Sticks and Stones

During our trip down South to Sarangani the kids kept on picking up rocks everywhere. Each time we would come back to the home we were staying at, they would have new rocks. What’s so special about rocks, anyway? To adults, maybe nothing, but to kids…rocks, string, paper, sticks, boxes, and any other thing they can use for building or creating something is a TOY.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen my kids get more excited about the ribbon on a present than what was inside. (Not all the time, but a good number of times). “Can I have the ribbon, mom?” They would say.  They also go nuts for empty boxes. I’ve heard them say many times, “Can we please keep the box, please, please?”

Since we live in a condo, empty boxes have a certain lifespan in our home. After about a month, I usually throw them out, especially if they are big. But a part of me wishes I didn’t have to. Sometime ago, I built the kids a whole fort using five big balikbayan boxes. They loved it! They went inside and outside, role-played, and came up with all sorts of things to do inside the cardboard fort.

Research shows that the best toys to give children are the ones that encourage creative play. And guess what? Most of these kinds of toys are FREE or very inexpensive!

Think about it – things like rocks, trees, sand, sticks, bugs, empty boxes, toilet paper spools, water, grass, and string don’t really cost anything, but they can become the inspiration for many hours of play.

Elijah enjoying the grass
Edan is proud of the big leaf he found

Is it realistic to get kids to like these kinds of toys when they are surrounded by high tech toys and gadgets every single day? Yes!

First, moderate the amount of time that your kids get to watch TV or play computer games. For our kids, we usually keep TV and computer game time to weekends only. If the choice is between TV and a rock, they will probably go with the TV. But if TV or computer games aren’t options during the week, kids stretch their creativity. One time my kids were at the office of TMA Homeschool teaching other children how to fold origami and make different kinds of planes. I was really encouraged when a mom said, “I wish my kid would find ways to play with paper like Elijah and Edan.” Well, here is one tip…monitor TV and computer time. When my kids watch a lot of TV and play computer often they get bored more easily and less inventive.

I find that my two younger sons are more into TV and computer games that my eldest so they ask me more often, “Can I watch TV? Can I play on the computer?” It gets tiring to resist the urge to give in, but I keep on thinking of what is better for them.  One night when my second son, Edan, asked if he could watch TV, I said, “Sorry hon, it’s a weekday so no TV.”  Well, since it wasn’t an option, he and his brothers took out blankets and bedsheets and built a “castle” in their room. They made different entrances to it and had designations for the persons who could enter their castle. “This is the entrance for the commoner, and this is the entrance for the grand master, prince, queen, princess…”  They had a blast!

While children will definitely watch TV and play computer games in this day and age, as parents, we can still dictate how much and how often. Don’t feel pressured to buy them hand-held gaming devices too early.  When I was talking to a parent about these kinds of computers, a parent told me, “You’re lucky because you don’t have to buy your kids all those toys that other kids talk about in school. If my kids don’t have the same kinds of toys their school friends have, I feel like I have to get them so my kids won’t be left out.”  And as I thought about that statement, I was thinking to myself, he’s right! I am so glad that my kids don’t have that pressure and they don’t pass on that pressure to me! This is another advantage to homeschooling that I can tell other parents.

Here’s the thing about too much TV and too many computer games…When children are young, their cap wants to be a chef someday, then let them explore and create with food. If your child likes music, let them play an instrument. Elijah wants to be an architect, so there was a phase when we let him get into origami. He would spend hours and hours folding paper!

Second, don’t always dictate activities. Let your child learn to entertain themselves. From time to time my kids will say to me, “Mom, what should we do, we’re bored?” And I tell them. “Well, only boring people get bored. You are creative. I’m sure you can find something to do.” And it’s true! They find ways to make up games and imaginary situations on their own.

Elijah is burning leaves using the sun and a magnifying glass

Third, don’t be a neat freak or too rigid when it comes to mess. I used to be so particular about hygiene with my eldest son and one day when he was walking around a sandy place, he couldn’t stand the feeling on his feet. That’s when I realized that he was becoming a victim of our urban lifestyle.  His options for what to play with were limited to indoor activities that didn’t get him dirty. Oh dear! With my succeeding kids I relaxed a whole lot more. And I let them be outdoors as often as possible. Since we live in a condominium, I drive them all the way to my parents place several times a week so they play in a park and run around outdoors.  As long as they take a shower when they are done and learn how to clean up then it is fine to do things like make mud balls, get sand in their hair, collect sticks and leaves, etc.

Here’s a picture of my third son. Yesterday, he stamped himself all over with green and red stamps. You can’t see the tops of his arms but he had it all over. It took a bit of scrubbing to get the marks off and some of them haven’t come off yet but it was worth all the fun he had decorating himself.

Fourth, pay attention to our own choices as parents. If we are watching TV or on the computer constantly, then how can we put restrictions on our own kids? If we keep on buying our kids toys indiscriminately then how can we encourage them to keep being creative and inventing? If we don’t go outdoors, how can we expect our children to enjoy being outside and exploring?

If letting your child play with sticks, rocks, boxes, and string are a little bit too “caveman” for you, I plan to write another blog on store bought toys that encourage creativity and invention. 🙂



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