Building a reflective homeschool, Tools not Toys

Last fall, we attended a wonderful program at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center where the children got to spend a day on the prairie with entymologists, herpetologists, and a woman from Raptor Recovery. By the end of the day, the children were enchanted, I was exhausted and I knew what I wanted to purchase for the spring: butterfly nets, aquatic nets and a few field guides.

Children are born with an innate desire to explore the world around them, to know what everything is and to figure out how it works. I see it in my five month old as her tentative hand reaches for my face while I hold her; I see it in my two year old as she unrolls a roll of toilet paper; I see it in my four year old as he watches his roly polies; and I see it in my eight year old as she draws in her journal. I want to give them the tools to explore their world, on their own and unhindered. I imagined my children exploring the field behind our house and assisting them in identifying the many insects they collected. I looked forward to sweeping the aquatic net through the water in the pond to collect tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs and whatever else we could dredge up.

But nice nets are expensive. I was glad to have a few months before making the purchase. Still, the price tag kept drawing me to other, more affordable nets. Nets made for children. Like those “cute” butterfly nets above. At $4.95 a piece, I could get one for each of the children and not worry too much if one got damaged. Never mind the fact that most things made for kids are not actually constructed to withstand the kind of abuse children put things through, the nets just looked like toys. I imagined university professors taking their students out in the field with a batch of these nets and wondered what kind of work would get done. Was that what I wanted to inspire in my children?

So I opted for the professional nets with the telescoping handles. One for insects, one for aquatic invertebrates and one for aquatic vertebrates. When they arrived, we established rules for use and practiced. We found a special storage place for them. And when the children use them, there is a seriousness and purposefulness about their explorations of the backyard that really was never there before. They collect, identify and add notes to their journals. Even the two year old does her best to emulate her older siblings even though she is not quite strong enough to sweep the net. They look like scientists collecting specimens rather than children pretending.

At one time, children were raised to become adults. They had very little in the way of toys, but instead were introduced to the work of the home and farm as soon as they were capable. Not everything about that life was good, and I have no desire to go back to such a time. But sometimes I notice how much my children want to be like their parents. They do not want toy dishes to play with, they want to bake things in my kitchen. They do not want cartoon underwear, they want “real” underwear like their parents wear. Am I holding them back when I get them toys to play pretend rather than tools to do real work?

Other posts in this series:

Horizontal learning vs. vertical learning
The treasure of experience
Sharing the wonder
Unanswered questions
The grace of a hippo
Tools Not Toys



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0 Responses

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! I have for years preferred to buy my kids real tools for their passions, instead of wasting so much money on toys. Why buy a six year old a fake hammer when he is capable of using a lightweight Craftsman? Why was money on BloPens when a real airbrush set is the price of two video games? Let’s teach them with the real, when they have the interest and ability to learn!
    And thank you, as our old nets need replacing…I added it to our holiday gift list!

  2. Excellent reflections! Children most definitely need real tools to learn and grow with. Not only do they last longer, but they work much better.

  3. I so hear what you are saying! What we have done for children in the last 100 years has been wonderful in so many ways, but not ALL of it has been the most beneficial.

    I never have been a mother that bought many toys for my children: a few at Christmas and birthdays and that was it. My older boys used things from around the house and yard to play with and their imaginations. And now my youngest son just cannot seem to grasp that concept and wants TOYS LOL And “technology kind of toys” he says,” not action figures and stuff.” And yet he will still grab my kitchen utensils, mixing bowls and dad’s tools and have a blast without realizing it.

    And he HATES the cartoon underwear too LOL And the shoes with cartoon emblems.

    Great post!

  4. Angela, that is definitely true. I have a little more trouble with the tools since I always see the permanent damage they could do to themselves. But thus far, they are yet to hurt themselves either at Home Depot or at home working with their father. Yesterday, I got up the bravery to show my 4yo to cut a carrot. He did a nice job and was very careful. After all, he didn’t want to cut his fingers off any more than I did!

    Thanks Mommy2Lots…the wasted toys really do get to me. They break so easily and what good is that for anyone? If I could do one thing differently, I would not have bought so much junk that would break after a few times!

    Shawna, we do not have that many toys, either. At least not in comparison to what I had as a kid. But still, somehow it seems to collect!

  5. I say you’re not holding them back. We are not raising children, we are raising adults. I was thinking about this very thing today as we drove home after a day of skeet and target shooting. We have always let the boys have toy guns, now I wonder if we are doing them and the world around them a disservice. What a confirmation to read your thoughts as I upload photos of our day.

  6. I look forward to your pictures! I think that if you want to teach your children about responsible gun ownership, it needs to start very young. I am reminded of some of the comments about how children used to bring guns to school in the early 1800s. Kids knew what guns could do and had a respect for them that seems to have minimized accidents even before gun locks and gun safes.

    (I’m not saying everyone needs to go out and get a gun and not have it locked up, I’m just saying that the issue is not with guns per se, just with what our culture has become).

  7. Yes, my kids are much bigger fans of the real deal than this fake busines. Real cooking, real tools, the real remote control, and real keys. Even if they are keys that lead nowhere, they would rather play with then than the fake ones. Now if ony they didn’t want a real car…

  8. Real life. I try hard to live by the ideas you presented here. Tools not toys is a great line! Nothing wrong with children’s toys, but there does need to be balance. There a profound truth buried under here about teaching children to live a real and meaningful life, not a superficial life.

  9. Jennifer, you are right that there is nothing wrong with children’s toys.

    But sometimes we get them toys to pretend to do things when they could just as easily really do them. My 2yo loves the little hand broom and dustpan. She isn’t very good at sweeping, but she tries. And my children will actually fight over mopping, dusting and window cleaning.

    I don’t think that even in my most frugal moments I could do without toy cars, blocks and dolls. They seem to be a requirement. At least in my mind.

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