Monday, 5 October 2009


I have put a lot of thought into how my children play over the years of being a mother. I wanted toys that are 'open ended', that is, without a 'set' way to be played with. Toys that encouraged my children's imaginations, natural materials that warmed in their hands, & allowed their imaginative play to take wings. Toys that create a bond with the natural world & have as many ways to be played with as my children can come up with.

Elizabeth Stutz is the founder of Play for Life . In an article published in 1995, she writes:

Saturation entertainment has taken over the playtime and the homelife of children, so that, not only do they suffer the consequences of being overwhelmed and brutalized by their entertainment, but they are exposed to concepts totally unsuitable for and inimical to their stage of development, and in addition they are robbed of the carefree hours in which they should be enjoying the nourishing and creative forces of play... Children's leisure time has been made the subject of intense commercial competition. The richest and most powerful industries and interest groups — such as the ever expanding communications industry, the electronic entertainments and music industries, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the toy and consumer goods and food empires — these have together in a loose conglomerate taken over as their domain, the market of childhood and youth; they decide what children will play, read, eat, wear, admire, hate, how they behave to each other, to their parents and authority and who their role models are to be; this contrivance is then sold as the youth culture.
(Article: Play for Life 1995)

Up until the age of around seven (& older children, to a lesser degree) children learn about life by modeling the adults around them. That gives us mothers such an important role. Such a great responsibility, but such a great joy too. Our children can 'play' alongside us as we work. As we prepare dinner, they can help us to chop vegetables. As we sweep the floors, they can sweep too, with their own little brooms. It makes me aware of how I am to be a joyful mother of children. Psalm 113:9 not a grumpy one!

Waldorf is open to the trap of materialism just as any other lifestyle. It has to be this toy, that toy.

In the article by Marsha Johnson 'The Issue of Toys, Children, and Materialism' She states:

Children should be surrounded by a few multi-purpose, open-ended items that encourage imaginative play, social interaction, and healthy bodily movement. Young children need to be interactive with the physical world in a direct sense, stomach or back to the earth, although a blanket, skin, or floor may lie between.

Open ended items are simple, often made of natural materials such as wool, wood, metal, or cloth. Undefined or lightly defined toys allow children to use them in a multitude of ways. A new playmate brings new ideas for logs, scarves, blocks, and playhouses. Endless games with ropes, sticks, and simple tools will result during afternoons with friends.

This is so far removed from the images she uses at the beginning of the article:

Shopping bags and baskets full, parents and family friends arriving with parcels, long store lines, and big dollar prices………birthdays, holidays, other occasions both secular and religious, family rooms, play rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, filled with play items, bright colors, plastics, woods, cloth, books, and more…………is there room for the child? Where is the child? In late fall, these questions start to present themselves to even the most unconscious person as we strive to find the ‘perfect’ addition to an entire house filled with personal items…….as well as strive to come up with a wish list for ourselves. This year, I notice the most advertised item is a S’more cooker! If only we could just package the happy feelings that we experience when gathered around a cozy campfire, in the woods, while toasting food on a stick! This is what the manufacturer knows will sell his silly little invention: he is selling memories.


I recently took Marsha's words to heart & took action in my own home.
i have included part of the article below for you to read. It is inspiring stuff! To read the article in full visit Waldorf Home Educators.

Families who are seeking a different way of providing toy items and play spaces for their children must be willing to undergo some conflicted feelings and pressures. In addition, parents must be able to agree to adopting a new approach and support one another: it is not uncommon to find one parent wishing to be dedicated to a less materialistic lifestyle while the other one is sneaking the Gameboy into the stocking.


If you are not a parent yet, good, you can skip the rest of the this paragraph and go on to the section for specific recommendations for children by ages. If you have children already, then you must make some tough decisions. Here is one method that works well and it gentle in its approach. If you follow this advice, you will find that in about 1 year, your home will be free of all commercial/materialistic toy burdens, you will feel lighter and more in tune with nature and the seasons, and your family time will be enhanced and enjoyable with the need to spend hours organizing and cleaning up after your children and yourself.

