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Toys That Teach: A Lesson in Reverence, Gratitude and Beauty
A toy is something your child invests precious time in and thus acts as a teacher. The right toy can teach your child to care, to be alert and aware, to be careful, to appreciate, to love. In your child’s hands are the keys to learning to be grateful, to appreciate beauty, to have a sense of peace and reverence for life in all its forms… In the same way, the wrong toys can teach a child your anger, frustration, disdain, insults and ridicule. How many times have you seen this on the community playground? Children imitating the grotesque objects they played with? Making faces and teasing other children. They are getting what they got out of their toys.
What can a plastic construction teach your child? What lesson is hidden within the action figure? When children have a room full of such toys, they are often so overwhelmed that they choose not to play at all. Grandparents come and say they are spoiled. Often, when they choose to play, they play in a very aggressive and destructive manner. They show no love or care for these toys. They show no gratitude for these toys. These groaning and grimacing toys seem designed to instill or teach anger, frustration and hatred. Ask yourself “what does my child get out of such a toy?” If you observe your child closely, you will find that his play lasts about 5 minutes at most and he ends up frustrated and overwhelmed. They look physically sick playing this way, with these toys.
The reason for this is that children take everything from their play and it becomes part of who they are and who they will become. Children absorb everything from their surroundings. When exposed to synthetic and ugly toys, children are at risk of losing their sense of fear, respect and beauty. They begin to internalize the messages these toys emit: Hit, Stomp, Slam and Pound, Throw away. Replace. These feelings then grow within our children. Their relationships become “synthetic” and their game becomes ugly.
These children then grow into teenagers who move through adolescence and over their peers. They have grown up thinking that almost anything can be replaced. Everything is meant to be handled roughly and without special care. They grow up eating fast food and throwing away car toys that mean nothing to them. They blaze through the world without worrying about what gets stepped on or knocked over, believing that everything can be easily replaced or that it is the responsibility of everything in their path to be strong enough to last. They break their plastic battery-powered gizmos and go into the trash. Sadly, in our mass-produced society, it is often quickly replaced by one. What does this teach our child?
Many parents don’t realize that a child’s developing mind takes over everything. These toys have a very negative impact on our children and their behavior changes from basically good and loving to bad and malicious. Toddlers learn more when they play. Play is the child’s work and through play the child learns to be an adult. Why then are we not more careful and aware when choosing our children’s toys?
Most modern toys do not speak to the child’s soul. In this way they can actually harm the child. Not only do they rob a child of their imagination and sense of wonder, they create a shell over the child’s heart. Today’s toys are “dead”. Of course, they are not pretty. They have no energy coming from them. They are just… ugly. Don’t our children, who have just arrived and are still so intertwined with the spirit world, deserve better?
Looking at the writings of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Schools, we discover that the first seven years of life the child must see and experience the world as a place of goodness. The child in this age group learns mainly through imitation. Teachers trained in the Waldorf Education method are taught to be fully aware of every movement, because they know that the child gets it all – good or bad. Waldorf gardens are places of simple beauty for this reason. Children from the age of 7 to the beginning of puberty should experience the world as a place of beauty, because through beauty they will gain a respect for life, which they will carry into their adult lives. The Waldorf method of education is completely based on these beliefs.
Children should have a few simple toys that need to be handled delicately and cared for with love. They look for toys that they can hand wash, hang to air dry and gently fold. They thrive when playing with toys that need to be carefully polished and that can be repaired. They thrive when they have toys they know they will pass on to their younger siblings. It is through this that they learn to have gratitude, respect and a sense of beauty for their environment and surroundings. Most modern toys simply do not speak to the child’s soul.
What toys speak to the child? Silk, wood, nuts, shells, seeds, stones, crystals, leaves, ribbons and small baskets in which to hold their treasures. These are the types of toys that speak to the child’s soul. These natural wonders evoke awe and discovery, magic and wonder in your child. These toys are designed to be “one of a kind” treasures. These toys are unique and can be made into almost anything your child imagines them to be.
Consider pure silk scarves for play. They are subtle and ethereal and seem to naturally awaken that sense of awareness of beauty and reverence. They awaken the child’s imagination and inspire their creativity. Children appreciate their simplicity and yet are so amazed at the magic that a simple little garment can be transformed into so many wonderful things.
Wood is another example. It comes from a living, growing organism and has so much potential. Was this wood carved or “decorated” by forest creatures? What kind of tree did this wood come from? Imagine that no two pieces of wood will ever be exactly the same, and your child can sense this and feel it when holding this toy. What a lesson in gratitude for this piece of wood – which is here to play with. What a wonderful discovery when playing outside, your child finds this wonderful toy just by him or her… just as it was meant to be! Your child will hold this wood like a parcel, build with it like a block, cradle and hold it like a baby. This piece of wood can be turned into almost anything in your child’s imagination. Maybe grandpa can carve this little wood into an animal friend, or a gnome to take back to the garden.
Such treasures are not easily replaced. If you are not careful and break a wooden toy (especially a handmade or found toy) it is truly a tragedy because it is special. If the child is lucky, he can be repaired and will be cared for even more delicately because he is weakened. Of course, this will make the toy even more loved and appreciated for the scars it bears and the efforts that went into saving it.
Today’s children have adopted many of their attitudes in life because of the toys they were surrounded by in their childhood. Today’s mass-produced disposable toys are wasteful, ugly, and harming not only our children, but our environment as well. They are impersonal and created for one purpose and one purpose only — to make money for their creators. The other obvious reason is that they are easily broken and replaced, teaching your child to want more…
Remember, the toy your child is holding is your child’s teacher today.
It is up to you to decide which lesson your child will learn today from the toys you provide.
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