Spaghetti Box Kids

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Toys: When Great Grandma was a Little Girl

September 8th, 2008 · 8 Comments

winnie-the-poo-puzzleThe truth is, when it comes to toys, you don’t need anything more sophisticated than your great grandmother had. The most fundamental learning skills require very little in the way of resources. Imagine taking your child on a nature walk, for instance. At most, you might have a magnifying glass or pair of binoculars handy. Pretty wholesome, right? Now imagine cruising down the nature trail in a safari jeep. The whole experience is shortchanged. It may be more exciting, but it does nothing to cultivate learning skills.

If you’re trying to whip up excitement, you’re over-shooting the mark. Keep things simple. How interested do you think your child is going to be in a classroom if she’s in the habit of super-charging her emotions with stylish gadgetry? Not very. Give her things to do that stimulate her curiosity, not her emotions.

Counting beans, for example, is a great activity to do with your toddler. It offers significant conceptual building skills, and it’s easy on the parent because you get to sit on the floor and more or less relax. It invites your child’s input in determining outcomes, and it is open-ended with unlimited possibilities.

The wonder of counting beans cannot be achieved through an electronic device. If just learning to count were the objective, then the electronic device would be equal to the task. But one activity advances learning skills, while the other advances learning information. One is based in the real world with real things being moved, weighed and grouped. The other is not. One offers the relation of objects to gravity. The other does not. One can be deposited in a jar to displace a quantifiable measure of water. The other cannot. One appeals accurately to the senses. The other does not. One can be exchanged for macaroni, pebbles, marbles, twigs. The other cannot. One can be glued to paper and painted and hung on the wall. The other cannot. The point is that the best toys and activities—the ones that build solid learning skills—are usually the simplest in nature.

In short—be aware of trends and habits that develop. Down to earth educational toys and activities will be enjoyable for your child if they are the norm. If watching television and playing electronic games are the norm, then skill building activities will seem like work.

Related material (NPR audio): Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

Tags: Learning Strategies

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Melanie Williams // Dec 3, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Hey, thanks for pointing me towards this post–I love it! I’ve been reading a book by Paul Shepard, an ecologist, who kept referring to a woman named Edith Cobb. She wrote a book in the 70’s called The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood (or something close to that–I still need to get my hands on it). Anyway, from what I gather, her thesis was that as children interact with nature and the environment they are actually laying down neural pathways in the brain that recreate the world out there. In other words, to be healthy–to reach our fullest potential as humans–we need, in childhood, to create those intricate neural networks by interacting with the world out there. Somehow, I just don’t believe that sitting in front of an electronic gadget which “simulates” reality has the same effect on neural development as does playing “out there” in the real environment.

    I believe Cobb focused on geniuses a bit in her writing and found that they often went back in reality or in imagination to the landscapes of their childhood when working towards novel approaches and innovations. Somehow those real and imagined landscapes of childhood hold answers.

    It’s fascinating stuff, really. Once I get a hold of the book, I’ll write a post about it on my blog.

  • 2 Spaghetti Box Kids // Dec 3, 2008 at 4:24 am


    Thanks for the great feedback/ response. I think there are many ways to qualify the benefits of engaging in actual surroundings. Neural development seems to add valuable insight to the discussion, especially where recollection and conceptual application are concerned. I think in all cases, routine and habits are key. Enough emphasis cannot be placed on the long term influence of daily routines.

    In the end–providing wholesome, daily activities that hold a child’s attention and stimulate curiosity is not very difficult, it just requires commitment.

    Thanks again for your input.

    All the Best-

  • 3 Audrey // Feb 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Great post! My girls have both types of toy/learning options available to them. They are thankfully naturally drawn to the more old fashioned toys. Parents are missing out on these memorable experiences if they push too much Nintendo DS, Wii, and princess junk.

  • 4 Spaghetti Box Kids // Feb 2, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Good points. I also think the allure of video games is that they capture a child’s emotions, and so. . . make a great babysitter. Wholesome activities usually require more parent interaction. In the short term, that may seem like more work. But in the long term, the child’s confidence in his/ her own ability to imagine and explore leads to greater self-motivation and independence. If simple, wholesome activities are the norm, then learning is fun. When learning is fun, motivation toward learning is stronger.

  • 5 Mikes@Your Daily Word // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Intelligent input. Keep up the good work!

  • 6 Spaghetti Box Kids // Apr 22, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for the feedback.

  • 7 Joanna Vazouras // Mar 3, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    I am Very impressed and a wonderful gift!!!!!!
    Keep the Wonderful things up!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 8 Spaghetti Box Kids // Mar 4, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Joanna- I appreciate the encouraging words. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. AV

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