Toys and Activities that Promote Creativity
With the holiday season upon us, there are avenues that enhance the creative, intelligent, emotional and spiritual development of children other than expensive toys and/or caving into slick marketing advertising that convinces parents to purchase the latest toys and gadgets.
As a psychologist, I spend the majority of my time retraining people and children’s bad behavior which arises out of skills missed in childhood which are circumvented, repressed or ignored. These skills include coping, executive, language and communication, emotional regulatory, cognitive flexibility and social. Most of these skills are acquired through children’s PLAY. Here is a litmus test to guide consumers on purchases and activities that enhance creativity, intelligence and promote a healthy psyche.
Clever Toy Marketing Strategies
If children are to develop a healthy, wholesome value system and psyche, enhance creativity and intelligence, then the toys purchased need to be scrutinized by adults. Clever marketing campaigns convince consumers to spend thousands of dollars on toys and trinkets as the means to raise happy, healthy, spiritual children while subliminally promoting a pattern of long term behavior to constantly consume, crave more, bigger and better rather than nurturing the creative world of the child. An article in Forbes Magazine discussed the “new” strategies for selling toys for four to seven year old children in order to create a new generation of lifetime consumers, turning the work of Joseph Chilton Pearce in his book Magical Child inside out. The clever strategies focus on developing products that target the deficiencies in our culture –spiritual, emotional, bonding, socialization, family relationships and community. The lines between these deficiencies and capitalism, between hero/heroine, saint and sinner/evil doer are blurred in advertising, programming, media, movies and toys. The delineation line requires advanced discrimination skills that children do not possess. Today, at every turn children are offered a confusing mix of (un) healthy spirituality, emotionality, common sense, morality and entertainment. George Lucas befriended and capitalized on Joseph Campbell’s mythological heroes in The Star Wars epics. Harry Potter “muddles” the line between spiritual practices, black and white magic, while selling millions of dollars in “back-end” products to children. Adults are the main interpreters of choosing the best modalities for their child, not corporations.
Entertainment vs. Play
A major confusion among parents is the difference between entertainment (being the observer and acted upon) and play (being an active participant). A more comprehensive description of the two can be found in Playing By Heart: Vision and Practice of Belonging by Dr. O. Fred Donaldson, Ph.D. PLAY is imperative in integrating culture, rules, spiritual laws and allowing the soul to emerge. Play is the means by which a child becomes master of the world. Play is the source of richness of a child to mimic real world circumstances. It is the greatest source of learning. Habits developed during play become incorporated in adult daily life. However, real play contains no rules, no guidelines. It is unorganized and spontaneous. It enables the child the freedom of exploration. Obviously, this definition eliminates those toys sold in the marketplace with fixed and immutable rules. In the long run, “entertained” children develop behavior patterns, which keep them in need of more stimulation from external sources and less reliance on their inner voice, intuition and creativity.
Less Is More
The objects of play must be simple, safe, allow imagination to flourish, freedom of movement and range of complexity. The colors, materials, textures, size, shape of the play object are just as important.
The more extreme (removed) from nature the toy, the less value it has in play. Simple, natural materials with earth tones and earthy materials are all characteristics that develop brain, eye-hand coordination, heart, imagination and joy of expression. (These are the skills necessary when boredom, confusion or depression set in.)
In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum defines the need for simplicity in this complex world. In my opinion, the purpose of toys is to develop creative imagination and intuition – not to entertain. After all of the boxes have been opened on Christmas morning, the greatest joy for young children is playing in the empty boxes. This is because large empty boxes enable the child exploration of the child world. Large empty boxes are the greatest source of joy for a child (next to using the couch pillows as forts and hiding places). In a box, one can be exploring a cave, flying a plane, driving a car or just finding a sense of peace and silence from our hectic world. Empty boxes are very, very important.
