Tuesday, 15 November 2016

the transformative power of the humble wooden block

The Christmas decorations are up in the shopping centres, old familiar festive tunes are blaring. Don't try and ignore it folks, that time is upon us. "But the kids only just started back at school the other day!" - I hear you say... yup, right there with ya! 

It's time to embrace the festive cheer and start thinking about shopping lists and prepping that Christmas pudding (I actually hate that stuff, never baked one in my nelly puff).

What should have been a 15 minute visit to the shops the other day became 3 times as long as I became sucked into perusing the latest must have toys and gadgets for kids. There is SOOO much out there. Every kids programme on the telly is punctuated by an all singing and dancing advert about a baby that potty trains, cries real tears and poops real poop, or the latest mini food play-dough kit. All I hear from the living room is "Mummy - that's what I want for christmas this year... no actually that... oh and that". We live in such a consumerist society that each year I feel I have no other choice but to splurge a silly amount of money to make sure I'm not a bad parent that doesn't love her kids enough to get them said amount of toys. It's been playing on my mind a lot. 

Over the last few weeks I've been sorting through the boxes of toys the children have in the house. Throwing away broken toys, and separating the toys that they rarely played with to sell or give to a charity shop. I realised there was a significant amount that just didn't get used, or that had been played with a few times and then forgotten about. What are the toys that are really worth keeping? And what are the toys that we should be thinking about getting for the children this Christmas?

Last Sunday, the children got out a box of blocks (originally for the game jenga). I watched as Chick 5 sat and lined them up in various configurations. He sat for a long time, trying out different shapes and distances between the blocks. 

After a while, him and Chick 6 began creating towers. They'd discuss the best structural shapes and try out different ways of building it to make it more stable each time.

It really gripped them and they were totally engrossed in the play for well over an hour.

After a while, they decided to include dinosaurs into their play - making forts and protective defences for they're towers.

A little while later, chick 5 began using the blocks to create barriers or fences to enclose each of the dinosaurs.

Chick 6 also began using the same idea, except this time she used the blocks to sort each of the dinosaurs into 'families'. 

Through my observations this afternoon, I came to the conclusion that what I need to do this Christmas is simplify. Sometimes the most basic and 'boring' of resources can actually be the best kind of toy. Why? Because they are limitless in possibility. Children have more freedom to use their imagination with something simple. It's like having a blank canvas.Whereas when a toy has too much complexity, there is only so far they are able to take their play. Stripping back to something simple and basic is perhaps a better investment for children and their imagination. 

It reminds me of the film 'Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium' (a fantastic film I'd recommend to anyone!) 

In it, Mr Magorium says "There are a million things one might do with a block of wood. But what do you think might happen if someone, just once, believed in it?"

This year, I will try to be a bit more selective about the kinds of things we get the children, buying things that I know will really get their creative and imaginative juices flowing a bit more. But also, I want to try and stick closer the the 5 gift rule :

In addition to wanting to cut back on the consumerism, I'd love to try and help the children to think about how amazingly lucky they are. To remember there are so many others who have so little. To look for ways to help others by donating food and clothes.

So... in conclusion. I challenge you to think about the kinds of things you are buying this year. Is there a different way to approach Christmas purchases this year?


  1. I have been contemplating presisely this! There are a bunch of blogs with lots of ideas for a non consumerist Christmas (things like fancy dress clothes, magazine subscription, vouchers for "dates" with their parents etc, I was reminded of this yesterday when I almost threw away an empty plastic jar, but gave it to Pip, she spent the majority of her play that day using it, filling it with items which would fit inside, relishing figuring out what did and didn't fit inside it. Such simplicity (and free!)

    would this be separate to what Father Christmas brings ? Where did you get the "5 rules"?

    1. Yeah, all those ideas sound great! I read it somewhere a while ago and I'm sure someone else mentioned something similar too.

      We'll do father Christmas too :)

  2. We've been getting most of our things from the charity shop this year (only if in good condition of course), it always horrifies me how much some people spend! Especially when they say "I need to clear out space for all the new toys".

    Saying that... I need to clear out the broken and baby toys!
    Enjoyed reading this x

  3. Ditto Martha, over half Pips is from the charity shop...(most of which is from the stocking)
    Good idea...5 presents is more than ample from "the parents"...in my opinion;)