Saturday, January 17, 2015

Day 69: Introducing Toys & Expansive Play | Practical Parenting


When we initially started introducing toys to Cesar, I approach the situation from my own experience and background. Within my experience, I always felt and believed myself to have had ‘little toys’ and that I was missing out in some way or another, especially if I looked at how many toys my friends had.

I didn’t want Cesar to have this experience but I also didn’t want to go overboard by bombarding him with toys.

I felt that it was important for him to have ‘choice’ and to be able to decide what he plays with out of a range of things. So I would always present him with several toys at once and see which one he wanted to play with. What I started noticing is that even though I thought that ‘choice’ was what he wanted or something he would see as ‘important’, he was actually experiencing a lot of frustration and conflict.

Because, within each time having to in a single moment decide between a bunch of toys, he could not make up his mind because he has no reference of ‘what he likes’ – everything is new and he wants to explore EVERYTHING. So he doesn’t really want to choose. What would happen is that he starts off with one toy, and after briefly having ‘met’ the toy he would already be eyeing the next one and then drop the first to go on to the next – again exploring it only briefly.

While he picked himself a toy, I would pick a different toy for myself to play with. This was not also a source of conflict because now Cesar wanted to explore what I was exploring! So then I would say ‘Okay, sure – you take this one and I will take yours’. But then as soon as the toys swapped hands he wanted his previous toy back again.

When there were lots of toys on the floor, he would get ‘disorganized’ within himself as he is faced with all these options and not knowing how to make a decision of what to play with and what not to play with. This led him to being more frustrated and agitated throughout the day as he was lacking direction within himself and his environment.

I then stopped my ‘choice’ approach, as I saw that this was not actually serving his well-being but just feeding into frustration. We started a new approach of ‘one thing at a time’. So now, we would take one toy – any toy – remember, at this stage everything is new and everything is interesting, so it didn’t matter what we picked. And we would take just the one toy or object and just sit and explore it. We would talk about how it looks, how it feels, the colours, what we can do with it and really get to know the object/toy. This, Cesar enjoyed a lot more. You could actually trace a look of concentration on his face and could see how he just lost himself in the toy for a moment, exploring it totally and completely. There were no other toys to worry about or any other things waiting to happen or to do. There was just this one moment, with this one toy and Cesar’s eagerness to explore. His behaviour changed immediately as he was a lot more calmer and stable within himself.

Once he had explored a toy for a few days, we would then also have a look at things we could do with the object/toy that it wasn’t necessarily meant to do in terms of how it was designed to be played with – but what we could do with it none the less. This I enjoyed a lot as it also forced me to move beyond the state of mind that ‘this is how this toy is supposed to be used’, where if the toy is used in a different way it means that ‘Cesar is not getting it’ [see also Maite’s blog on this topic].
So we would take for instance shapes and see where else they fit in the room with other objects around, or we would stack toys that weren’t meant for stacking, or make up new games with parts of a toy-set.

This I found a very cool way to work with toys, as you firstly set the scene for focus and attentiveness within working with just the one toy and then set the scene for creativity as you see how far you can push a single toy. Still today Cesar surprises me with how he comes up different combinations of using a single object.

One of the objects he really likes playing for instance and has been playing with since the moment he could ‘play’ is an empty plastic bottle. It’s one of those objects that is so ordinary and so simplistic in its design that you’d think that a child would get bored with it in no time. But Cesar has learnt how to roll the bottle and crawl behind it, to make it spin, to put it upright, to bang it against different object and observe the different frequency sounds the bottle makes, now he also plays with matching the frequency with his own voice, he practices screwing the lid on and off, putting small objects into the bottle and getting them out again, looking through different parts of the bottle and how it skews what he sees,…

If you give an adult an empty bottle, they’ll quickly be tired of it because they think they already know what they can and can’t do with it, that they ‘know its purpose’ and so won’t bother moving themselves to find out what else they can do with it.

So this ‘out of the box’ playing with toys has been very interesting for Cesar and myself and has shown to be a lot more satisfactory than him being overwhelmed by choice.

Now, there are many times where he gets to roam around the room and play with whatever he wants – but now he has learnt how to play with toys and he understands that he doesn’t have to get lost in the face of choice, but can move with one toy at a time and explore it completely. So from that perspective, having choice around is cool for him because he can actually exercise it – while he previously simply did not know how to deal with it and was simply a source of frustration.
So choice does come to a have a part in how he plays with toys, but we first had to establish a foundation of how to play with toys and take something to the max – so that he can now do this for himself and within this also appreciate every toy for a long time rather than only being happy and excited by the novelty of things.

Whenever he gets a new toy or someone brings several new toys – we still introduce only one toy at a time so he has the time and space to get to know the toy before we introduce the next.

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