My Little One received some great Christmas presents this year and we’ve been enjoying most of them daily. Some of our favorites include the beautiful wooden blocks her Aunt gave her, the play kitchen Santa left for her and tons of others, including a shopping cart, play food, and a great activity center that we leave at her grandparents. She loves building with the blocks, although I think her favorite part is knocking down the towers we make. Sometimes she’ll just wait for us to build something just to knock it down within seconds. So destructive and explosive, but toddlers seem to enjoy that a lot.
She has just hit the age where she is becoming so fun to play with. Lately she has shown signs of pretend play which I am so excited for. I have been waiting to play with her in that way since she was born. After all, in all the times I’ve watched other children they’ve always been at the age where they can use their imagination and pretend all sorts of things. Recently my Little One has started bringing us pretend food from her kitchen and waiting for us to eat it. She has joined in with pretending to eat the food as well. Somehow I always seem to get stuck with the fake mushroom and I just don’t have the heart to tell her I hate mushrooms. She also really enjoys dressing mommy and daddy up in some little dress up items we have (mostly hats and scarves, kitty ear headband etc.) but she, for some reason, doesn’t enjoy dressing up herself.
Her new excitement for pretend play has made me so thrilled and I have been looking into how I can further encourage this. I have basically found a lot of information that I already pretty much knew. Kids learn through watching you. They tend to copy things you do, which is exactly why Charlotte enjoys feeding her Mommy and Daddy. Reading obviously helps to encourage imagination and pretend play by showing children new worlds and experiences. Another thing I’ve found is a lot of articles talking about providing props and toys that allow children to mimic the world around them and create their own child size world. We’ve done that and will continue to do that with her kitchen, and her dress up basket. I plan on getting her a baby doll soon as well. As always we have open ended toys that are great for creative play as well. My little girl currently loves feeding her Polar Bear puppet wooden blocks, along with some poor unsuspecting stuffed animals, he is a very hungry Polar Bear.
So I guess I am doing my part in sparking her imagination but I still feel like I should be, or could be doing more, I have been so impatient for this stage in her life to start and I just can’t wait for more.
Holiday Gift Ideas
I thought I would mention a couple gift suggests for the up coming holidays. I am planning on getting my daughter a play kitchen. She surprised us at Thanksgiving with how much she enjoyed her olders cousins play kitchen. I never would have guessed she was old enough to be interested in something like that yet. She mostly just enjoyed putting food in cupboards and playing with the play telephone, but she was giddy the entire time. We will also get some new books to add to our collection. She still loves to read and is starting to point things out and “ask” us what they are. I might give her a wooden shape puzzle as well. But enough about my gifts choices, here are some toys that I think are great.
Princess – This is a great game that gives kids the opportunity to use their imagination to help save the princess. I have played this game before and it is so fascinating what children come up with to use the items (keys, candles, potions, scrolls) in order to get past certain dilemmas.
Quelf Jr. – I haven’t actually played this game but I have looked into it several times and I know a family who owns it and really enjoys playing it together. I believe this game is just a newer version of the fame named Flap Doodle.
Scribblish – Most Cranium games always end up being a blast. This one is a ton of fun.
Imaginative Play Toys
Dolls – I’m partial to American Girl Dolls because I grew up playing them. There are so many fantastic dolls in the collection and they really promote learning as well as fun.
Doll houses – This isn’t your typical doll house but I think it is so adorable. I would have loved a doll house like that. Any doll house is great for creative play though.
Kitchens- I think simple kitchens like these allow for more open and creative play.
Playhouse – This is a great, and inexpensive, option for a play house. It is cardboard though so I wouldn’t plan on using it outside.
The more you encourage your children to use their imagination the less you’ll spend on toys. Consider the difference in price for a prebuilt modern plastic castle for actions figures versus a castle made from Lincoln logs and blocks. And it’s not only cheaper but it allows your child to pick and choose exactly what they want and how they build it. How about a secret cave made from kitchen Tupperware to go with that castle? If you encourage your kids to create toys from simple everyday objects then you wont have to constantly be buying new toys. I know that’s pretty much common sense but some people don’t even bother to think about things that way.
Toys that are battery operated and computerized don’t allow children to use them in different ways. A leapster is only ever going to be a computer game device. A computerized dancing Mickey is only good for watching it dance. If your child had a plush soft Mickey they could make him dance, they couldn’t cuddle with him, he couldn’t be their baby when they play house. Modern toys tend to tell us how to use them while more simple old fashioned toys allow us to think of our own ways of using them. This allows for creativity and critical thinking. Another thing high tech, modern toys don’t allow is the important skill of learning how things work and how to fix things. When a Nintendo DS mysteriously stops working there is nothing a child can do (or parent for that matter). Toys like wooden nesting blocks and board books can easily be repaired and older kids get a chance to figure out how to fix something. Learning to build things like Marbleworks is a excellent toy that is fairly inexpensive and can be a favorite toy for a long time because it’s always new and can be used in different ways.
Thinking back to when we were children, and especially when our parents were children, kids rarely got toys. We got toys for special occasions, birthdays, holidays, or if we earned and saved up ourselves. Now-a-days kids get new toys all the time. I know that I’m a victim of running to Target to pick up a few things and coming home to realize that I have bought yet another toy for my 1 year old daughter. She already has too many. And when kids have too many toys they can’t really appreciate them. I am starting to keep certain toys in baskets and trying to take out 1 type of toy at a time. This way my daughter doesn’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of toys. When everything is out and all over the living room floor my daughter tends to get bored very quickly, but it’s not really boredom it’s just stress and being overwhelmed with what to do. And what do we do when our kids seem bored with their toys? We go out and buy them more! It’s a never ending cycle. I know many parents who keep a bin of toys put away and every couple of weeks or so they switch out the bin in the closet for a set of toys the kids had been playing with. This keeps the volume of toys down and the toys are always “new” and exciting. I would keep out a few basic staples, blocks for instance and maybe a few stuffed animals. With fewer toys a child is able to engage in them fully and really explore the toy and enjoy a more creative play. My daughter recently found an old giraffe toy that jingles and has a squeaker. It’s an infant toy and kind of young for her but she is really enjoying it all over again.