First, have a private discussion with spouse and come to agreement. This is critical and this program will not work unless this has been completed. Then examine your home and its contents. Go into your child’s room and count how many items are in that space. Include clothing, shoes, and coats. Count aloud and be amazed. How can one being be surrounded by so many physical things? Notice how many images or hanging items are on the walls, how many things hang in windows, etc. Do the same activity with your play room or family room where toys are kept. Look into the movie cupboard and notice how many boxes or cases. Count how many TVs are in your home. How many music CDs? Where are these items kept? Peek into the attic, the basement, the garage, the kitchen cupboards, the laundry room, the sheet storage, the towel closet, obtain a good impression of how many items there in your home.

Take a break and have a cup of tea. In a day or two, send the children over to play at a friend’s home. Strengthen yourself with prayer and go into your play spaces and remove about one third of the toys not on the list below. Put into large black storage bags and drive over to someone else’s home or garage. (No temptation to retrieve and after 3 months, you can given them to charity). Include books, posters, stuff, even expensive stuff. This first foray is the hardest and you can select items that you know your child rarely plays with. Try to include mostly plastic junky items that will never be missed. Include stuffed animals that are sitting, lonely, and plastic dolls that lie heaped in the corner. Sentimental items like grandma’s doll clothes should be kept, there is love in the stitches that cannot be replaced.

If you are really strong and on a roll, you can do this for other areas of the home and include the clothing drawers: children do NOT need walk-in closets, this accumulation of 24 pairs of shoes is both confusing and ridiculous and I am old enough to remember when children under 3 wore white baby shoes (1 pair) which we polished. Do your kitchen (who need 4 tablespoon measurers?) and your own closet. Donate your items to charities and store if you must.

If children notice something is gone, if under six, distract them with a play idea, or tell a little story about a bunny who had so many things she couldn’t sleep in her cozy bunny hole. Leave it at that if possible. Children six and older may need to know that the family is making some changes that are healthy for everyone and that is probably enough. If you try this on older children, you will need their cooperation.

In about three months, do this again. In the meantime, begin adding to the store of items listed below. Slowly replace various toys with substitutes that meet the three criteria of being open-ended, socially healthy, and encourage body movement. If you continue this pathway for a year, that will give your four opportunities to reduce, diminish, refocus, alter, redefine, and re-direct your child’s play environment, sleep environment, and living environment.

In your organization, create specific areas of particular play items: outdoors for certain pursuits, an art space with paints, crayons, brushes, pastels, paper, and more, a reading/book area to share, and a game playing space. These spaces can share your dining room or family room. Bedrooms are for sleeping and keeping clothing in, maybe 1 special stuffed animal friend, or 1 doll cradle. When a child is sent to clean their room, it means change the sheets, sweep the floor, wash the window, and take care of shoes and clothing. How many times do we confuse cleaning with picking up?


1) Remove all TVs from home if possible with young children and middle aged children and teenagers. You will not regret this decision.
2) If not possible, keep one and put in closet that locks or some space inaccessible to family members without a lot of work.
3) Obviously same with all video equipment….dvd players
4) Remove all computer games from computer and put cds in a box and hide them in a closet. Computers are for ‘working’, writing, communicating. If you play games, do it only after kids are in bed.
5) Ask or persuade friends and family to switch from giving more toys and clothes to a) buying items you request, b) gift certificates to particular catalogs (Magic Cabin, Chinaberry Books), or c) put the money they would have spent into certificates of deposit for future educational expense (tuition is a big issue for the future) or d) be willing to substitute time together for physical items. Come over for dinner and stay for a games night, go out for a walk in a bird reserve, take a trip to the beach, cook a family recipe together……beg, plead, and insist. They will adopt your methods, slowly.
6) If child receives an unexpected objectionable item, be gracious and enjoy it for a while, then ‘disappear’ it magically. Time is a great healer.
7) Frequently visit other families who are like minded to encourage yourself and find support. You will find that all the children in the neighborhood will want to hang out at your house! Bring them in and teach their parents.
8) Take the money you save and enjoy a fantastic family camping trip or vacation. You will literally save thousands and thousands of dollars over the 18 years of your child’s life.
9) Examine wardrobes and put together fourteen outfits for your children, enough for 2 weeks without laundry, for each season, and donate the rest. Buy good quality wool, cotton, and natural fiber clothes that will last through several children, practice the fine art of hand me downs, and gather a group of other families to have a twice a year ‘share’ time where you all bring extra clothes and parcel them out. You will be shocked at how this is so very freeing although you will spend a bit more time doing laundry on your new schedule.

