why does it matter what we let our kids play with? at one level, the answer is obvious... isn't there a big difference between army guys and huggy dolls? but there is more to it than that... at another level entirely, army guys and huggy dolls are basically just two versions of the same thing. they both prescribe a certain kind of play, they both frame the same kind of toy-child relationship, they're both heavily gendered, and completely lacking in imagination. what's more, both are likely to be made from the same cheap materials, mass produced in the same kind of factory, and even advertised on their own tv shows. there is a whole worldview, a whole economic paradigm, and a whole lifestyle embodied in those toys.
the thing about toys is that they are among the first material things that children spend any amount of time interacting with. the quality and character of that interaction is something which feeds in substantially to the child's development. it conditions them and habituates them to certain types of behaviour and patterns of thinking, both socially and in terms of their relationship with the material world. children will learn something from everything they encounter, and so as adults, we need to think through what that learning might be.
what will rub off on children who play with cheap plastic toys, toys which break easily, toys which are meant only to entertain, only to educate, toys which can only really be played with in one way, toys which fail to capture the imagination, toys which almost immediately disappear into the closet, never to return? what does the child learn about the material world from these toys? what does the child learn about consumption, about quality, about lifestyle? contrast this to the child who plays with well made toys, toys made from qualty materials, toys made to capture the imagination, to engage the mind on multiple levels, toys which can be played with in a variety of ways, and can grow with the child as they become capable of more sophisticated forms of play?
aroundsquare's goodwood deconstruction blocks are made from sustainably harvested rubberwood. they are built to last, sanded smooth, and finished with high quality water-based acrylic paint. they are made to be heirloom quality.. cherished toys which are held onto over the years, to be passed on to the next generation. the blocks are geometrically interesting and beautifully painted in a way that accentuates the grain of the wood. through this, children begin to develop an appreciation for natural materials, for openness and opportunity, for aesthetics, architecture, and design. the child knows right away that this toy is something special.. with this, we start to see a different sort of relationship with the material world developing.
rather than being packaged with instructions or other constraints, the blocks ship with a small leaflet outlining the back-story of the blocks--illustrating the various steps and decisions which went into bringing the blocks to the toy store shelf. the leaflet demystifies the production process, opening the awareness of the child to the fact that everything around them has a back-story. from an early age they begin to understand that each object in their world has an embodied history, and that all of the different decisions and steps which make up that history have implications and consequences.
all of this matters. children are biologically designed to learn, to incorporate new information, to question. they are constantly absorbing new ideas, understandings and assumptions.. some through our explicit teaching, and others through tacit learning that comes from the experiences we provide for them and the things we surround them with. every waking moment, our children are immersed in a context which is shaping them.. and there is nothing neutral in that context. every contextual factor exerts a developmental force on the child, everything contains its own values and assumtions, and so it matters that we bring some intentionality to those things--especially those with which the child directly interacts, like their toys.