De-commercializing the Child by tout est des roses

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Tout est des roses profileBlog to Inspire finalist tout-est-des-roses is Sara Sophia, who blogs to share her joy, her everyday adventures and happy findings, things she loves and things that move her.

Eight years ago our first child was born,
a wee little man who came into the world
all shiny and new on the eve of Christmas.
I sat in the hospital bed nursing him, eating fruitcake,
and thinking about all the things I wanted for his life.

Happiness,
Joy,
Peace….

and, of course, The Perfect Childhood.
Free of insecurity, fear, and full of love-love-love.

“It will be so simple,” I remember thinking, picking a pecan out of my cake,
“It will be clean and white and summer breezes every day all the time.
Just me and this little one–-reading books in the rocking chair,
and taking walks in the woods.”

Close up face

But of course, how could I have known then
that modern parenthood meant inheriting an instantaneous army.
An army of robotic teddy bears, zoo creatures, farm creatures, swamp creatures.
Of Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Legos
and bright shiny race cars that made our peaceful home
sound like a Nascar track.
There were logo’s and emblems on everything and suddenly my child
was completely commercialized.
My child was a walking billboard.
An overstimulated, never-satisfied, LOUD billboard.
It happened so fast, so overnight…..
that we never knew what hit us.

Child playing with blocks

We saw our quiet little boy, especially amidst the holiday kerfuffle,
actually forget how to play. He would sit, staring about him
at the massive plastic extravagance,
and not even know where to begin.

Where DOES one begin in the midst of a small toy army that plays FOR you?

Well, from my experience from years of working with children—
they either smash it,
or look at it boredly, and watch it do its thing.
The dilemma of the modern child in a nutshell.

I would love to say that my husband and I immediately
put a halt to the retail nonsense
(we have a BIG family)…but, I must admit it took a little longer than that.
After all, this was just the way it WAS.
There was nothing we could do, right?

Child playing with wood

It wasn’t until I was expecting our second son
that I found something that made sense.

I just happened to pick up a book on Waldorf teaching from our library, and it was as though a light bulb had been turned on inside my head. I was introduced to the concept of “play with a purpose” and thereafter read everything I could gather on the subject. I realized that encouraging my child’s life skills through natural, imaginative play was such an important part of his upbringing.
That keeping my child from mainstream toys
wasn’t simply a difficult way of making myself feel like a better parent
….(which was one take I heard early on)….
but a way to teach him care in every area of his life.

Siblings chat

We began slowly, waiting patiently until the shiny playthings would inevitably break, and then replacing them with a sensory toy. A set of maple blocks, a stack of folded playsilks, paints and an easel….and working with our little ones to teach them new ways of play. Before we knew it, we didn’t have children wildly crashing about in their bedrooms, but children who were working intently:
each game becoming a lesson they were teaching themselves.
YES, there is still a heavy dosing of whoops and hollers when the “pirate ship” is docked outside in the yard—and I wouldn’t have it any other way:)
But the point is I have seen children go from squabbles and frustration
to hours of beautiful sharing and insight–
whether they are storming the castle together, or playing chess.

Siblings play

It hasn’t always been as easy as it is now,
and there are still struggles to keep the air filled with peace.
It is hard to explain to extended family such “hippie” viewpoints sometimes.
But, we know we are doing our very best
to provide a learning lifestyle for our children.
One that will facilitate what they need,
rather than what would be easiest to give them.

This holiday season, I encourage you to give careful thought
where the purchasing of toys is concerned.

Will this toy help him embrace creativity?
Will it stimulate his imagination?
Will it help him learn to be generous?
For this is the beauty-filled youth I know we all want to give our little ones…
the childhood that will teach them
to think beyond themselves and make a difference.

The childhood that will help them see farther—through natural play.
Play outside

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the rest of the finalists.

