Play is cheap!

toys

Kids don’t need a mountain of toys to stay entertained; in fact fewer turns out to be better (Photo credit: red5standingby)

I came across an interesting commentary from the Telegraph in the UK anecdotally supporting a new study that claims it only costs 6 pounds (about $10) to keep kids entertained.

A study by child development experts has concluded that the average family forks out £10,000 on toys and gadgets before their offspring turns 18. That’s a potential £20,000 on my two girls – cue a Munchian scream of Lebensangst.

Psychologists say that despite this casual largesse, youngsters are better off with colouring pencils and embroidery threads than computer consoles. While it might be hard to convince a surly 13 year-old that modelling clay and beads are more fun than a Wii, I couldn’t agree more. Are beads as thrilling as shooting baddies or crashing aeroplanes? Hardly, but it’s all about the social interaction, stupid.

It’s a rare and lovely feeling to be vindicated as a parent, so forgive me if I bask. You see, I am usually regarded (especially by my husband) as a bit of a skinflint who is too tight to buy the big one a Nintendo DS and the wee one, well, pretty much anything.

If my youngest asks for an ice lolly, we make them with apple juice. If they’re bored, I give them each a tray and send them outdoors to make a garden.

To the casual observer, this makes me a sickeningly virtuous hands-on mother. But it is merely the happy by-product of the fact that I am mean-fisted when it comes to frivolous expenditure. It goes against my grain to throw money at the children just to keep them amused and out of my hair. It feels wrong, and, worse, it feels lazy.

The truth that all parents know, deep down, is that what kids really crave is attention, not stuff. Stuff is a pretty good, if pricey opiate, but it never quite satiates, hence the ongoing clamour for more of it, except faster and louder to excite pleasure centres inured by computer-generated over-stimulation.

Read the whole article at the Telegraph.

Lots of parents have the old joke that at Christmas their kids spend more time playing with the box a toy came in than the toy itself. Now research is finding this to be more true than we realized.

It’s nice to hear that even in an age when children of younger generations appear to use advanced devices and technology as if it were second nature, nothing beats some old fashioned string and beads, or sticks and mud, for a good time. It can take a little bit more creativity on the parent’s end, but that can be a good thing, AND it also encourages more creativity and problem-solving in the child.

My personal favorites were pieces of wood and nails, and just hammering them together into odd art shapes, or just nailing them onto a tree. What were your favorite tools and environments for play when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments below.

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