Sunday, December 5, 2010

Imagination: Helping or Hindering with Christmas Gifts

storytelling with Melissa and Doug blocks
I've been thinking a lot about the Bibliophile's sense of imagination lately, and whether the things I buy him for Christmas will help him to further develop his storytelling and imaginary play skills, or whether fancy "props" will actually hurt those efforts. 

Learning Resources Fruit & Vegetable Play Food Basket, Set of 13He has played with a set of fruits and vegetables at a few friends' houses many times, so his grandparents have kindly bought him a set (this one) for Christmas.  I'm pretty sure this will aid his imaginary play (and his learning).  Among other things, he uses them to:
  • plant and pick a pretend farm
  • cook meals (soups, stews, main courses, and desserts), quizzing us on what ingredients would go in which course.
  • sorting which are fruits and which are vegetables
  • pretend shop (buy them, pay, get change)
  • add and subtract (one banana + two strawberries = 3 fruits)
Younger kids could use them for color sorting and counting too.

So, the shopper in me thinks, "he LOVES this kind of pretend play.  I need to get him a set of pots and pans and plates and cutlery!  And a play kitchen!" 

I've spent the past 30 minutes reading reviews of this:

Kidkraft Deluxe Let's Cook Kitchen

I know he'd just jump with delight if he got up and found it assembled by the Christmas tree.  But, would this really help him to pretend play more?  Or would he do just as well if I said the coffee table was a pretend stove, and his crayons were forks, and pieces of paper were plates?  Or made him a kitchen with a cardboard box?  (I'm posing the question.  My answer?  I think the fancy set probably WOULD help him, but I'm not sure for how long.  I suspect he'd love it, and make us act out pretend scenes mercilessly for days, but he might tire of it).

Using our favorite pretend play "prop" - a very simple road quilt
Another example -- He loves Disney Cars, and he has many of them, but not all.  They are obvious choices for stocking stuffers, so I am going to hunt down a few that he doesn't have and add them to his stocking.  I noticed this week, though, that he still uses the characters that he doesn't have in his pretend play/stories -- he just uses a plain old police car instead of the Disney "sheriff" and a plain mini bus for "Filmore," etc.  He even has other cars that he calls "pretend commentators."  What do I teach him by replacing these with the real thing?

On a related note, his grandparents have also gifted him with this Story Sparkers game for Christmas.  I think it looks great - has anyone played it? 

Of course, every gift doesn't HAVE to be educational or aid imaginative play.  But it is nice when they do.  This is all just random thinking as I browse on this lazy Sunday morning.  As lazy as a Sunday morning can ever be with a toddler and a newborn...

Comment: Do you buy a lot of pretend play props for your kids, or do you encourage them to make their own worlds using what they have?  Do you think having multiple kids changes your answer?  I think if both of my children were at an age to play with imaginative toys together, I might be more likely to splurge on some large props to give myself a little time to do housework while they entertained themselves.

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Joyful Learner said...

I just posted a post on holiday gifts too. As far as imagination goes, less is more. I've made puppets for JC last year. She rarely plays with them. Instead, she rather make her own out of paper and cut them out. I am glad I made her a make-shift puppet theater though because that has given her a place for storytelling, although she's surely not limited by it. I made a kitchen out of cardboard but it got destroyed when friends came over. I'm glad we have a kitchen set because it has entertained her a lot while I'm cooking. As for dress up, we use mostly large scarves and head bands.

Ticia said...

It depends on the thing. A play kitchen is used a lot, and I got the pots and pans because I thought it would help, but they're still just as likely to use the other stuff.

MaryAnne said...

I would buy way more of this stuff if I weren't married to such a fiscally conservative husband! I'm sure I benefit =)

Sometimes the props help sibling play, and sometimes they create a new sharing conflict. If you're looking for high-quality play pans, you might want to shop for real ones - they tend to be cheaper than those that are marketed as toys! IKEA has some cheap ones; I just bought new pans for myself and handed down the old ones!

Christy said...

We used to have a play kitchen, but we gave it away when we moved. My kids always play with the food and cookware, but the kitchen was rarely used. They don't seem to miss it.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I think it really depends on the toy and on the child. Play kitchen overall gets a lot of use here while doll house was clearly a mistake. Anna seems to love little details a lot - like tiny PlayMobil parts, but every available surface can become a house, a garden or a beach. I think a play tent, for example, is a better choice than a play house, and my wish toy for Christmas 2010 is Magna Tiles Val Pack with 100 translucent pieces. I am still waiting until maybe it comes down in price a bit before buying it...

kate of here we are together said...

we use our play kitchen A LOT , but recently we have been moving to traintracks,too. We will be getting a tipi this christmas.

Jackie H. said...

I think it depends on your situation but I did buy my boys a tool bench for Christmas. It helped me organize all of their tool stuff and I'm hoping it will keep them entertained while I make dinner. My husband kind of said, "Don't they have enough toys, already?" but he isn't the one who has to stay home all day and keep them entertained. Also, my kids don't go to preschool or daycare yet so I think it's good for them to have some of those kinds of toys to play with. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

I have that exact kitchen and my daughter loves it. She loves to cook on it but it also serves as storage for all of her kitchen related toys. The food toys get played with way more than any of the pots we've bought. Any ol' bowl will make do as a pot. However, I was very proud when she told me not to touch the pots on her stovetop because they are hot and that I need to use an oven mitten to grab them. :)