The best types of dolls are those that allow the child to “fill in the blanks”. Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools, explains that dolls made of cloth, with thread for eyes, nose and mouth allow a child more freedom and creativity of expression. Interchangeable clothing made of soft cotton (not synthetic materials) has a variety of benefits. This type of clothing allows children to learn to button, snap, and tie and remove clothing that will later be translated into their own clothing. The textures of cloth enable the child to develop their sense of feeling textures, something plastic does not promote. Dolls of an animal nature are preferable to human in the early years because children, until the age of eight, relate to animals. Paper dolls for older children are excellent as well. Allowances for making personal accessories and clothing, paper and cloth dolls can open a world of joy, creativity and skills to play. Dolls, like Barbie, Ken, and GI Joe are cold hard plastic with plastic accessories, inappropriate body dimensions, and subliminally represent a distorted value system that children replicate in play and then life.
The child’s room must be a source of peace and comfort. If the room is filled with bright and/or psychedelic colors, TV’s, computers, video games, there is little peace for the child’s mind to integrate information, rest and assimilate, much less sleep. Frank Lloyd Wright recognized that peaceful earthy environments are more conducive to health with emphasis on colors (pastels and earth tones), shapes (curved), sizes (child sized) that enable a child to get in touch with the inner self. The harsh colors (psychedelic), bright lights (fluorescent), textures (computer generated), and cluttered spaces of today’s world do not allow the eye, senses, brain and heart to develop fully. Rooms that have these harsh features overstimulate the retina and do not send proper signals to the brain. Whole Parent/Whole Child by Polly Berrien Berends and Open Connections: The Other Basics by Susan D. Shilcock and Peter A. Bergson offer environments for organizing a child’s space.
According to the latest research, and texts such as The Secret Life of the Unborn Child by Thomas Verny, MD, pre-birth babies have greater awareness of their environment than adults ever conceived or considered previously; both the internal world, inside the mother as well as the external. After birth, babies recognize the faces of their parents and other loved ones within the first weeks of life so a mobile in the child’s crib with faces of loved ones reinforces a safe and secure environment as well as promoting hand-eye coordination. Record the voices of loved ones to play for the child along with soft music as the mobile spins, to keep the environment calm.
Hand-eye Co-ordination: Some hand-eye coordination toys are origami, knitting and crocheting, magnetic marbles (which teach color sorting, classifying), drawing and painting, putting things together and taking them apart (like old watches or electrical appliances), and tangrams or Cuisenaire rods. Put pencils, screwdrivers, little saws, hammers, paintbrushes in their hands as soon as they can hold them (with an atmosphere of adult encouragement) and children will use these tools throughout life. Allow them to move, climb, explore and stretch their bodies. The age for these discoveries is as early as one.
To develop focus, lengthen attention span, patience, visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination and pre-math skills, wooden blocks in a variety of shapes and sizes, Lincoln Logs, Legos and Construx are the answer. Children learn about stacking, size, shape, classifying, categorizing, and dimensional space through the use of building toys. Legos and constructs are good for older children after the age of about 6 because the plastic configuration is more complicated than wood which is best for younger children. These toys build much more than just structures.
Language Development: To promote language development, purchase toys that do not speak. Chatty Cathy, Teddy Ruskin, talking books and “learning talking toys” are novel and manufacturers praise the capability of them as teaching tools. However, the quality of the voices in any mechanical toy hinders language development because the sounds are distorted and unlike human speech. Children get a distorted sense of language through these toys and often form inappropriate and false impressions, incorrect pronunciations and misinformation that are carried through to adult life. To stimulate language development, talk to the child, record your own voice, read to your child, speak to them at meals, while walking, riding or shopping. This builds language skills as well as auditory discrimination. (Bonding is another added benefit to talking with a child, one which is highly underrated). Contrary to media hype, the less mechanical the means, the better the child will be equipped for “real” life relationships in communication (which is the function of language).
