Sunday, February 22, 2009

Toys or Tools?

Hunter has never liked "toys".

When he was six months old I would give him a box of baby toys and expect him to play with the contents for at least a good twenty minutes or so, but it never happened. He would give each toy the standard five-point scientific test (look at it, feel it, shake it and bang it to hear what sound it makes, taste it, and smell it, making use of every sensory pathway he had) which took about sixty seconds and then he was done with it. Only after reading Doman did I actually begin to realize the genius behind his experimenting. At the time I just thought he had a short attention span and was stubborn (Why won't you just play while I work on this?) but now I know that he just simply didn't need to play with it anymore, considering he had already learned everything there was to learn about it through his rigorous and systematic tests.

To say the least, the box of baby toys never got much use because after he had spent his sixty second on each toy in the box, he had no interest in all the nice toys we had bought him and was far more interested in playing with the cat food or chair leg or cardboard box. He generally could learn more about those things because, the cardboard box for example, could come apart so he could learn how it was made.

It's been a long time since the days of that box of baby toys, but Hunter has been through many toys of all kinds since then, and I've learned a great deal about kids and toys and what they really want (which isn't usually what we adults assume).

Of all the things I've learned, one of the most important things is how much kids don't even really like "toys". What they really like is tools.

Glenn Doman once said that if you watch little kids, you will see that they don't really make toys at all, they make tools. If you give a little kid a rock, he'll turn it into a hammer. If you give him a shell, he'll turn it into a bowl. The list could go on and on, but the point is that they are much more concerned about learning about the world (a survival skill) than they are about simply "playing". To little kids, learning is playing, and if they can get their hands on it, they will consistently choose real, useful things to work with over the toys we generally give them. Ungratefulness? No, just an unbridled desire to learn, and even more so, to be big - to grow up.

What really got me thinking again about this whole tools vs. toys thing was yesterday, when Hunter was being his usual self and helping out while I worked on a project (in this case, disassembling the brachiation ladder because I have to make some adjustments on it to make it fit into it's new location).

While I was using a power saw (which Hunter had to stay out of the way for, obviously) I looked over and saw Hunter with a Philips screwdriver (which he had got out himself, by the way) meticulously and efficiently unscrewing each of the very tiny screws that held on the plastic covering to a new tool set I had bought.

He worked on that tool case so diligently and persistently, you would have thought he was trying to open a chest full of candy or something. But this was even better than candy - it was real, meaningful, useful tools that were more enticing than any of his toys, with an interest which is a lot longer lasting.

Watching him with those tools really got me thinking about some things. For one, it made me realize how much Hunter loves tools. And I'm not just talking about hammers and screwdrivers, but about objects that are real and useful. A piano is a tool. A pair of scissors is a tool. A camera is a tool. So is a compass, a sketch book, a pencil, a globe, a rope, and a chair.

So after a little pondering, I came up with a brilliant (for me, at least) resolution: stop investing in toys and instead focus your money and energy on things that are more lasting, more valuable, and more entertaining: tools!

It just makes so much sense. For the one, Hunter finds real things much, much more appealing. He wants to be doing important things with the big people, and will, hands down, always drop his stuffed animals to help Grandpa hammer in a nail. So why not get him things that he will genuinely appreciate and use; get him what he really wants?

Secondly, tools last a lot longer than toys. A good hammer or fishing pole is a gift that will last all his life (or at least for many years), while a plastic tool bench will last a year or two before he's too big for it, or until the thrill wears off (which is sometimes only after a couple minutes). Tools will get more use than the toys, too, because he's so much more interested.

Thirdly, investing his time in worthwhile activities rather than just entertainment develops a worldview that is so important for future success in life. We have far, far too many people who simply want to be entertained constantly, and can't think creatively or get up and do something. If anything, that is the last thing I want for my son.

So you know what I did today? I went to the store and bought Hunter some birthday presents. The first gift? A net. A little $5, fishing-type net from Wal-mart. What is it for? Think fish, crawdads, toads, frogs, butterflies, snakes, or anything else a little boy might want to use it for.

Gift number two? A rope. Yes, a 3/4" thick, 10' long nylon rope that can be used for just about anything he wants. Oh, and learning to tie the many different Boy Scouts knots that will be part of our curriculum this summer. Imagine the creative potential that the simple rope can provide for a little boy in a big backyard.

So, say hello to my new parenting philosophy. Or, at least my new gift-buying philosophy. I think I'm going to have fun with this. And I know with certainty that Hunter will, too.

"And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship"

Exodus 35:31

Hunter is 3 years, 11 months old

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