So often I hear new mothers asking questions like, ‘What games should I play with my baby?’ ‘What educational toys does my toddler need?’
Let’s look at this from a biological perspective. Do you think any baby born between 200 and 200,000 years ago was intentionally played with for more than a couple of minutes here and there by its parents? No. The parents were busy with collecting water, gathering and hunting food, making things, preparing food, fixing things, finding herbs, tending animals, tending crops, washing, travelling on foot and ceremonial activities. All of these things have looked different throughout history (and HERstory) and not all things were relevant at all times but they all add up to survival. Adults spent most of their time on activities necessary for survival.
What skills were important for children to learn in these times (almost all of human history)? All of the skills listed above. Survival skills. The biological imperative of babies and children was to be close to their parents or alloparents for their own safety and survival and to learn these skills. In order to survive in the world and be a useful part of the collective, children had to learn these skills from an early age. They learned these skills through imitation. Babies were carried in arms or in some kind of carrier. Toddlers and small children followed behind or played with other children and older children worked alongside the adults doing age appropriate tasks.
It is widely known that the work of children is play. This is how they learn everything from physical competence and understanding the cycles of nature to emotional regulation and social skills so it only makes sense that the primary occupation of children was play that mimics the adult activities they see every day. Have a think about toys, games and activities that children enjoy - making mud pies, roleplaying of adult activities, using sticks and rocks as people and cars, you can probably imagine many others too.
What I’m getting at is that babies don’t need educational or stimulating toys. Babies don’t need age appropriate games or activities. Babies need to be held, touched, made eye contact with, spoken to, carried in a carrier and to observe your daily life.
It’s really that simple.
Toddlers and children don’t need educational or stimulating toys. Toddlers and children don’t need age appropriate games or activities. Toddlers and children need to be held, touched, made eye contact with, spoken to and involved in your daily life, participating where they want to and otherwise left to play with whatever resources they find in the house or yard and with their siblings or friends.
It’s really that simple.
When we provide an environment for children to play in with nothing but the most basic resources, they are more creative. They can turn a stick into a horse, fishing rod, shovel, cricket bat, or *gasp* a spear or gun. They can turn a pile of dirt and leaves into a mud pie, bike jump, fairy house, drawing pad, or gnome village. They imagine and they create.
Even better, Maria Montessori suggests that we should never interrupt a child at play because they are in the middle of important work. Not only should we keep their environment and resources simple, we shouldn’t interrupt them either.
When children have finished their work playing, they might like to come and help us with our work. Chopping veggies for the salad with their own knife, sweeping alongside us with a little broom, hanging out the washing on a low line, working in the garden with their own little trowel, doing some yoga poses on the grass, banging in nails in some scrap timber. The key point here is it has to be real, physical work that they are biologically attuned to expect. Sitting in front of the computer or scrolling on the phone is not what they expect and is not what they are attuned to imitate.
I believe the best thing we can do for our children is lead active lives and involve them in our activities. Whether they are nestled in the carrier or participating and learning with their own tools, we are providing them with real life experiences that are actually beneficial for their development.
They don’t need special toys.
They don’t need educational games.
They don’t need structured activities.
They just need us to live our interesting and active lives and to be allowed participate as much as they choose to.
I think this perspective can really take the pressure off parents, especially mothers.
What if you could turn the focus back to yourself. Your needs. Your wants.
Instead of taking them to kindy gym, do your own exercise session at a park with other parents and allow the children to join in if they want to.
Instead of listening to irritating kids music, listen to the music you love while you dance and sing and allow the children to join in if they want to.
Instead of buying expensive educational toys online, send the kids into the yard to find bugs while you hang out the washing and allow the children to join in if they want to.
By focussing on our needs and involving our children in those activities, we teach them real life skills. We also teach them that while they are loved and cherished beyond measure, they are not the centre of the universe. That the family consists of several people that all have equally important needs to be met.
This is one element of natural parenting. It is so profound in its simplicity.
I hope you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you don’t have to do or buy all of those things you thought you *should*.
You are doing enough.
You are enough.
If you like how simple this feels and resonate with this approach to parenting I can highly recommend a couple of books:
The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.