Playing with less

While I was pondering what to write today, a post came up in my Facebook feed (seldom a helpful tool in getting things done) entitled “Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Child”. I clicked on the link, skimmed through it in under 5 seconds, and clicked away again. I already know why. I didn’t need to read it and ponder it, and feel vindicated or challenged by it. We already have Fewer Toys. I’d even be happy with Fewerer Toys.


The play area: toy shelf, animal box and vehicle box on the left, blackboard which folds down into the art table, books on the right and puzzles under the couch.

Living in a house, I bemoaned the fact that Otis had exactly no interest in drawing; that he didn’t play with his lovely blocks, invitingly presented in a cane basket; that the duplo, which he’s had since he was one, remained completely untouched. His imagination was by no means stunted – when asked who he was, the majority of the time it would be a Common Toad, or a Thorny Devil Lizard, or a Yellow Eyed Penguin, or Peter Pan – only very occasionally would he respond with “Otis”. But the creating and the building and the making – oh! I was aching for the making!

Piccasso is quoted as saying “Every child is an artist. The problem is, how to remain an artist when he grows up.” What was I missing here?

Since being in the bus a handful of things have changed regarding play. We don’t have as many toys out (not that we had that many anyway), they are better displayed, the art supplies are more available, and we are outside a lot more.

The outcome so far? Two days ago I watched as Otis built with Duplo. First a pukeko and then an ostrich. And then, using all the blocks left, he made an aviary for them. He has built a hammerhead shark and a toucan and a giraffe and countless other birds. I’ve watched him lie on his stomach and draw detailed pictures of a dragon, fire, shooting stars, jellyfish. He has painted – paper, sticks and hands. He cuts and glues and stamps and staples. This may not be out of the ordinary in your home, but for us it’s incredible.

When he tells me he needs to have some important Thing (usually some animal), I say, “Hmmm”, and he says “how could we make that?” (ok, sometimes he says we have to go to the shop RIGHT NOW, but you know, on balance…).

There’s a fantastic little book by Pennie Brownlee called Magic Places – the adults’ guide to young children’s creative artwork. In it she says that there are four aspects to creativity – experience, focus, the creative process and the art product.

My hope is that our bus journey provides rich, layered experiences and the stripped-back toy shelf provides focus. It’s up to me to provide the materials, and watch what unfolds.

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