10) Begin a rhythm in your household that includes all members in a reasonable cycle of chores that includes and shares out cooking, cleaning, washing, and gardening. Spend your time together with purpose as opposed to trying to get a few chores ‘done’ while everyone else sits in front of a screen. Laundry day can be a good social time to visit over sock matching, laundry line hanging, and there is nothing that can beat (Sorry commercial artificial laundry scent manufacturers) the smell of wind-dried sheets on summer days. Avoid using machines for your household work, study up on how to make your own healthy cleaners, and treasure old towels for wonderfully soft rags. Step away from silly products that promise to somehow make your life easier that actually are simply substitutes for old fashioned, tried and true methods.
11) Get together with a couple other families and form a study group to enjoy dinner together once a month and talk about parenting, read new books, enjoy community, and share ideas. Insist that gift giving occasions be primarily social events, outdoor adventures, nature immersed, and intentionally diminish or reduce the time of ‘gifting’ in your life. Try an ‘exchange’ habit, instead, or take a class and learn how to make something useful, for example, learn to carve wooden spoons and give these as gifts. Simple and very helpful and useful. Do not overdo it and give dozens! Avoid the consumption addiction in all respects.


INFANTS UNDER 1 YEAR: (Secret! Children under 1 year old do not need ANY toys! None at all. They need humans and something to suck and chew on, like their fingers and toes. But if you must….)

Wooden chew toy/rattle (1)
Soft ball (size of an adult fist)
2-3 silks to play peek a boo
1 soft cottony type stuffed thing to chew on, can be animal or shape
A special snuggly blanket for bed time
A nature table to observe

The above items plus……..
A set of wooden blocks (can be made by hand, or tree limbs that are smooth and splinter free, cut into rounds and sanded)
1 soft doll, no features, stuffed with wool, with doll cradle and blanket
Several soft balls
Baskets of smooth sticks, shells, nuts in the shell, stones
Stacking toys (there are wooden ones that are nice)
Small truck or car
Basket of silks, six or eight, in large squares for playing and dress up
3 stick crayons in red, yellow, blue and some sturdy paper for coloring
6 small board books, classics
1 nice picture on the wall
1 nice hanging hand made mobile

Same as above
Plus dress up capes and crowns
Stick horse is nice, jump rope
Play areas for pretend kitchen, pretend laundry area
Digging tools for the garden, seeds
Board games (2-3 at one time)
Crayons in eight colors
Water color paints in 3 colors (red, yellow, blue)
Beeswax for modeling, sewing kit with big needle
Playstands for creating homes, forts, pirate ships
Simply music instruments are nice: rattles, bells
Outdoor riding toys are enjoyed
Wagons, swings, ropes, small logs outside
1 doll with legs and arms, clothes for the doll
Small animals for playing, wooden shapes are nice
Often a small playhouse with furniture, all wood
Or a barn with horses, stalls, fences, etc. of wood
No more than 2 dozen books on shelf for a few months
Candle next to bed for lighting and night time song and story

Cards, dice
Board games for the age: checkers, chess, cribbage
Collectables (big age for starting collections)
Kits for building, tool sets that are real tools
Wood carving with supervision
Sewing kits
Knitting kits, wool, crochet sets and patterns
More paints, include pastels, chalk
Blackboard is nice for wall with chalk
Sport equipment as your family enjoys
Treasure box for rock collection
Often a more complex doll
Roller Skates, or blades
Bird watching kits, books
Excursions: Take them places!
Books on a shelf, family books, carefully selected for content
Binoculars, telescope, microscope
Magnifying glasses
Items that your child really desires and will take care of………

This is a only a partial list and I am sure more can be added as you think of your family and their needs. As time passes, the children will become more independent and the parental guidance loosens quite a bit. If we can help our children perceive that we can escape from the commercial/material treadmill that keeps so many sad captive people enslaved to both earning the money to purchase items and time sacrificed to maintain them, we are doing a good deed for the world and the future.

