What is a toy? And the importance of free play

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” Joseph Chilton Pearce

towers-9245_1920A toy can be defined as ANY item that can be used for play. What is a toy? Is it something to take up the slack of a boring and lonely afternoon? Something that keeps the child busy and out of the way? Something to have fun with? Something to fan the spark of creative play? What are we looking for when we choose a toy for our child? Are we choosing it with the child in mind, or is it the child in our grown-up bodies with adult consciousness choosing? For each of us at one time or another, all of the above have been true. When we consider how much time our children spend with their toys, how much more important it becomes for us to make conscious choices about what we give them. Do we not all carry with us the fond memories of toys we loved and cherished when we were young? What memories are we offering our children through their toys, with all of our best intentions?

toys-232533_1920How many toys should we give our children? This has become a real question in our affluent times and presents us with hard decisions. Do we follow the dictum of “the more the merrier?” In this question we may be reminded of those excellent family cooks who always became their most creative and joyful in the kitchen, not when the pantry was stocked from top to bottom, but when the rest of their family had already despaired that any meal could possibly come together from such scanty reserves.

This raises the question: what stirs creativity the most, fullness or vacuum? A doll with perfect features is certainly a pleasure to look at. But if it is perfectly finished, is there much left for the child to play with? A doll with only the hint of eyes, nose, and mouth is an unwritten book of expression for the young child. Present children with potential, and they will fill it out of their own unlimited fountain of creativity. Present them with finished products, regardless of how beautiful, and we will have unwittingly limited their own resourcefulness.

This is one of the maxims of Waldorf education: give children only enough to stir their own creative processes, and give them guidance in expressing what the lessons have awakened. This fosters true creative activity in the soul-life of the child and leads to imaginative thinking in the adolescent.

Cedar Valley Waldorf School, Squamish.