Friday, February 24, 2012

My Thomas the Tank Engine Dilemma

By guest blogger Daniella Fast 

It was not an all-star mom moment: holding my nine month old while dragging my screaming two-and-a-half year old out of a friend's house.  A month later my friend's little boy still remembers when "Thaniel" didn’t want to go home.  Nathaniel had been having way too much fun with the Thomas the Tank Engine train set table; it even had Cranky the crane. Maybe my timing for making an exit was off, maybe he was extremely exhausted, or maybe my little boy was experiencing the first stages of toy obsession.

Before having children, my husband and I spent a year abroad experiencing the world. One of our stops was in Northern Kenya in a small village called Gatab. My husband made a trip with a German doctor to Nolpilipili, a neighbouring village a day's hike away. Their task was to complete a water line that would eliminate the village mamas' burden of walking an entire day to fetch water. Knowing that there was a schoolhouse in the village, my husband and the doctor decided to bring a new soccer ball for the children. Immediately after the ball was handed over a full blown soccer match ensued. That one ball brought a day of laughter and enjoyment to those children.

After Kenya we flew to Ethiopia, landing in the capital, Addis Ababa. As if this wasn't far enough from home already, we proceeded to travel north for two weeks to the village of Debark. From here we took a day’s drive to a tiny village near the Simien Mountains and trekked 10 hours into the mountains on foot to find ourselves right in the middle of nowhere. Here, our group was greeted by children playing a simple game of "Bao". Their game board was two parallel lines of holes dug into the ground and their game pieces were rocks. I won’t get into how the game was played, the point is that it kept the children entertained for hours: a simple game played with a handful of rocks.

Getting back to my screaming little boy…. He didn't want to leave that day because he was excited by the toys that his friend’s house had to offer. Making matters worse in my mind, he often requests to go to his friends' houses because he loves their array of trucks, ride-on toys, and train sets. It saddens me that he isn’t content with what he has, especially after seeing how little other children have. I realize that we live where we live and I also, as a teacher, understand that toys develop physical, cognitive, and emotional processes. However, one still needs to stop and think about where the line is between materialism and encouraging developmental skills via toys. On one hand, I want my child to learn and develop; on the other hand, I don’t want to foster selfishness and discontent with what he has. 

I hope that over time I can help my little guy leave someone’s house content with the time he had playing with their toys. I want him to know that it’s not the toys that he takes with him that will give him joy. I want him to know that he has a creative mind capable of entertaining himself wherever he is, with whatever he has. The photo on the right shows three African boys I met on the coast of Zanzibar – it has a prominent place on my family room wall. I found these boys using scraps of garbage they gathered on the beach to build an amazing, fully functioning sailboat. They are daily reminders to me to teach contentment and simple creativity to my children.

1 comment:

  1. I try really hard to engender a love of the natural world but TOYLAND trumps all it appears. When do we drag our children (and us) off to a remote place and have them de-stimulate for a year.