The greatest form of language development and creative intelligence is through reading to your child from pre-birth. Language exposure from a loved one is statistically more influential on a child than anyone else. Reading also allows the child to form pictures in their minds – the foundation for intuition and creativity – build attention span and develop vocabulary. A young child can listen to stories many levels above his or her reading level and comprehend the essence of the story. Early reading aloud develops essential skills for later life like story comprehension, decoding skills and getting the main idea. Generally, the Caldecott and Newbury award winning books are the best.You can find these titles anywhere.
In exploring the “air” space, children can be encouraged to move and explore, sing and dance, jump and run. The environment of play is nature. Climbing trees teaches a child coping skills, spatial relation, self-confidence, courage, persistence, patience, tolerance, tenacity, hand-eye coordination, balance, dimension, and depth perception and a host of other skills as well as for being an invigorating, healthy exploration into the world of nature. Their own Inner Limits are tested and strengthened without fearful grown-up intervention or observation (an adult’s fear is a child’s fear). The rough bark heightens the sense of touch. The aromas of the pines and other vegetation, stimulates the senses. Unlike its counterpart in the plastic concrete playground, who’s smooth, hard surfaces and toxic materials have no texture to stimulate (except over-stimulation from bright colors), exploration of the animal and insect world, dirt, sand, leaves and grass enables children to have a complex and realistic perspective on life from a variety of angles. John Holt’s How Children Learn is an excellent source for natural exploratory play learning.
Self-Exploration: In order to gain a sense of self-esteem and comfort with their bodies, children need to explore themselves. From the time they are infants in the crib, children must be allowed to touch their bodies to become comfortable in their own skin. Knowing the body gives the child a sense of awareness of self that is healthy. Mirrors and dress-up for both sexes are acceptable ways for this exploration. Although this activity is considered for young children, it is one that suits well into teen years. Children love Halloween and any other opportunity to “dress up” and pretend to explore various sides of themselves. In the art of pretending, a child merges with the values, actions of caregivers, the environment, society and habits of culture. You can KNOW what a child is thinking and what ideas have rooted in the psyche by observing his/her play. Ideas and knowledge will be reflected in pretend play. Michael Mendizza produces a monthly publication entitled Touch the Future in which he explores play.
The arts are very, very important for a child’s exploration of the world. The arts enable children to get in touch with their passion, soul and inner core. Children need to be encouraged to draw at very early ages with soft pastels, paints, light graphite pencils and pastel pencils. The 500 colors in a box of crayons are unnecessary as well as the psychedelic colors of markers. A child can learn to mix and blend colors, to create various shades through trial and error which builds self-esteem, courage, stamina, perseverance and other skills. Purchasing art books and paper is very important for children to get in touch with their souls. Coloring books, dotto- dot, and coloring in lines hampers creativity. Encourage the free drawing of lines, exploring the entire sheet of paper, and doodling are very important skills that are dismissed in culture today while children, missing this adventure, satisfy that urge by resorting to graffiti. Children need the freedom to explore space both on the paper and off in order to gain a sense of self.
Allowing them to bang on musical instruments like piano, drums, guitar (no matter how awful it sounds) eventually turns into recognizable music. Children proficient in music are generally also exceptional in math. However, there are many mainstream children’s songs that have deep messages that touch the child’s soul as well. These include the genius of Jim Henson and other songwriters. Music is like a mantra as it is repeated over and over; it becomes part of the “belief system” just like any other subliminally repeated message. Choosing the best lyrics and music that touch the heart and soul will enhance the developing child.
Equilibrium and Toys for Balance: Balance is both an internal and external skill that complement each other. Maintaining equilibrium while playing has an effect on coordinating a life of balancing all aspects of life. Along with nature, toys that swing, rock and move are important for building equilibrium in the brain of a child. Rocking horses, spinning around, holding a child in a rocking chair, and wooden swings are excellent. Even a rope tied to the branch of a tree is a learning tool. Trampolines stimulate the immune system and help the body excrete toxins in addition to teaching the body alignment. These toys calibrate the inner child, inner ear, brain and can often be a source of centeredness and peace.
