When it comes to presents, children come up with of the latest electronic gadgets and most expensive toys so necessary in playing the child’s version of keeping up with the Jones. The sum total of a child’s top ten “must haves” can often match a family’s monthly food or mortgage budget. It wouldn’t be so bad if the kids got long-term play value out of the toys, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Why not turn back the clock to a time when play value was measured in satisfied smiles, not the length of time a battery-operated car would last until it needed recharging?
The most important gift a person can give a child is the gift of imagination. Imagination is special—the more you use it, the more it gives. Imagination is like a muscle—without regular exercise, it becomes soft and flabby, unable to perform the simplest jobs.
Before shopping for the child in your life, check this list of back-to-basic toys for some of your own childhood favorites. Better yet, why not take the time to introduce your child to something from your past? Jacks and finger paints are as much fun as an adult as they were as a child.
Some of the best back-to-basic toys run on imagination instead of batteries. Traditional dolls without voices and moving parts allow the child to assume a variety of personalities to meet their varied day-to-day needs. Dolls that are pre-programmed have difficulty being anything other than what they were made to be. But a rag doll can be a new baby, a fairy princess or anything else a child desires.
Simple cars, trucks and trains, where the child makes all the sound effects, can provide hours of imaginative play. Set aside a place in your yard that is okay for your child to dig. Let him build roads and mountains. Let him flood a river and then build a bridge. By allowing him to create a world of his own, you are encouraging him to grow as an independent freethinking individual.
Keep a box of miscellaneous craft supplies in an easily accessible place. Building blocks, scraps of wood, a craft box made of sewing room cast-offs, modeling clay and paints of all kinds are more good imagination boosters.
A dress up box is easily put together with finds from your closet or a minimum investment at the thrift store or a garage sale. The pay-off is 100% fun. Kids love to dress up and play house or school or perhaps write their own stories to act out on a living room stage.
And don’t overlook the power of a blanket thrown over a table and a couple of chairs to make an impromptu fort. Let the child decide if it is a castle, a hide-out or a fairy tale cottage.
Other basic toys bring pleasure with their simplicity: soap bubbles, red rubber balls, jump ropes, jacks and marbles. These toys have endured year after year for the simple reason that they succeed in keeping smiles on children’s faces.
Fun doesn’t have to be expensive; it just has to be fun. So the next time you have to buy a gift for a little someone, think twice. Instead of robots that blow smoke or cars that transform into a dozen different creatures complete with sound effects, instead of dolls that act like real babies or age several years during the course of playtime, instead of the latest interactive video games, Give the gift of imagination and go back to basic toys!
This article and various versions of it have been previously published in: Parenting Plus, Messenger, Northwest Baby, Carolina Parent, Parent & Child, Home Education Magazine, and Mothering With Imagination.
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