When we visit the toys section of a department store, we get so many “choices” about what to give to a child. We see a lineup of “educational toys” and we see cartoon characters from TV. We also see toy guns, remote control toys, plastic dolls and cook sets, almost anything that simulates our modern lifestyle – all thought up by designers of that industry.

But what do we tell our children with these toys?

If we are to look closer, we ought to understand that everything we say, do, and give to a child corresponds to a deeper message that we subconsciously communicate to their delicate minds. During his lecture, Horst Hellman, a Steiner School teacher in Germany for 30 years, said that for a child, play is their form of meditation. Their whole being gets to work during play, they get so engrossed with their play that many times, they cannot hear you calling. So, what does it say when an adult buys a child a toy gun?

More importantly, we note that our children’s minds are free, and in this way, their imagination is so strong. Giving our children formed, plastic toys causes their imagination to become atrophied. How so? Well, a formed plastic robot, in the eyes of a child, will remain a robot, and nothing more. The child will not be able to see it as an animal or any other creature. In this subtle way, we are asking the little one to not think of anything else, but only those that meet the eye.

To help our children foster stronger imagination, it is better for us to give them abstract toys like chopped wooden branches, seashells, cloths, nutshells, and seeds. In this way, we keep their imagination alive and running. Plus, they are far less expensive.

One time, I went for a sit-in at Tuburan Institute kindergarten, a spot where children play with faceless dolls and other abstract things I mentioned earlier. The children went from playing by groups to playing as one whole group. They got their chairs, lined them up, and formed it into a public utility jeep (PUJ), a little girl sat in front and acted as the driver, and the rest played the role of passengers, using the seeds and the chopped branches as their money for fare.

In another play, I witnessed the children imitating the storytelling time of the class. One child played the role of the teacher and the others as the students. I can observe how they even copy the sense of reverence of their teacher when they tell the story.

I decided to try it at home and brought as many seeds as I can to our place. It was so much fun to witness my children recreate a simple cloth into a range of costumes; and how they laugh at a seed which they imagined to be a pig or a dog, or whatever. I saw their eyes twinkle when they formed mangoes and dresses out of beeswax. I know that the creativity in their soul is being awakened.

If your child is accustomed to plastic toys and you want to redirect their play to organic materials, you do not have to change it abruptly. The best thing to do is to stop buying those things and slowly introduce these kinds of toys. But first, you may have to train yourself to be able to see the beauty of these seemingly ordinary things. Your child will sense it if you are doing the change of toys with distaste for the natural ones.

Although I can bravely say to you: “You will see that it is well worth it.”

Joan Mae Soco-Bantayan is a mother of two and a nurturer at Tuburan Institute. For questions, comments. and suggestions, please feel free to email her at socojoanmae@yahoo.com or visit Tuburan Institute at www.tuburaninstitute.org.

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