My aunt came for our family Christmas party when Sage was four. She gave him a Superman action figure with a plastic box that broke open when Superman threw it on the ground. A green plastic kryptonite chunk fell out of the middle upon impact. Sage opened the package and stared at the toy, turning it over in his hand.
"What is it?" he asked.
"What is it?!" she replied. "Its SUPERMAN! You take this thing and put it in his hands and push this button and he throws it and it breaks and…"
He stared at her. He wasn't trying to be rude. He just didn't get it.
My mom spoke up. "Sage doesn't know who Superman is. He lives in a land of gnomes and fairies."
"What do you mean he doesn't know who Superman is?!" she shouted. "Well its about time he learn!"
My mom was right. We do live in a land of gnomes and fairies. My
children have grown up in a gentle world free of commercialism,
marketing, and directed play. They play because it is fun and it feeds
their souls, not to follow a preexisting script.
Our toys are mostly natural, made of materials that will return to the
earth when their functional life is done. I like that. Wool, silk,
cotton, and wood make up 90% of our playthings. And many of them have
held the children's interest for years and will continue to do so far into the future.
quality, open-ended toys can be expensive, yes. But the dollars spent
on the farm animals above when Sage was two were dollars well spent by my estimation. So far they have enjoyed five years of play by Sage plus two years of play by Lupine – with no end in sight.
We've also scored plenty of second-hand treasures, both online (through Craigslist, Ebay, and barter groups) and at garage sales and have made many of our own using fabric, wood, and found objects. Even a simple basket of stones or acorns is a treasured toy – and is far more valuable (in play terms) than a box of plastic superheroes.
With no one else's stories to draw on our children are free to play out their own dramas. Sage can express his anger or fear through dragons and knights, while Lupine often makes sure no one is going to sleep alone in the farmhouse. (Babies and mamas must always stay together!)
Pete and I are conscious of staying out of their creative way while the children play. It is not our story that needs to be expressed, but theirs. So we strive to be present and playful but in a passive role, quietly allowing the children to take the lead.
Some of the children's favorite (open ended) toys include:
- Ostheimer wooden farm animals
- Conkers – baskets of acorns, chestnuts, stones and seashells
- Handmade (by me) dolls
- Wooden doll bed (second hand)
- Wooden playstands (handmade by Pete and I)
- Wooden cash register (second hand, amazingly)
- Playsilks (many hand dyed with affordable silks from Dharma Trading Company and kool aid)