, for me, about children learning about the real world, rather than a pink or blue plastic version of it.
And given the impact on creativity and communication, surely there has to be some mileage in this approach – going back to our roots a bit and being more creative, ourselves, in the type of play in which we engage, and that we encourage.
At the start of this experiment the children kept asking for their toys back again – but this largely wore off as the experiment continued.
And one of the most popular items amongst the younger children was, of course, the good old cardboard box … !
Remember all those Christmases when the expensive presents we’d bought were cast aside in favour of playing with the wrapping which seemed to provide so much more fun…?!