Watching our child’s eyes light up with excitement during the holiday season is one of the many joys of parenthood. With our love, each year, many of us go to the ends of the earth, wait in long lines for hours, and spend more than our budget permits in an attempt to create a magical experience for our children.
More often than not, we return from our shopping trip overwhelmed and over budget. And when the holiday arrives, we are understandably disappointed to see our carefully found treasures thrown into a pile of accumulated things while our children move on to open the next package.
Not long ago, the holiday season was a simple time of family traditions, gratitude, and gift-giving from the heart. The magic and beauty of the season did not come from how much one could receive but from how much one could give.
Decorating was beautiful and modest with candles and branches of evergreens draping the doorway. Family and friends would gather together, bringing along homemade treats and small gifts of appreciation.
Most gifts were made by hand and simple. Mothers would knit sweaters for their children and fathers would search local shops for the perfect gift. Children would receive much less but appreciate much more. A new set of blocks, a special doll, or a set of books would be cherished for years to come.
Toys were natural and open-ended, leaving room for hours of imagination and free play. They did not blink, flash, need batteries, or keep children indoors for most of their day.
How, in a world that is much different now, do we recapture the truth and surround our children with warmth, simplicity, and peace this holiday season?
The Benefit of Natural Toys
Toys of today are much different than the basic and sturdy toys of our past. Some of the components that are added to products made with PVC plastics have been linked to cancer and other serious ailments. “Certain plastics are known to contain toxic chemicals which have negative impacts on human health. Children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals since their body systems and organs are still developing. Their bodies are small, so what may be a small dose for an adult may be a big dose with big effects for a child. Young children are also at greater risk since they often insert plastic objects into their mouths. Baby bottles, sippy cups, teething rings, and toys are often made with phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA). (see "Eco Healthy Childcare" In Plastics & Plastic Toys by UC Davis Health https://health.ucdavis.edu/)
With the very safety of our children’s playthings in question, many parents are choosing to buy natural toys and products for their children. But safety is not the only benefit of items made from natural materials such as wood, cotton, silk, or wool.
Children, like sponges, absorb their environment and the world around them. The quality and essence of the things that we surround our children with can have a direct effect on their behavior, health, and ability to learn. Holding something beautiful that is made from the earth has tremendous positive psychological effects on human beings.
In fact, natural materials teach children correctly about the world around them. When a child picks up a rock that is made of plastic, it feels light and weightless. In nature, rocks are heavy and solid.
Toys that do not require batteries invite open-ended play. This type of play sparks children’s creativity and requires them to finish the story on their own. Many electronic toys have a predetermined ending, leaving little room for imagination causing the child to lose interest quickly.
More often than not, loud toys over-stimulate young children. Blinking lights, loud sounds, and so much stimuli muffles the child’s ability to hear his or her imagination speak. We must quiet the noise in order to allow our children to listen to the true magic that is within.
Equally important is the fact that natural toys are better for the environment. Plastic can sit in landfills for hundreds of years and is not biodegradable.
If you have a skill such as sewing, knitting, or woodworking, consider making your child something special this year. Not only does this send a message of love, but it also teaches patience. The time spent on creating something from hand is a wonderful way to show your children the benefit of working toward a goal.
Quality over Quantity
Let us keep in mind that it is not only the quality of the gifts we give this year but also the quantity. How much is really enough?
Before holiday shopping, take a good look around your home. How loved are your child’s belongings? Gifts lose their value when children are surrounded by so many things. It is unfair of us to expect a child to cherish a new toy when they are surrounded by so many of them.
When deciding to purchase an item for your child, be selective and ask yourself the following questions: What purpose will the toy have? Does your child already have this type of item? Does it engage all five senses and encourage imagination? It is much better to offer fewer, higher quality toys that your child will get more use out of than an abundance of toys that will go unappreciated.
This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to teach children the lesson of giving this holiday season. This year, many children around the world won’t even have a holiday meal, let alone presents. Talk to your child about this and then spend a day sorting through items that are no longer cherished or age-appropriate to donate to others. If the charity only accepts new toys, considering selling your items and donating the money earned to a worthy cause.
Simplify and Reduce Stress
Much as young children take in the aesthetics of their environment, they also absorb the feelings and emotions of their caregivers. We must be mindful of the message we are sending to them during the holidays and throughout the year. Here are a few ideas on how to limit stress and create a more peaceful celebration for yourself and your children:
-Create beautiful traditions with your children. String popcorn, make ornaments, or go caroling. Allow even the youngest child to assist with preparing the holiday meal, setting the table, or baking cookies.
-Demonstrate kindness. Send cards or gifts to a nursing home, adopt a needy family, or write letters to those who may be alone this holiday season. Children can add so much to the lives of others who have so little.
-Consider shopping online for many of your gifts this year. It is not only a safer option this year but it is also a wonderful way to save gas and reduce your stress by avoiding busy stores and shopping malls.
Above all, let us remember that true happiness cannot be wrapped and placed under a tree. When we teach our children this, we have already given them the greatest gift.
Eileen is a work-at-home mother and the owner of Little Acorn Learning http://www.littleacornlearning.com
She writes and publishes homeschool curriculum inspired by the Waldorf philosophy of education and sells wooden toys, knitting and crochet supplies, natural art supplies, and holisitc books for parents and children. Be sure to sign up for the Little Acorn Learning monthly newsletter on the website full of free lessons, crafts, ideas, recipes, and more or visit the much loved Little Acorn Learning blog.