When I was pregnant with Miss H, I was sure that we would be the kind of parents who would only allow classic wooden toys in our home. None of our toys would have batteries, and they wouldn’t have a million loose pieces to pick up every day. They would be beautiful, and inspire learning and creativity.
Fast forward to two months (just two!) after Miss H arrived. I went out and bought a bright blue, musical piano play mat. I didn’t even remember my “only pretty wooden toys”
rule until Nate raised his eyebrows at me. Miss H loved it, and passed it on to her baby brother. That was the first of many singing toys in our house.
Ugly Toys and the Atmosphere
My first light-up toy purchase took place before I learned the Charlotte Mason philosophy. One of the main principles of her philosophy is: ‘Education is an atmosphere.’ Charlotte Mason said,
“When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s’ level.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education
I have a friend who is an interior designer. Most of her child’s toys are beautiful: made of wood, pretty designs, and natural colors. She doesn’t want colorful, plastic toys to be the first thing someone sees when they step into her home. Her home doesn’t look like a “child-environment”- in a very good way!
Now I’m realizing that these light-up toys do take away from our home atmosphere. Not only do they not blend in with the natural surroundings of our home, but they sometimes start talking when no one is touching them, which creeps us all out. (We had a Fisher Price talking puppy for a while. Sometimes I heard it say, “Peek-a-boo, I see you!” from downstairs in the basement when there was absolutely no one there. Needless to say, we don’t have that toy anymore!)
Active and Passive Toys
When I really pay attention to the toys that my kids enjoy the most, they’re the passive toys. Passive toys don’t entertain on their own- they have to be engaged with. This is where the real thinking, learning, and creating of childhood occurs. If my children only play with active toys- toys that are made to entertain with lights and noises- it will force them to miss out on many of the benefits of play.
This year I’ve been on a journey to get clutter out of our house (read my post How Does Clutter Affect a Child’s Brain? here). Active toys aren’t the only ones that take up space and inhibit the atmosphere. Like active toys, some passive toys only allow for one type of play. These are closed-ended toys. We have some wooden pull-toys and simple puzzles that can only be played with one way. We pull the toy across the room, and then the game is over. This can’t be good for my kids’ habit of attention!
We can play with open ended toys for hours, though! Today, we put together Miss H’s Connect & Play Neighborhood Puzzle , then played town with the little people that come with it. She made up scenarios for the townspeople to engage in. There was a concert at the school, a candy shopping spree, and the mother and daughter who had to go to the doctor’s because of the subsequent tummy ache 🙂
Some Other Open-Ended, Passive Toy Favorites
We have a KidKraft Kitchen similar to this one (but it’s an older model) that Miss H loves. We bought it for her when she was about 15 months old, and I think it is one of the only toys that she has consistently played with over that 2.5 year span.
Baby E also loves the kitchen! His favorite thing is to put pretend food or his cars in the oven and turn the dials to “bake” them. Tinkering is his favorite way to play, so he’s getting this Hape Master Workbench for Christmas. I can’t wait to see him play with it!
While we aren’t completely banning active toys from our house, paying attention to how they are played with and how they affect our home atmosphere has been helpful. When we only hang on to the toys that add to the atmosphere and promote learning, everyone benefits from it. You can read my post on passive toy replacements for popular active toys here.