On Saturday morning as I was frantically rushing around trying to tidy up for our visiting guests, I started thinking about toys (as I vacuumed bits of kinetic sand out of the play kitchen hob).
As our daughter is in nursery a lot of the time, I’ve always worried that she doesn’t have enough toys at home. At friends’ houses I assess their ‘toy’ area and try and work out if we have the right balance or not. I have some friends who seem to be able to have perfectly organised shelves with a pretty collage of board games and jigsaw puzzles, and a play kitchen with pans on each hob, a bucket of fruit and vegetables and some posh Melissa and Doug wooden sets.
I get very envious!
In contrast, all our daughter’s bigger and what I’d call ‘proper’ toys and games are interspersed with bits.
Just little pieces of cr*p.
Plastic binoculars from comic books, broken crayons, dried play-doh, a Happy Meal toy, a wooden peg jigsaw piece from a toy that she has totally grown out of – as well as teething keys. She’s almost 4!
I’ve also found plenty of non-toy items. A proper saucepan and wooden spoon, some little pink candle holders, bits of toilet paper (probably from a mopped-up spillage), nursery drawings, some hair clips, a pair of gardening gloves, some beads, a bit of string, a paintbrush, some ToucanBox foam pieces.
To my paranoid eye, the place is a mess. How can a child play when everything is chaos?
I make an effort to put jigsaws and board games back in their box when we’ve played them – primarily because these are stored in the lounge. However, for everything else, I just leave it in the play area. The Great Little Trading Company play table that I bought – having seen one at one of the said organised friends’ houses looking splendid, is now littered with stuff. The play kitchen sink looks like it is full of dirty crocks and old food.
You certainly wouldn’t get pictures of these in an Argos catalogue.
However, despite the clutter, my daughter does play.
In fact, she plays very imaginatively – because she has to, and because everything is fair game.
She puts beads, broke crayon and kinetic sand in the grown-up saucepan and presents it to me as dinner. She uses the paintbrush to pretend she’s putting on lipstick and has used the candle holders as bottles for her baby.
She is resourceful and finds things that are buried beneath the collection of tat that I wish I could just sweep together and throw in the bin.
As a result, I feel justified in leaving the tat where it is.
We have two main places where the playing takes place. The lounge, which tends to be for structured play, and the play area which is in the kitchen and is where our daughter will play unstructured when I’m making dinner. And you know what?
I admit, I wish I tidied the play area up sometimes (or even got round to asking her to), but she never complains about the tools she has for her trade and until she actually says she’s fed up of the mess, I will keep that particular chore off my long list of things to do.
Toys don’t need to be toys to be classified as toys.
But I do hope that one day she will start playing in her bedroom – which is probably the tidiest room of the house!