Teach your kids to use their imagination next time they ask for a new toy.
Something interesting just happened the other day that really made me think. We (my husband, daughter, and myself) were on the way home from the pumpkin patch and we started talking about children’s museums with hands on activities. We were remembering the science museum we used to go to for field trips at Balboa in San Diego. My husband brought up the fact that we would have to spend a lot of time taking our daughter to places like that to help enrich her life since public school teachers don’t get the opportunity to explore such activities with their students anymore. He then went on to say how important science was to problem solving and having a better understanding of how the world works. He said science was vital to learning how to think outside the box. I couldn’t help but laugh, everything he mentioned was exactly the same things I feel creativity and imagination help improve. I said this to him and he couldn’t see how an imagination would help improve problem solving skills or critical thinking. And it hit me, of course my science nerd geeky husband would see the importance of science and of course his day dreaming creative wife would see how vital the imagination is. We ended up agreeing that they were both important, but neither one of us gave into to the other argument on which was more important. I guess it’s all in how you look at things and what is important to you. Whether you think science is more important or creativity, make sure you spend time sharing your feelings and passions with your kids. These days parents really need to take active roles in educating their kids.
I just found an interesting post in the parenting blog section of the New York Times. http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/what-is-slow-parenting/
It’s a brief interview by Lisa Belkin of Carl Honoré writer of, “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting,” The book brings up the issue of over parenting and pushing our kids too much. My last post brought up the idea of slowing down in order to let kids use their imaginations and explore. I haven’t read the book yet but I plan on very soon. The interview linked above has some really great points and is worth a read. What I liked about it is how it brought up the idea of trying to force this “perfect” childhood on our kids, how our culture has made us want the best of everything and wants everyone to be perfect. This doesn’t exactly relate in any way to imagination and helping our children gain imagination but it is still something to think about. Nobody is perfect and it’s wrong for us to try and make our kids fit this perfect mold, especially when you see it happening younger and younger. Does it really matter what preschool your child goes to? Who cares if your kindergartener is reading as well as others. In my school district this year they had the kindergarteners participate in a standardized writing exam for the sate….honestly how absurd is that? I just can’t swallow sending my daughter to a school where kindergarteners must sit down and write a thank you letter to somebody and get scored on it. I can still recall one of my favorite parts of kindergarten, besides when the custodian brought in the milk crate for snack time everyday, it was making animal puppets for every letter in the alphabet. I don’t recall ever being forced to write anything. Of course I want my daughter to do the best she can, of course I want to help her in any way that I can, but stopping to smell the roses is more important then getting the best grade on a math quiz in elementary school. Maybe she wont be president or a rocket scientist but I hope that she’ll be happy and wise and have a life full of joy.
One of the biggest things a parent can do to encourage a child’s imaginations is slow down. I know, impossible, but before I became a stay at home mom for my sweet baby girl I worked as an assistant for a real estate agent. He was the biggest workaholic I have ever met and yet he did his best to always make time for his daughter, whether it was just listening (ok, he didn’t always really listen but he said enough uh-huhs to keep her talking) or watching puppet shows she preformed behind the couch. Kids need down time to think and do things they enjoy, parents tend to take this free time away from their children. I know I can be this way even with my not even one year old. I often catch myself trying to pry her away from an activity before she is really done. I sometimes interact too much. Don’t get me wrong it’s so important to interact and participate in our children’s creative play, but why do I need to stop her from happily playing with a box or a dvd case just because I think it should be time for building blocks or books. Just because I don’t find something exciting or interesting, just because I don’t think an object is worthy of being played with doesn’t mean my daughter feels the same way. I think it can be hard for parents to just let kids play. We feel like they should be learning from their activities, but maybe they are learning through exploring and using their imaginations. Play is vital to learning and sometimes I think we forget that and we don’t give our kids the time they need to just play.
My daughters all time favorite toy is a plastic water bottle…
I decided I need to bring up my thoughts on imagination and it’s role in problem solving skills. In my years of working with kids I have seen the kids who can solve any situation in the most odd and creative ways to kids who can’t figure out a simple problem on their own. Part of it might be a lack of confidence and a dependent need but I believe part of it is a lack of imagination. I am fairly good at solving problems, I can judge if something is going to fit in a certain spot in the house or figure out a way to make dinner and entertain my daughter while she is eating cheerios out of a soup ladle while banging on a colander as a drum. I can plan daily schedules to make everyone happy. Imagination allows us to think outside the box, it turns your childhood day bed into a houseboat where you and your best friend spend hours going down rivers and over water falls. Who needs a Barbie house when your imagination can turn your best friends dresser into the coolest Barbie mansion ever( that thing had a room for everything, of course all her clothes usually ended up on the floor in a big mess. Imaginations causes messes don’t they). When you can picture a problem or situation in different ways and a million different outcomes then you will likely find the right answer somewhere in there. Sure it’s unlikely a bear will ever mosey into your backyard and take that beehive away for you, but that may lead to the right solution, maybe not a bear but an exterminator would do the trick. Obviously y that’s a easy problem to solve…it just came to me and I thought a bear in my backyard would be pretty crazy.
The more you can imagine, the more you can solve. I bet Macgyver had an awesome imagination, that’s all I’m saying.