Props for Imaginary play
When I was in college, I was adamantly opposed to licensed toys. I thought they were a waste of money and an excellent marketing ploy for parents. Then Penny discovered the world of Elmo. When she was 1, we bought her a stuffed Elmo for Christmas (I’m a sellout, I know). What I discovered, however, is that Elmo was part of Penny’s imagination. Elmo’s world was something she was familiar with and Elmo was a character she knew. Now that she had a stuffed Elmo, she could personify him and pretend he was part of her life. As a parent, it was fun to watch her imagination grow as she took an existing character (Elmo) and experimented with what he would do in different situations.
As she outgrew Elmo, she discovered fairies. Now she had a whole world that was different than hers. We got her a set of tiny Disney fairies. She knew each of them and she knew their world. Her imagination expanded into creating stories within the rules set up by the story. It was interesting to see her navigate around that. It got her thinking. Whenever she wanted the fairies to do something she hadn’t seen them do, she had an explanation for it. “Oh, but when a fairy sleeps on a dandelion, she gets powers to…”
As Penny started to age, and Florin joined the family, I started also prioritizing interactive play. There are 2 different categories of interactive play:
- Toys that Entertain the Child Alone – We moms need some time to be with our children, but not actively involved with them. Sometimes we just need to get some other stuff done. At this point, it’s nice to be able to pull something out that will entertain the kid and get them all excited, too. These kinds of toys are tactile, like building, beading, threading, sorting.
- Toys that Entertain the Kids Together – Any toy that will get my kids excited to interact with each other is a win in my book. In the past year, I have given my girls my two American Girl Dolls from my childhood (Molly and Josefina if you’re familiar with them). They have spent HOURS playing together with their dolls. They also still play with the tiny fairies from years ago (we’ve had to re-glue the wings countless times).
Questions to Ask Before Buying Toys:
- Does this toy cultivate imagination? – If a toy will add to imaginative play, it’s worth getting. The rule of thumb here is that the toy shouldn’t tell the kid how to interact with it. A stuffed Elmo is usually better than an interactive one. Action figures are better than the entire playset. Let them bring characters into their world.
- Does this toy prompt interactive play? – If a toy will provide hours of happy time playing alone or with siblings, it’s worth it even if the toy is outgrown in a few months. These make great toys to pass on to friends. The requirement here is that the activity can’t require too much grown-up help. If something is too hard to build, the kids will get frustrated. Make sure it’s at their skill-level.
- Will this toy drive someone crazy in a month? – Oh you all know what I mean. Even if it’s not your kid, don’t buy the toy with the annoying songs. Parents will silently plot your impending death. Also don’t give things like makeup or nail polish without asking parents permission.
No, kids don’t need stuff. I agree with that sentiment, but I also think toys are an introduction to responsibility and taking care of your stuff. Good toys also spark imagination and creativity.
(One Wednesday, I’ll cover the rules surrounding how we manage the kids’ stuff.)