Tomorrow I will share my own children's toy collection, so please look out for 'Playtime Part Two' : )


Becky said...

Thanks Lynn, yet again for the reminder! By the way, how many sets of clothes do your girls have?

Lynn said...

You are welcome, Becky!
They each have 14 sets of clothing, which to be honest, I have found is more than they need. But it really saves my sanity. Each night, I pull out an outfit for each of them & we are ready to go. The whole thing is there- dress, tights, top. I hear of folk who say they have problems with children wanting to choose their own things, but havent encountered.

Michelle said...

What a brilliant post! I'm going to bookmark this one, I love it. I've just joined the Waldorf group! :)

Lynn said...

you are on your way to the dark side! LOL!

Diana Edwin said...

It's so encouraging to see other families doing the same as us, we have persuaded the family to spend time with our 4 year old instead of giving gifts for his Birthday but it is hard to "deprive" friends of the gift of giving (or the thrill of shopping?). I think our children have less than 14 regularly worn outfits, I just need to be ruthless and pass on the other things they never wear! The next challenge is to clear my own clutter (mostly crafting things and books!).

Thanks for your inspiration Lynn.

Lynn said...

Hello Diana
It is difficult as you say to 'deprive' family members - especially if that is how they see it!
My family have taken to the idea of trips out (to the zoo, for example) quite well

Franbles said...

What an interesting post! Thanks Lynn.
14 sets of clothing. We've got less than that, especially for the older boy as eveything gets handed down, but I want the younger to always have something that is his alone.
I notice no mention of construction toys, like Duplo, Lego or K'nex. Mine spend hours in creative building and imagining. It stikes me that the list is more aimed at girls, though this may not be true!
We have friends that have many toys and endless things but it hasn't made them happy; in fact quite the reverse I think!
Food for thought. Thanks!

Lynn said...

Hello Sarah!
14 is more than we need. I will probably do less, next year, but we had so many things that still fit from last year, it was a shame not to use them. I dont feel burdened by them, so, for me, the number is ok.
As for the construction toys, it is a "waldorf' list, so everything will be made of natural materials.
For me personally, I think lego makes a great, creative toy : )

Ericasue said...

I love this post (and your blog in general). I just emailed this to several family members as a way to help them understand what we are trying to do for our son.

Lynn said...

thank you so much!
it makes life so much easier when family are 'on board'

barefoot in gitchigumee said...

Lynn, as usual, such inspiration and motivation from you! thanks for the great reminder! xojayna

Lynn said...

thank you Jayna!

Deedee said...

Hiya Lynn! Thanks for the very though provoking post - it was great! Hope you are feeling better.

I do have to say that I agree with Sarah that it is a slightly 'girly' list to me. I have two boys and they are very boyish! LOL! Alot of the things on the older lists are very girly except for the nature study items. While my boys love nature studies, they also love building and swords, toy animals, playmobile and playdough. There is also no modeling clay or playdough on the list which is obviously VERY open ended play and can be made naturaly if you make your own dough. Just curious about the stuff for boys! - Deedee

Lynn said...

Hello Deedee
yes, some very good points!
We love playdough here : ) (me included!) I make ours with mandarin or lavender oil.

jennybell said...

I love your playlist. We didn't have toys for under a year. For the first birthday, I requested no electronic toys, but still got some.

I do have some questions. My son is 6, but enjoys many of the items on your 8 year old list. He loves his magnifying glass bird field guide, and has a small animal (Schliech or similar) and rock collection and MANY treasure boxes for his special items. Also, he really enjoys dice games. And while he has not shown interest in riding a bike yet, I know most 6 years olds do ride a bike. I do feel like we have been pretty successful at keeping our child a child. But what are your thoughts?