Battling the Toy Catalogues by Strocel

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Strocel profile
Blog to Inspire finalist Strocel is Amber, an all around crunchy granola mom to 4-year-old Hannah and 1-year-old Jacob. She is an engineer-turned-at home mom and an aspiring freelance writer.

The holiday season is approaching fast. Much faster than I like or would care to admit, frankly. You would think that one of these years I would be prepared for it, since it’s not exactly unpredictable. Christmas comes at the same time every year, with its glitter and glamour and toy catalogues in the mail.

My 4-year-old, Hannah, loves the toy catalogues. Sometimes I try to recycle them before she can see them, but she has this sixth sense that foils my efforts every time. If a major toy company or toy store has distributed promotional materials to our area, she can sniff them out. And as soon as she does, the asking starts. “Mama! Mama! Mama! I want this one, and this one! And, of course, this one! Mama! Did you hear me? I have to tell you something! I want this one!”

I am not a fan of the toy catalogues, not one bit. And why not?

  • The toys are almost all plastic, and I am trying to reduce our consumption of plastic. Plastics persist in our environment and contain potentially harmful chemicals. I want to avoid bringing that into my home.
  • Most of the toys come packed in huge boxes with hundreds of twist ties. And it all just ends up in the garbage or recycling bin. It’s pretty wasteful when a doll comes with twice its weight and 10 times its volume in packaging.
  • Many of the toys are noisy. I’m sure that the noise isn’t harmful, but it is definitely annoying for me.
  • The catalogues are teaching my child to be a consumer, a lesson I don’t think she needs to learn at 4 years old. They are trying to sell things to my kid, who will then whine to me, making me buy more. This sort of consumerism isn’t good for us or the planet.
  • Most mass-produced toys are not built to last. They are inexpensive, to be sure, but the inexpensiveness comes with its own price. They’re often broken or worn out before the Christmas tree even comes down.

Toddler on swing

I’m sure I sound like a total grinch. But I’m really not. I enjoy finding toys for my kids to play with, and I buy a lot of them. I just prefer to stick to more basic toys made with natural materials as much as I can. I choose handmade items, created with love and attention by committed craftspeople. Toys that can be used in many ways, by many age groups, and that stand the test of time. When I buy toys like that, I know where they’ve come from and what they contain. I know what it is that my kids are putting in their mouths and cuddling up to at night.

I’m sure that sometimes I come across as the mean mom, or the overboard control freak. My kid wants a special doll, so why not let her have a special doll? How bad is one doll?

When the doll arrives in my home, I don’t throw it out. But I also have the choice to not be the one who buys the doll in the first place, and I exercise that option. I believe that in doing so, I am making a difference. I am supporting an ethic that I care about, I am working to protect the planet, and I am communicating a message to my children about consumerism. Because one doll might not be all that bad, but millions of dolls purchased by millions of people because ‘just one can’t hurt’ add up really fast.

Cheap plastic toys are easy to find, and they are marketed aggressively to both us and our children. But we don’t have to buy into that message. And we aren’t ruining our children if we don’t. We are protecting their childhoods, and teaching them what really matters.

What about you? Is there a toy that your kid is in love with that drives you up the wall? Please share!

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the rest of the finalists.

Marketing Food to Kids – FTC Report

The Food Renegade posted today on an FTC report on hearing about food marketing to children.

Conclusion of the report? Voluntary standards for advertisers.

I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’m just too cynical. As long as there is profit to be made from marketing sugar, fat, and salt—and long-term profits from hooking children early—won’t advertisers continue? Tell me NO if you must, but I require proof on this one.

Local holiday consumption discussions & No Impact Man screenings

Have you been talking about holiday consumption with people around you? Our post on children and consumerism sparked discussion on Twitter and Facebook. How about joining in the discussion locally as well?

No Impact Man and Center for the New American Dream are sponsoring this week screenings of the film No Impact Man along with discussions of holiday spending. Venues around Canada, U.S., and beyond. See full No Impact Man screening list to find an event near you.