By Bailey Kent, Director of The Children's Workshop in Bourne, MA and mother to Louis
I love everything about birthday parties – the laughter, the candles, the cake, the games, the guests, literarlly everything. I do not love shopping for birthday presents, however, as I never know what to get people. That didn't change last February when Louis turned one. I must have wandered around the toy islefor an awkwardly long time, because a nice lady whose name tag read "Sarah" came over with a worried look on her face. "Do you need help finding anything?" You bet I do!
There were so many toys with flashing lights, with bells and whistles, with characters from shows I had never heard of, and even scantily clad dolls. It was like I was in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language. In the end we picked out some bath toys that blow their own bubbles, a fire engine that made a siren noise, a “learning turtle” that sings songs, and about five other things that required batteries. The big day came, he ripped off the paper, and oh boy did he love the boxes the toys came in. The toys? Not so much.
Distraught, I asked his teachers – “Does Louis play with toys at school?” They looked at me like I was nuts, because I am, and said “Of course.” Then I looked around and remembered what I had forgot in the toy isle – young children like simple toys that they can use in many different ways. And these simple toys help them use their imagination, their creativity and their problem solving skills. I watched him play at school – can the big wooden block fit in the small cup? Do the blocks stack? What do I do when they fall over? Can this block be a telephone?
At home, I went to my living room and noticed that it had become an overwhelming toy isle. I could hardly locate the couch! OK – time to reorganize. I tasked my husband with making Louis a “play area” – a shelf just for him, a table his size. Now his toys are organized and his space is well defined and he can reach for toys that interest him. I put away most of the battery toys and left the simpler ones – dolls, blocks, push cars, etc.
I think children learn through play, and I’ve always been fond of the Vygotskian approach to play that encourages children to think creatively and helps us as parents understand that it is our job to model play and scaffold their learning. It’s so much fun to sit together on the floor and “talk” on the block phone, or say “vroom vroom” while we push the cars around, or have a tea party and ask him “Can I have more?” It’s even better when he comes up with new play ideas like handing me an empty cup to drink from.
Now when I shop, I try to think of toys as props for Louis’s play and remember that he should be able to use them for more than one production.
Best part of playing together? I get to be a kid again…maybe I will even learn to share this time!