If you are a parent, you know what it’s like to be inundated with consumerist messages: Buy this nifty gadget, and your child will love it/grow up to be a genius/stay entertained for hours.
If you are a teacher, you know the feeling of flipping through the tantalizing glossy pages of teacher-supply catalogs: The secrets to classroom behavior management/language learning devices/unparalleled support for children with special needs/”your students will be reading by the time they are mobile”!
If you work with young children in any capacity, you know that while attending conferences, shopping for groceries, checking email, or listening to the radio, marketers work tirelessly to convince us all that more is better, and products are the key to lifelong success and happiness.
I’m not buying it. (Pun intended.)
In protest to the bazillions of messages you will all get over the next weeks, I offer you a quick list of items that children do NOT need in order to grow up to be well-adjusted, successful, contributing members of society.
What NOT To Buy For Young Ones
1. Toys. Closed-ended objects that offer a single use, to be more specific. Think battery-operated, light-up, one-right-way-to-make-it-work contraptions. Closed toys, while fun for a moment, don’t do a whole lot to stimulate creativity and problem-solving skills. Plus, they deliver a whopping heap of failure when the kids get them wrong.
What do my children play with? Their favorite toy, by far, is this rolling filing cart. I picked it up at a university surplus store in Iowa for $5.00, and yes, I moved it across country to our new home in California (it is that popular!). It serves as a shopping cart, stroller, garbage truck, material mover, and on. Would I recommend you purchasing your very own filing cart? Not necessarily. It is an object that has proven very compelling to my group, but a laundry basket might serve the same purpose for you. The point is to use your imagination, and think outside the toy aisles.
Look for open-ended materials like cardboard tubes, giant boxes, fasteners like tape and glue, sections of rain gutter, or empty oatmeal containers.
2. Clothes with special washing instructions. I’m not opposed to special washing instructions per se, but I am opposed to clothing that can’t be worn (and worn well!) by the children who use clothes to facilitate their learning.
Make a habit of shopping at thrift and consignment stores, or looking for local clothing swaps.
3. Shoes without “climbing soles.” Too many shoes marketed to young children (especially the ones targeted towards girls) don’t actually allow those young children to climb, run, balance, stomp in mud puddles, kick, dance, or frolic with any sort of passion. Shoes should have sturdy soles and ideally a back and closed-toe.
Look for a single pair of shoes for each child in each season that will serve the big-body needs of that child. My personal preference is for dark colors since they show less wear and can be handed down from child to child.
4. Electronics. There are powerful uses for technology in early childhood (video-chatting with loved ones who are far away or using digital photography to capture a project in process, for example), but television and movies can be extremely limiting to a child’s creativity, and they can perpetuate harmful biases about good and evil, and stereotypes of all sorts. What children need most from significant adults in their lives are shared experiences and real hands-on experiences. Check out this wonderful article from the Fred Rogers Center about media in infancy and toddlerhood.
Instead of electronics, consider gifts that would promote together time, such as a membership to a local zoo or children’s museum.
More about play (and the materials that support that play) in the following articles:
- Janet Lansbury: “Better Toys for Busy Babies”
- Learning Motherhood: “Easy Handmade Waldorf and RIE Inspired Toys”
- From Magda Gerber: “The Best Toys For Babies Don’t Do Anything”
- Teacher Tom: “New Toys”