Child Sized Toys: Marketing advertisements promote the notion that treating a child as an adult and dressing them as adults, will entrain adult values and skills. The more appropriate strategy is to create a child’s world in the home. Keep the tools as close to a child’s level as possible. Buy a child’s size broom, dustpan and shovel as well as keeping a child-sized table and chair in the kitchen. Place the pots and pans at the child’s level. Allow them to pretend to cook, clean, and follow along in the kitchen (more bonding experiences). Mimicking adult behavior is imperative but at the level of the child. Children LOVE to clean and pretend to be adults. Allow them to spread their things all over the kitchen while you are cooking and play in the dish water. Modeling adult behavior from the child size perspective will entrain behavior; a much better approach than at some magical age, attempting to arbitrarily teach them tidiness skills. It takes time to teach a child these skills and in our hurry up world, we find little time to teach them and allow them to help. David Elkind’s Hurried Child: Growing up Too Fast Too Soon, speaks to the benefits of slowing the pace of children. Time spent teaching them self-help skills as a child, at a child’s ability phase, will train healthy members of society.
Children Do Not Know What Is In Their Best Interest. Television is a powerful tool that distorts the mind into believing subliminal messages which are repeated over and over entraining the child to believe what is heard, which then becomes part of the belief system. Electronic toys, games, television, virtual reality, and computers are detrimental to a child until age 12 when the child is able to think cognitively, has developed social skills, conscience and the eye-hand-brain coordination! What these electronic devices do is override the limbic system of the brain, so that children have a distorted sense of reality. After all, it is only 2D. Children who do not value life, who lack conscience and moral values have been subliminally indoctrinated in the 2D world. These devices are also highly over stimulating to a child’s mind and sense of being. It keeps them in need of constant gratification by being on the “edge” secreting pleasure hormones so that children are constantly seeking sources of pleasure.
Silence and Sleep: Sleep is imperative to a healthy life because in the dream state, problems are worked out; information is stored and is filed away for future reference. Some children have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime when read to because the imagination is activated and the working mind explores options. Others are confounded by the electromagnetic energy, computers and television in the room. Even the digital alarm clock or noises from outside can be disturbing to the sensitive child.
An essential key to creative intelligence is to be allowed to go to quiet places, have quiet time, or allow the mind to drift off staring into space. When a child appears to have a blank stare or the gaze seems empty, the blank or “far off” look is the brain getting in touch with the creative intelligence, making important connections. It is connecting synapses and discordant thoughts into a whole; putting the puzzle pieces together.
An essential key to creative intelligence is something totally lacking in a child’s world of today – silence. Allow time for a child’s quiet space, this does not include nap time or rest. There needs to be a place in the home to allow a child space to be in silence. As a culture, meditation has become popular because this reconnects the art of getting in touch with ourselves through silence. Children need to be allowed to go to quiet places and just BE.
When a child is calm, they become more sensitive to the finer qualities of life. All children learn and behave differently- kinesthetic (touch), auditory (hear), visual, olfactory (smell) and gustation (taste). Parents are the custodians of a child’s sense of being in this world, their self- knowledge and world knowledge. The purchase of toys, games and activities is a conscious responsibility to be seriously undertaken. A child’s future depends on parental judgments and choices. Create a safe, peaceful, creatively stimulating environment and a healthy child is the result.
Daria M. Brezinski, Ph.D. is a psychologist, TV (live streaming schedule found at (www.cpatv. org/schedule13.html) and radio host (archived at http://www.dariabrezinski. com/accomplishments/radio-programs) and Executive Director of What Wize Women Want, a non-profit foundation, where the upcoming TV Show listing can be found (www.WhatWizeWomenWant. co/projects/tv-shows). www.DocDarB.com. She can be reached at Daria@DocDarB.com or 434-286-2989.