In “How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way“, Tim Seldin wrote that it was better to have a few high quality wooden toys rather than lots of cheap plastic toys so that children will learn to appreciate beauty and they will learn to look after their belongings. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after having a child like Hercules, I am beginning to see where he is coming from.
In the age that we live in, there are cheap plastic toys abound and the message they send to children is not a good one. For instance, a McDonald’s Happy Meal comes with a free toy – one of those cheap plastic toys that you don’t really value. They are great for distracting the kids for a little while and if it gets lost or broken, nobody cares because you can always get another one with another Happy Meal. Imagine the kind of message that gives our children – don’t worry if you break or lose your toys because you can always get another one.
Tim Seldin talked about the increasing popularity of plastic toys because they are harder to break and they are cheaper to replace compared to wooden toys. However, a wooden toy that will get damaged conveys a stronger message to a child learning to value and appreciate his toys – e.g. “You threw your toy and it broke.” Perhaps it can be mended, perhaps not. Regardless, the mark will remain and the child will remember. As parents, we would also react more strongly to the damage when we know that the toy was costly. This difference in behaviour speaks volumes to a child about our expectations.
Of course, children will be children and there will inevitably be broken toys and lost belongings. Even the most careful child will slip up. Individual differences will mean that for some children there will be more loss (children like Hercules) and for others, less (children like Aristotle). However, if we are going to teach our children to value their belongings, we have to let them feel the pain and loss of breaking or losing their toys. They will feel the pain more readily if they don’t have so many toys that the loss becomes meaningless. They will also react more appropriately if Mum and Dad react appropriately when a toy is lost or broken (monkey see, monkey do).
From this respect, it makes sense to avoid the cheap plastic toys and to go for quality rather than quantity. What do you think?
Up until now I’ve been struggling to deal with Hercules’ lack of value for personal belongings – books, toys, Daddy’s remote control, etc. No matter how many times we talk about playing nicely with toys and being gentle with books, it feels as if I might as well be talking to a brick wall. It’s been a frustrating journey and I sometimes wish he could be a little more like Aristotle in this respect.
When I reflect back on how differently I handled both boys, I realise that I have allowed Hercules to have “sacrificial” books that he can destroy. Aristotle would never have been afforded such luxury because all the books I bought for him were “beautiful” books and when he was rough with them, I came down hard. Of course, with a child like Aristotle, it wasn’t really necessary to repeat the lesson over and over because he just “gets it” very quickly.
For instance, Aristotle was very little (still crawling), he slipped on a mat, fell down and hit his chin on the floor. After that one incident, it never happened again. The next time he came across another mat, he would fling it aside and continue crawling. Hercules, on the other hand, will climb onto a stool, fall off, bump his head, cry a little and then climb back onto the same stool and repeat again. Even if he fell off 5 or 6 times, he would still get back onto the stool and repeat it all over again.
But I digress… When it came to toys, I made sure that Hercules only got to play with toys that were either “indestructible” or cheap, free toys that didn’t matter to us. Of course, when he did play with the “nice” toys, I’d be getting hoarse telling him to “play nice” which must be confusing – “Mummy didn’t mind when I throw my toys before, why is she complaining now?”
So now that the damage has been done, how do we go back to undo it?