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"A three-year-old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm." - Bill Vaughan
The shopping season has officially started. Did you know the TV bombards our children with an average of 38 plus toy commercials per hour during the holidays? Which means kids are adding to their growing list of "gimmes." Parents, on the other hand, are nervously adding up their budgets, trying to figure out how to make everyone happy.
The Top Ten Toys for Kids this season range in price from $40 to $400. Almost all of them talk, flash, sing, drive, fly, even engage in conversation; so that children are being directed by the toy, and not the other way around.
What’s wrong with that, besides the astronomical price tag? Do our children really need so much bling? The answer is no.
It may surprise you, but the pricier bell-and-whistle toys are not the ones that make our kids smarter, happier or more creative. In fact, they limit creativity by diminishing the child’s interaction to what the toy does. This goes for kids of all ages, from infants to teens. I’ve worked with children for over 20 years and have a Masters in Education. What I’ve observed is that kids learn the most through imagination and creative play. Though like many parents, I am torn between wanting to give my children what they want, and what is best for them in the long run.
I try to remind myself that it isn’t just about getting through the holidays and putting a smile on my children’s faces for that fleeting moment when they unwrap their presents, but about teaching them they don’t need to have “things” to be happy.
In my family, we didn’t have a lot of money. But we always had a great Christmas with plenty of laughter, and an understanding that the holidays weren’t about toys. My fondest memory is dancing with my grandparents around the Christmas tree. Guess what? I don’t even remember the presents I opened that year.
“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much . . . are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that… cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. She recommends toys that children “can take apart and remake or reassemble into something different, which builds their imagination. Toys like these give your child opportunities to ‘make their own worlds.’”
Why is creativity so important?
Creativity is linked to better success as an adult, as well as better relationships. Why? Creativity is a flexible way of seeing the world - whether it is the way you see your partner, your job, or your life - it’s not black or white; it’s a rainbow of colors. Children who learn to see life this way at an early age, also learn to believe in more possibilities throughout life.
Forget the myth that creativity is only for artists. Everyone has creative ability. The more you use it, the more it grows. Scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers - all depend upon creativity to find new solutions to old problems.
Creativity in kids has been declining in the U.S. since 1990. The most affected age groups are kindergarten through sixth grade, according to a Newsweek article, “The Creativity Crisis.” Theories on the causes include the amount of time kids spend in front of the TV and video games, along with educational budget cuts in the arts.
The article goes on to describe the qualities of creative people: “Engaged, motivated and open to the world.” I can’t think of a better definition of what I want my children to be when they grow up.
Wishing you all a very happy and creative holiday!
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design