My commitment to only introduce our children to beautiful, wooden toys without battery compartments lasted approximately two months. One day, I left my two-month-old first born with her daddy and headed out to spend a Toys R Us gift card that I had received from one of my students. I spent an hour walking up and down the rows full of brightly colored, plastic, battery-operated toys. I was mesmerized. I complete forgot my stance on ugly, talking toys, and gravitated towards a play gym with a musical piano and brightly colored mat. When I got home, my husband raised an eyebrow and said, “I knew that wouldn’t last!”
That was before I learned about Charlotte Mason.
Things have changed a little in our home, although you will still see a few battery operated toys here and there. Even though Charlotte Mason only tangentially mentioned toys in her volumes, there are a few Parent’s Review articles that share some guidance in this area.
(This post was updated October 2018)
Toys in the Charlotte Mason Home
Some education philosophies come with their own toys: Montessori toys, Waldorf toys…there are no Charlotte Mason toys. But in the Parents’ Review article, “Our Children’s Play: Their Toys and Books,” Mrs C Hatchell describes some principles for choosing toys.
Related: The Complete Charlotte Mason Preschool Guide
Finite and Suggestive, Active and Passive Toys
I read some time ago that children’s toys may be divided into two classes: the finite, and the suggestive.”
In Mrs. Hatchell’s article, she describes finite and suggestive toys. Today, these are most often referred to as active and passive toys. Finite, or active toys, do the work for your child. They entertain rather than meaningfully engage. Finite toys do not allow much room for playing and creativity. They have one distinct purpose.
Now, to give an example of the first, e.g., the finite or non-suggestive toys…Nothing is left for the child to do, or for its imagination or ingenuity to supply.”
Some examples of these sorts of toys are:
- Light up activity tables
- Remote controlled cars
Suggestive, or passive, toys inspire creative play and fully engage a child, making them great gifts for a birthday or Christmas present. Mrs. Hatchell described a crane toy that her child was fully engaged with lifting and lowering the basket:
How much better and how much more interest was got out of this, than if it had been a more elaborate toy with the drag already supplied, and nothing left to the child’s own ingenuity or imagination.”
A child education specialist one very much like, Magda Gerber, said, “In other words, our active infant manipulates passive objects. In contrast, entertaining kinds of toys, such as mobiles or later on, wind-up toys, cause a passive infant to watch an active toy.”
Thus comes the phrase, “Passive toys make active learners.”
I think Magda Gerber’s quote above is interesting for two reason:
- Froebel, the Father of Kindergarten, whom Charlotte Mason respected, was a proponent of mobiles for infants. However, he was also a proponent of creative, free play, and even created a set of open-ended toys called Froebel’s Gifts, with which children used to create and demonstrate their strengths.
- Mrs. Hatchell mentioned windup toys in a similar way as Magda Gerber. She said, “There are too many of these purely mechanical toys now, as for instance, animals that you wind and they go round and round in one direction, till the spring breaks.”
So, instead of dumbed-down toys that just entertain our children, a Charlotte Mason family should consider how a toy will engage our children. Mrs. Hatchell said:
Let us remember, that in our children’s “play” as well as in their “books,” are many opportunities afforded to us of training habits which will form an important part in their live hereafter…”
Recommended “Charlotte Mason Toys”
Like I mentioned before, there aren’t really Charlotte Mason toys, but Mrs. Hatchell did recommend some specific things for children to play with.
- Mechanical crane (which I think we can apply to other vehicles that require children to engage, like dump trucks)
- An empty, homemade doll house
- Sand tray (this is also how Charlotte Mason recommended that young children practice their letters)
- Modeling clay (Play doh??)
Our Favorite Toys
In our home, filled with two boys and a girl, I know that we have more toys than homes of the early 20th century, but we most likely have fewer toys than average modern households. We try to choose passive toys that are open-ended, allowing our children multiple ways to play. Here are some of our favorites (I’ve used affiliate links here):
- LA Newborn doll and bath tub– Miss H requested this newborn baby doll shortly after her baby brother was born. Her name is Martha, and she is a favorite toy in our family. Both of our older children enjoy giving Martha baths, feeding her, and changing her. I can see how these actions build habits of kindness, gentleness, and attentiveness.
- Tonka dump truck– We got our son, who was two at the time, the biggest dump truck we could find for Christmas last year. Like the crane that Mrs. Hatchell described, this dump truck has moving parts that allow for creative play. This is mostly an outdoor toy, and most often gets filled with grass and sand to transport it to another part of the yard (you can read about how transporting is a universal part of play here.)
- Blocks- Blocks have been mentioned in some Parent’s Review articles, and we have quite the assortment of them at our house! Creativity is a must when building. We like wooden blocks, Duplos, and magnetic blocks
Questions to Consider When Choosing Toys
Is this too perfect for a child?
The toys that we give our children should be of good quality, but not so extremely perfect that play is limited. In a Parent’s Review article about Froebel’s kindergarten, the author says:
we should be careful to give them good toys–toys which will call forth their inventive powers, and a not too lavish supply of these. And more, we must teach our children games in which scope is given for the display of original thought, for inventive self-activity. This is what kindergarten games do, and this is why they are so deservedly popular with little children.”
In a somewhat contrasting thought, Mrs. Hatchell said:
the continually increasing wealth and perfection of toys also serve to produce dullness in children, or else destructiveness as the only form of activity left to them in relation to these too-perfect toys.
It’s up to you to decide how perfect is too perfect. Are you going to get upset if something happens to the toy?
Is this toy twaddle?
Twaddle is the word Charlotte Mason used to describe books that are silly and meaningless. The word usually describes speech or writing, but I think we can stretch it to mean anything trivial or foolish. Is the toy dumbed-down?
What habits will this help my child develop?
This is a question I haven’t yet asked myself about the toys we own, but after reading Mrs. Hatchell’s words, I think it’s an important one. In addition to habits, I think some toys afford great opportunities in developing skills, like fine or gross motor skills.