“Mom, what can I do?”
“That’s mine! … Moooooom, he took my toy.”
“Can we watch t.v.?”
“Give me that back! I was playing with it first!”
Ah, the sounds of summer. Whining. Arguing. Discontentment. Self-centeredness. Isn’t this what we all dream of when we think of those warm summer days, when the sun is shining and all the cold snow had gone away? Yeah, I did not think so either. So why is it that this is what I have been hearing so much lately?
My first thought were: They are adjusting to our summer schedule. With George out of school he is home all day, something he is not used to. While we have a loose schedule here, he does a lot better with a more regular, non-changing schedule. This is not always possible because, well, life happens. Some days we have OT for Jack, other days we have swim lessons, other days there is nothing out of the home at all. Then there are the days where we see a friend walking by and we have an impromptu 5 hour play date. This is very much not how it is at when he is at (public) school. Jack does well with the looser general schedule that changes; George, not so much.
Jack also has a different relationship with George, his older brother, than he does with Olaf, his younger friend. It also has taken some time, and more than a cup full of patience, to remind him to be nice. These two tend more towards wrestling and out doing each other than they do towards hugs and encouraging to obey. Life has not been dull.
After time passed, though, I started to realize it was more than the change of routine. “I think they are bored.”
While Jack had started to learn how to entertain himself during unstructured down times in our day, George was not used to the free time he now had. For a variety of reasons, I could not send them outside to play on their own, and often it has been raining. That meant they were playing with their toys more often. While we rotate toys, the kids had been ‘helping’ put them away. Between that and having to store more things in the basement, it was just slightly chaotic down there. It has been hard for them to find toys they were really interested in switching.
This morning, a day after a lot of whining, I decided it was time that they got new toys and more time outside. This time, though it was to be ME who did the switching. After taking all their toys out of the play room, putting them in their proper-ish places, I went on a search for things they had not played with in a while. My goal was novelty, not quantity.
What I came up with were:
- A large coloring pad and colored pencils. The boys are not ones to color, so I gave an incentive – if you finish coloring the picture, I will sit down and type up a story, that you make up, to go along with it.
- Several Play-doh containers, a toy rolling pin and several cookie cutters all placed into a plastic bag.
- A game they could play individually or together, or we could play as a family.
- A drawing toy.
- And as a surprise – a radio.
The radio was something they had never seen, something I picked up at a yard sale with the thought of Jack taking it apart to learn how it was put together. However, when I saw it this morning, I figured they would like playing with it, figuring out how it works. What I did not anticipate was the excitement and attraction it would hold for them.
I gave them no instruction on how to use it, what the knobs did, nor what the antenna did. Actually, I did not even tell them I brought it up. I put it in the play room and walked away.
After some time at the park this morning, we came back home for an hour till it was time for swim practice. George was the first one to see it and the look on his face was pure joy when he brought it to me and found out that it was their’s to play with.
They spend almost an hour playing with the radio while I cleaned up the kitchen. They fiddled with knobs, exclaimed at finding music AND people talking, danced, were disappointed to find there were also commercials on the radio (with Netflix and non-traditional television, they are not used to commercials), turned the volume way up, wondered at what static was, and then realized that the other buttons gave them even more channels.
At lunch, they begged to use the radio to give us lunch time music. I agreed and hoped my husband would come home after the bluegrass music subsided from that particular station. (I love bluegrass and old time country music, my husband very much does not.)
I realized they had no idea how the radio worked and this would be a great jumping off point for them to learn. That time was not the time to stop and learn more, it was the time to let them figure things out and play around. Forming conclusions on their own will stay with them longer than any knowledge I can impart.
So, the next time you are looking to give your kids a toy, remember, it does not have to be from the ‘toy’ aisle. It does not need to rotate, vibrate and flash. It need not cost $20+. The toy is made to entertain, and educated if I may dare say, taking the kid to wherever their minds go, making connections and learning relationships with the world around them. You do not need specifically deigned toys for this. Stones and rocks do the same thing. Apparently a $1 radio from a garage sale works just as well, too.
**Update: Jack learned the hard way that the antenna does not rotate in a circle and that you can only pull so hard on it to get it to move. I was not mad, as that is why I gave them this particular radio, to learn. We made a trip to the store for super glue. Oh, well. There are a few more toys that need to be fixed as well.