Collen called yesterday afternoon to ask if she could borrow any books I might have on making handmade toys. Collen, like myself, is fed up with the whole un-safe toy thing with China, (not to mention un-safe clothing, food etc.) and is looking for simple, yet beautiful alternatives. The timing of her call was perfect because I had been thinking about this topic for some time now and it gave me an excuse to review my craft library (the books that are not still in storage, anyway) and dig up some of my favorite links on the topic.
While collecting links for her, I came across this article written way back in 1999. It's called "Homemade Toys: Why Nothing Can Beat a Paper Pinwheel" and it is awesome. The author, Jennifer Soalt, breaks down homemade toys into three basic categories: "Toys created by children, toys adults teach children to make, and toys adults make for children".
This is a topic so near and dear to my heart, as my own childhood was filled with many happy hours creating many handmade toys. My mother bought many "making" books and left them in our path, provided the raw materials, and let me go at it. This is also what I am doing with my own bunch.
On "Toys Created by Children" Jennifer says:
"Children tend to cherish the toys they have created by themselves because the toys are the product of their own ideas and initiative. Parents need not, and indeed should not, direct this kind of independent toymaking."
Around here we have the "craft cabinet" which houses an array of materials and supplies. There is an abundance of felt, Popsicle sticks, glues, string, embroidery floss, old fashioned clothespins, wood turnings, paints etc. There are no kits, only supplies. I truly believe that having an array of materials available, along with an assortment of inspiring books, helps to train the brain to think creatively. (Even those who profess to be non-creative. ;-))
The picture that you see above is a "marionette theater" made by Amelia. Take a close look at the curtains. On Monday she noticed that her favorite, denim capri pants were wearing thin in the hind end. As she sat down for lunch, she heard a rip and the fabric gave way. Instead of being dissapointed, her face lit up and she asked, "Mom, can I chop up my pants for theater curtains?!" Sure, why not!
This has kicked off a week of stick-marionette construction and productions with each younger child (with Amelia's help) making his own simple marionette. Fabulous! If it wasn't for the miles (well, it seems like miles) of trim that needs paint, I would be right in there with them. The time spent crafting with the kids and teaching them to make something they can actually play with, is well spent indeed.
On "Toys Adults Teach Children to Make", the article states:
"The toys that parents show their children how to make are often classic toys they themselves played with as children: newspaper hats, sock puppets, walnut shell boats, dollhouses, pinwheels. Many of these traditional toys are unavailable in stores or are manufactured in such a way that they loose their simplicity and charm."
To me, the best thing about showing a child how to make a toy, is that they are then equipped to teach another child that same skill!
On "Toys Adults Make for Children", the author says:
"Given the fast pace of family life today, it's easy to dismiss homemade toys as a thing of the past, a nostalgic endeavor ill-suited to busy modern lives. But the toys we make for our children and the toys children make for themselves need not be time-consuming."
This is so true and is similar to what we are discussing over on the 4Real Learning forum.
She goes on to say:
"Many parents and children avoid making toys because they believe they lack the artistic skills necessary to create an appealing plaything. Our culture reveres commercial toys with perfect proportions and highly realistic details. Like folk art, however, most homemade toys are not slick looking. The paint runs on a mask, a doll's head is sewn on crooked, a cardboard train veers to one side when pushed. However, such imperfections give the toys character and are all part of the creative process."
Next time, I'll share some toy making links, books and ideas!