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Sunday, 26 September 2010
My daughter has turned 5.
She didn't watch any television until she was 2 and then (and now) it was limited and monitored.
Our toys through toddlerhood were almost all natural, open ended, child lead toys.
We won't mention the big plastic Shrek doll that screamed things like "your breath smells like onions" that was a gift to Rowan at age 18 months from a grandparent (and was promptly stashed away).
Most of those same toys are still staples: the wooden tree blocks, playsilks, gnomes and wooden unicorns all see regular play these days.

But I have found with the beginning of Senior Kindergarten, our all natural high ground has eroded a little and I find we are more and more often facing the challenge of finding stable middle ground in our choices for our daughter (and yes, more and more WITH our daughter).

She has an immense and glorious imagination.
She can build castles in the air, or out of sand, sticks, books or anything that comes to hand.
She makes art every day.
But she doesn't know which Disney Princess has the brown hair.

And yes, I want to state the obvious "who cares", but she cares because all the other 5 year old girls care.

And setting aside the fact that my daughter is very sensitive (with that big imagination!) and finds the Disney movies simple to intense and frightening to sit through, she wants to be in the know.

Our choices have never been made to single her out, or leave her out, but to allow her the space and freedom to grow into her true self and her own interests, rather than those imposed by Disney et al. In fact, she will tell you she doesn't *like* princesses, but that doesn't change the reality that in little-girl-world knowing Ariel from Aurora is the currency of play.   Our daughter knows how to play, truly and well, but she lacks the language to engage in the play of her peers.

And so we are stepping down to the middle ground.  And that is ok.

We 'opened' the gifting possibilities for her 5th birthday to include My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop toys (don't get me started on how those creepy little animals look nothing like animals~ we were shopping to spend her birthday money and were both stumped as to why the pink kitties were playing in the mud... I had to read that they were pigs).  I noticed that most of her friends gave her craft kits and supplies, which was fabulous but I had to wonder a little sheepishly if they found her hard to shop for!   I am still vigorously holding back the Barbie river with my finger in the dike, but I have bought us a little bit of time claiming they are not off limits, just off limits until she is 'older'. I am sure the Barbie lobby will begin again with Christmas on the way.

So for us, the middle ground is littered with tiny little plastic bits and big eyed critters.  It has a few Disney stories (along side more original tellings of the tales).  It is about finding a place for being true to our values and goals but also to the social context in which our child swims and which will become more and more important as she grows up.  The middle ground has plenty of opportunities to apply critical thinking and to ask questions about consumerism and simplicity and to explore new possibilities.

This afternoon, as I watched Rowan and a friend play with their little mutant Pet Shop 'animals' I had to smile when Rowan immediately went to get silkies for their pond and wooden blocks for their houses.  And I realized that the middle ground is really about growing into a new stage of childhood that will build on what has come before.

We can live with that.


Lee said...

Thank you for this post. WE are trying and have tried to focus on open ended, natural materials (or at least "safe plastics"), but it is hard when they realize characters they like have toys. For us it is Thomas the tank engine. He relives the stories from his books and dvd's with his toy trains, and this is one of teh common boy currencies in our friends group. Luckily visiting friends find our house exciting-- so different from most of their toys- blocks, treehouses, and wooden animals of all sorts of varieties, so the "character" toys issue isn't such a big deal yet.

Lori said...

It is tough!
I could see we weren't going to eliminate/ keep out everything, so figured we would choose before it was done for us LOL And you can get some great wooden toy train stuff!

Kylie said...

We too tried to go "all natural" with toys from family/friends. in the end we couldn't control what they gave, but often "put away"or gave away some of the more outlandish ones! I have found (my kids are 9, 7 and 4) that they always come back to the soft natural dolls, and the open ended toys. The fact we have given them the opportunity to have such creative and open ended play has meant that they will always had that, and come back to it.
Good luck!

lyneya said...

Thank you for the honesty of this post. My compromise: a couple of Spiderman t-shirts. It made a world of difference to a 3 yr old...he could hold his own with his peers in his preschool. Why they market these characters to preschoolers, I can't guess. But they know the super heros. And if two Spiderman shirts can make him that happy, it's worth it. But ok...who teaches these babies about Spiderman and Iron Man and Batman and Transformers??? They're not even old enough to see the movies!!

So far, we're doing good with the toys at home though. A few little things slip in, but not too bad. I'm dreading when I have to fight with the world about video games!!

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