by Edye Kendrick (1/21/2011):
As we put the holidays behind us and get back in our regular routine, I started to notice “things” (Christmas gifts) around our house. We really try to make choices of no batteries and less plastic for the boys’ toys and for the most part we have the relatives on board too (but not always). I was struck by a toy that had been so eagerly opened on Christmas morning, sitting in the very spot where it had come to rest later Christmas Day. It had not been moved, played with or even given a second glance. I began to wonder if it was something I thought my son should like or if he just said he wanted it because the bombardment of advertising told him he should want it. Whatever the case, I felt I needed to take a closer look at the playthings coming into our home.
It just so happened that I had a mid-winter seminar for my Montessori training this past weekend. As is often the case, the words of Maria Montessori gave me some insight into what was troubling me. Our professor, Dr. Haines, told us that adults feel that children need toys because they are childish. Dr. Montessori said, “Children need purposeful work.” If given the choice, children prefer work versus playing with toys. We started to have a discussion about how many of us, parents/adults, don’t take the time to see what our children are truly interested in. They are often given toys, games, and movies that do all of the creative work for them; there is nothing for them to create.
Dr. Haines gave us an example by asking us a question – “Close your eyes and picture what an Aladdin’s Genie might look like; what color is it?” Of course, everyone said blue, because of the movie we had all seen. Dr. Haines explained that when a young child takes in this impression of what a Genie looks like, he is “robbed” from ever creating his own Genie.
As I went home that night, I decided that I needed to be more observant as to my children’s interests. I put my youngest son into a bubble bath with a floating race track and little cars (a gift from my brother) and some other bath toys. Then I sat and watched him from behind the shower curtain for the next 30 minutes as he explored with the bubbles. He stuck them together and on the walls, looking curiously, as some stayed on the wall and others slid down into the water. He watched them spread in between his fingers and I watched his facial expressions as he seemed to be questioning why sometimes they popped and sometimes they didn’t. He was fascinated with his discoveries. I realized that there was no prescribed way in which he was “supposed” to play with the bubbles, as there often was with the toys he chooses not to play with. He had chosen purposeful work with the bubbles; he was discovering, exploring, creating, and he was joyful.
As parents we are surrounded daily with advertisements and media telling us what our children “need.” I have decided to make a more conscious effort to really observe my children and to evaluate a little more closely the “things” I place in their possession.