We don’t have TV in our house. Our children sometimes watch cartoons from the Internet. We have recently been on holiday where due to an accident to one of the children we ended up watching quite a bit of TV in the holiday rental. Both of the children became like zombies and were no longer the lively, inquisitive, active individuals that they were at home. Which really got me thinking about the benefits of play verses TV and screen based activities.
An article from July’s Newsweek, Is Playtime Over? by Blake Gopnik, has gone round and round in my head for the last few months. This article was reflecting on a new MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art in New York) show Century of the Child, which explores the notion that the 20th century was where children were the fundamental core of investment in creativity, design, society and politics. Gopnik opens his article with the statement:
Kids had it good in the 20th century. Designers gave them revolutionary playthings like Lego and Tinkertoys and the Rubik’s Cube, made to be both fun and good for them.
He then juxtaposes this beginning with the 21st century:
All of which makes me wonder about the 21st-century child. She’s wearing adult-only clothes, just like her midriff-bearing mom. High-design wooden toys have been displaced by games on the computer—which has left the playroom for the breakfast nook, so parents can police their kids’ cyberspace. And so dad can play the games too. Parents and children, heading off by the millions to watch the latest comic-book movie, seem to be living in a shared adolescent twilight. “I think that in many ways [childhood] has gone off the radar,” says Kinchin.
Has childhood gone off the radar, is the creative era dead? This article came at the same time that my local mothercare dramatically changed the type of toys they were selling. Up until six months ago they had mainly been quite creative toys, such as painting sets, art packs, imagination toys or construction and suddenly the whole shop was generally filled with plastic toys where kids pressed a few buttons and the lights flashed. I began to wonder why that was.
Perhaps many more parents both work full time. Coming home from work exhausted one of the last activities that you might want to do is play. In my own experience often jobs also don’t finish at work and there are emails and other tasks to be completed at home. Creative toys need both the adult and the child to interact together, particularly in the early stages and this can be quite time consuming in the fast paced lives that we sometimes find ourselves. It can take great effort not to turn on the cartoons or TV and engage in creative play.
A study commissioned by Ribena, Entitled The Ribena Plus Play Report surveyed parents about play and interviewed nine experts in the field of play. It found that even though parents knew the benefits of ‘traditional play’ such as, building blocks, role playing, dressing up, climbing trees, they were engaging less in it, due to daily stresses from work, fear that they needed to be fun and not knowing how to play creatively.
However the benefits of rule free, non-competitive play for the child’s development, confidence and self worth not to mention the child-parent bond , of creative toys and activities are well worth the effort (see an article from the Daily Mail , where although a bit extreme, the mother took all of the modern toys away and gave her children more traditional toys).
The experts from the Ribena study came up with a cheap box of items that would encourage more traditional or creative play:
Coloured embroidery threads
Wooden shapes or building blocks
There are a few other items I would also have in the house along with these:
- child safe scissors
- child safe glue
- old clothes for dressing up
- sticky tape
- whole cardboard boxes (see a wonderful short film about a child and his cardboard box here)
I have also found that there are some creative toys that are well worth investing in as they grow with your child’s imagination. For me the ultimate one is LEGO. It is so versitile and creative. Steve Vassallo in his Forbes article reminds us to Buy kids Lego but Throw Away the Instructions. For your own entertainment you might also like The Guardian short animations created with Lego, called Brick By Brick.
For more simple creative play ideas explore some of our posts:
For a full range of creative play inspiration check out these two collective boards on Pinterest: