Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

stuff for kids

Jeremy Clarkson, capitalist British folk-hero, in the Sunday Times on how children don't want toys:

Today’s children have outgrown what you and I would classify as a toy by the time they are five. And before that, as you know, they’d be quite happy to receive an empty cardboard box just so long as it was covered in pretty paper... it is only nostalgic parents that are keeping the toy market alive, endlessly buying their kids stuff they don’t want.

The main reason he gives for this childhood ennui is that kids are constantly being given huge quantities of stuff, and work their way through toy-ness extra fast these days. In my experience he is right. It's a difficult problem for parents to control, too, even when they aren't part of it. How do you tell all those well-meaning friends and relatives not to shower your little cherubs with fifty different kinds of unwanted garbage throughout the year? Don't ask me, I've never done any such thing. Anyway, it usually is the parents, as Clarkson says.

Unwanted gifts aren't a favour, they're annoying. If your husband bought you a brand new item of clothing from the Marks and Spencers Polyester Editions range every day, you wouldn't be grateful. There is only so much plastic a child can enjoy before their optic nerves start filtering out any kind of smooth surface altogether. The way to give a child an appropriate gift is to find out what they really like and are interested in. If they don't really like anything especially much, something's gone wrong already. I don't know, read a parenting manual or something. Usually there is, if enough a) consultation, and b) thought, has gone into identifying it.

Obviously I am also assuming some degree of reasonable judgement here on the part of the adult. More Clarkson:

My eldest breezed into the kitchen the other day and momentarily removed her iPod from her ears to announce that she’d saved up £15. “Is that enough to buy a car?” she asked. “Of course not,” I replied scornfully. But you know what? If all she wants is an old banger, it is.

Some old favourites will always work for children. But kids only need one bicycle, and the competition to be the first one to buy it that goes on these days is unsightly, and results in premature purchasing. Three year olds do not need mini-mountain bikes. They may barely be able to cope with a woolly sheep on wheels. I think a bit of imagination is in order, however. An old banger (note to Americans: Mr Clarkson is talking about a very old automobile, not a sausage, which can also be called a banger), if you have lots of private land and good car-maintenance skills as he does, is a pretty cool idea. Here are my ideas for things to give kids that might actually be appreciated. If not, just don't bother. (I made them up, have only done less than half so far myself)

1. trip to a really good museum
2. weekend camping in a tent, kids love camping
3. huge block of ice (I don't know, try the yellow pages, borrow a big chest freezer) to carve (for fun, not great art!)
4. second-hand ping pong table (for the garden, fold down and cover with plastic for the winter)
5. teach them a skill- embroidery, knitting, whatever (yourself)
6. really old record player, with fun old vinyl discs (wow!)
7. old black and white movies
8. trip to the ballet
9. seeds to plant plus ongoing lessons on looking after them
10. sit down and eat with them every evening, find out their concerns, listen to them.

Any more ideas? The idea is to be creative instead of just spending a fortune on things that are really aimed at your own Inner Child instead of the actual kids, which is a missed opportunity, wasteful and also very rude.


At 4:40 AM, Blogger emma said...

Duplicates of objects which you yourself enjoy using, so child can join in.

sharp knife for chopping things

pen and paper (not a useless crayon which doesn't mark anything)

mouse and keyboard. In fact, a computer.

Proper knife and fork.

Own telephone handset.


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