It is the time for giving…

21 Nov


It is almost end of November – the time of the year we start thinking about gifts. Of course, having eager little faces around you makes thinking about gifts even more important. Toy companies and toy shops know this and they see you coming. Make no mistake, children are also very cleverly targeted. Somehow there is a secret underground communication system that conditions children to all desire the same things. Forty years ago we moved into our newly built home. From my meagre allowance I bought beautiful curtains for my sons’ bedroom. Guess what was pictured on the curtains? Smurfs marching all over the curtains! I could not believe my eyes when I saw these little blue figures appearing in every shop and even on the plastic bag covering the bread! How is it possible that the same figures lasted 40 years?

This started me thinking about toys. All-time favourites like Lego, is still popular. There is a major difference however, when one compares Lego blocks available 40 years ago and the sets that can be bought today. In the old days, Lego sets were open-ended, meaning children could make whatever they wanted and it would still be satisfying. Lego now produces beautiful sets with themes like the Fire Station, Farm, Dino, Star Wars, Super heroes, etc. Beautiful but… somehow I miss the whole box full of Lego blocks, with maybe a few wheels added for variety. What is it that I miss? I miss the free, unrestricted, imaginative building of an endless variety of constructions.

As a grandparent I think the new Lego sets are beautiful. As a teacher I must prefer the unstructured box of blocks. Are we subtly manipulating our children’s minds? I am not even going to mention the remote controlled cars, robots and planes. These toys were actually produced for the fathers. The only benefit of these toys is the fact that the child can watch his/her father playing!

If I look at the students playing at school and make a list of best toys ever, it would look like this:

The water tap in the garden. We try to teach children that this is Africa and we should conserve water, but every child has this almost magnetic gravitation towards water. Combine the water with mud and you have the perfect marriage. Consider having a water and mud play day once a week in your school.  (No comment on how to clean mud stains from clothes!) Give the gift of water and mud play one day per week for the whole summer –  this toy will promise to provide hours of creative play. This is kid’s heaven!

A thick rope, hanging on a high thick branch in a tree. Put a knot every metre or so and secure the rope on to the branch with a heavy metal cable. This is a wonderful toy for the development of arm and shoulder muscles. Hanging ropes contribute to creating an environment where boys (and girls) can take controlled risks.

A real bicycle. At our school we have a large, almost circular, bicycle track. We have 22 two-wheel bikes with no side wheels. Parents are always very surprised to see that their 4-year-old children can ride a bike without side wheels. How do we do it? Playing, running, climbing and balancing. It is not only balance which is important. Children have a natural tendency to believe that they can do something. If they fall, that’s fine. They just get up and try again! If their knees are bleeding a little, a piece of plaster will do the trick. There is no mastery of cycling without a few mishaps. The benefit of the proud feeling of “I can”, outweighs the disadvantage of any scrape or injury.

Sturdy boxes. Nice big boxes have the magic ingredient of becoming a castle, a ship, a plane – in fact, anything you want it to be. Add an old blanket or sheet and you have the perfect toy to promote children’s imaginative play. An old blanket or sheet on a rainy day, combined with chairs and a coffee table, can do the same trick.

The gift of time. One of the best presents you can  give your child is to give the gift or your time. Make one night a week cookie time and let your child help with baking cookies. I mean help, not watching you make the cookies. Beat the eggs, cut the cherries, mix the ingredients. Who cares if the cookies do not look like the picture in the book? You and your child will have fun while talking to each other. What better gift is there to give than to give of yourself?

The most precious, educational gift you can give is time, opportunity and an environment to play. We have a parent at school that gets very upset when he asks his child what she did at school, and she replies “We played.”!  Just playing sounds to him as if he is wasting his tuition fee on a school where his daughter plays too much. But I can see a little girl who used to be shy and insecure, who is developing into an exuberant, popular friend. Through play she is reclaiming who she is.

Many children have boxes full of toys. They lose interest very quickly in toys that they cannot manipulate and play with in a multitude of ways. Parents, desperate to buy the ultimate toy, spend considerable time and money to search for and purchase whatever is the toy of the moment. In the end, many young children get a TV in the bedroom and an I-Pad, but they lose the ability to use their imagination and play.

This Christmas, consider giving your child time, opportunity and the environment to play, instead of expensive gifts that will eventually stay on the shelf.

Photo credit: Judit Klein at –


One Response to “It is the time for giving…”

  1. Elzana December 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Maizena en water in ‘n bak met bietjie koekkleursel by werk wonderlik.

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