Image author's own
I've sometimes struggled with the Steiner School world I have been immersed in for so much of my parenting life. At times it has felt as though my default choices would have been too 'processed', too 'muggle' and it's really annoyed me. But like the wise old sage that I am, looking back, I am able to say that some of the seemingly bonkers doctrine is possibly correct.
For those of you gifted by not having to live in ridiculously over-priced postcodes such as Forest Row, York, Totnes or Kings Langley, you may not have heard of Steiner Schools. It's an education system a bit similar to some Scandinavian countries where the onset of 'formal' learning, decoding abstract concept (ie reading and the use of mathematical symbols) is delayed until the age of seven. The idea is that play is the work of the small child and that being surrounded by natural materials is best for the growing brain.
Before my ex-husband's catastrophic stroke, he was a teacher in a Steiner School and because we had a HUGE fee reduction, my children went to the school. Of course, the government's benchmark EYFS targets are not met by children baking bread, learning seasonal songs and walking in the woods, so you have to go private if you'd rather that than phonics and numeracy targets for your four year old.
As Steiner parents, we were taught that toys held qualities beyond the immediately obvious. I already knew that Barbie = bad and guns = awful, but what I found a touch mental there was that we were told that toys come with a heritage, a soul, a backstory, a weight.
Something stamped out of a mould in a plastics injection factory in China, and shoved, along with tens of thousands of identical items, into a crate by a craply-paid minor to be transported to Argos, will not, we were told, hold the same soul-connection for our children as a dolly or ball sewn by hand and filled with the love of a person who actually enjoyed its creation.
Don't vomit. Bear with me. I too thought that this was the Nag Champa muddled propaganda of the wealthy leftie elite, but it has become the truth here in single-mother-disabled-ex-husband-no-money-skintasanything land where anything cheap is usually revered and the boiling of the kettle or flushing of a wee-only lavatory bowl is frowned at for economic reasons.
These dolls pictured, Rosie (whom we lost for two years in a box after the stroke and the subsequent five desperate survival house moves) and Ella (bought as the replacement) have stood the test of time. They are so featureless that you can imagine onto their little blank faces whatever you feel yourself; they are always on your emotional plane. They were made by a person with a needle, time and space to be able to care. They were not stamped out of toxic crap by an infant with a desperate life and filled with nothing but sadness to be shipped to you for a measley sum - a minute fraction of which would impact the child- the lion's share going to some shitty company board who have never even travelled to the sweaty tin box where the joyless rubber faces are spewed out of thundering machines.
The toys that are so fixed, so finished, that every plastic gesture is forever frozen can never be anything else. They can't be transferred. A motorbike in miniature detail can't be a skier, or a truck, a buggy, a stone, a King Wasp or a cake - it can only be a motorbike. Non-transferable and a touch cold because of it. A bag of large smooth stones is not only free, non toxic and without profit, but it is able to become anything. As the education guru Sir Ken Robinson points out, children are sadly taught 'out' of their imaginations, not 'into' them, so your tiny ones won't dislike stones. They will use them in a thousand ways that you can't even begin to imagine.
If you don't have much money, I am in your club. I would still really, really recommend a lean away from brash plastic battery-filled lounge litter (except Lego, that's a brilliant product) and a little move towards a soul-filled thing. A dolly (and yes, small boys love them too, my son had Derek the doll) a play frame, a set of wooden blocks - check out the utterly beautiful Myriad online shop, I still stroke their catalogue just to remember those glorious perfect toy filled tiny days.
They are not cheap, toys with souls, but they will become part of your family in a way that Bratz dolls and Nerf Guns probably won't. And the bonus? the stuff looks so beautiful that you won't hide it behind the sofa in the evenings when your mates come over. You'll arrange it and pretend you're a Scandinavian Goddess mother. Well, that's what I do.
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