When my children were young, I did not endear myself to relatives and friends. I specifically made it be known that I would not allow my children to play with plastic toys. Gifts that were plastic in nature were politely and firmly returned.
"Come on, relax a bit," my children's father would say.
No, not on this. We have to live our beliefs in our everyday lives rather than spouting ideals. Children learn when their parents model their teachings. If we allow plastic toys - many of which are manufactured unethically using child labour and contributing to environmental pollution - when and how will our children learn to live mindful lives? Our home is the laboratory that our children learn the art of being and the ways of living.
In any case, my children were not deprived despite my draconian laws and moratorium on plastic toys. They played with pots and pans and wooden spoons. They rearranged my cupboards and spent a lot of time outdoors. My niece Katie infamously ate earthworms served up very prettily on my mother's china plate.
My father-in-law made beautiful toys for my children. It was truly a labour of love. He passed away in 2005 but the toys that he made almost 30 years ago still have the place of pride in my son's house. My mother-in-law made lovely things for them too with her sewing machine and crochet needles. She made the characters of the series of story books that my children's father and I wrote entitled The Atoms Family to teach our children about the physical world. Here's Harry Helium who is one of the residents of the block of flats called The Periodic Table.
My parents, who were less into crafts but more into biology, taught my kids about the plants that grew in the New Forest and the animals, birds and insects that lived there. Almost thirty years later, I still treasure those sketch books.
Scarcity of 'toys' made my children more resourceful. You see, toys entertain them passively, especially those with bright lights and synthetic voices. Without these toys to entertain them, they had to actively engage themselves. They became very creative and resourceful. I did moan a fair bit about the fact they they were always up to mischief, like cutting up old t-shirts to make clothes for the dogs, dismantling things and experimenting with fireworks.
But the upshot is, they learned how to live purposeful lives.
As teens, they would put on cabaret acts for the family. They would dress up. Yes, they were always up to something, living their lives fully and colourfully. Georgina taught First Aid course in her school for small children. She ran weekly children's Taekwondo classes in our front garden (she was a Second Dan Black belt by 12 years old). She started a company called G-Tech selling home electronic kits for children to learn the basics.
Today, she is two weeks short of her 16th birthday. She has no interest in hanging out in shopping malls or nightclubs (though we live in a party town). She does not own an iPad and she is not into computer games. She lives her life as a continuation of her childhood, which was fun-filled, resourceful and creative. She enjoys studying because she sees it as part of the process - no pressure, challenging, can be beautiful - and brings her creativity and enthusiasm into it. This comes from her childhood where the things she does is active and directed, rather than passive and accepting. An example of her biology notes:
This morning, I stopped by my friend Vivienne Reis's stall. I wish I had known her when my kids were young, because Vivienne is a patron of a Thai charity, Good Shepherd Sisters www.handsofhopenongkhai.com. The ladies supported by this charity learn self-sufficiency by making beautiful crafts and toys. I particularly love the cloth books with detachable pieces which are good for engaging children in story-telling.
They are all handmade with love and are very reasonably priced. I especially love the 2-in-1 Mermaid doll....because many years ago, my mother-in-law made one for my daughter Kat. 26 years later, Kat still has the doll. And isn't this the real value of life?
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com