Sunday, 10 November 2019

Forty-four sleeps before Christmas - Are you ready?

Over the years, I have agonized about the way in which big toy companies and social media influencers guilt parents into purchasing toys that are not only developmentally inappropriate for children but which continue to perpetuate the cycle of material consumerism that is threatening our planet.  In Canada, media of all kinds influences children in determining what they 'want'.  In turn, children pressure parents into purchasing name brand products and licensed entertainment goods.  Parents purchase expensive stuff to make children 'happy' resulting in financial stress and abject disappointment as time after time the desired toy is cast aside to make way for the box and its corresponding packaging.

So what is a 'good' parent (aunt/uncle, grandma/grandpa, friend) to do?
Start by taking a few minutes to consider your answers to the following questions:

Is the product open-ended encouraging multi-uses over time?  Open-ended play materials such as wooden blocks, fabric scarves, items found in nature (e.g. rocks, sticks, nuts), beads and good quality art materials encourage independent play in a safe and healthy manner. 

Are you buying the product because you believe that it is best suited to your child's age and interests or because your child demands it? Play materials that withstand the test of time and that enhance relationships between adults and children are worth their weight in gold.  Look at any good quality children's museum and you will discover that the play materials that garner the greatest use are those that have been well-loved over generations.  Loose parts for dramatic play (dishes, dolls), musical instruments, sensory materials coupled with a variety of spoons, scoops, cups, and other interesting found objects abound.  

Will this toy build on my family's insatiable desire for 'stuff'?  Study after study confirms that children need fewer not more toys.  Having fewer toys can lead a young child to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play, according to the study, "The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play”  published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development.  Fewer toys, it turns out, result in healthier play, and, ultimately, deeper cognitive development.

How will this purchase enhance my child's development?  Have you noticed that many of the top selling products recommended for children actually perpetuate the instant gratification so insidious in our culture?  Once the initial 'surprise' reaction is over, few of these toys offer children with any other benefits nor emotional well-being.  Even toys once revered for their open-ended playfulness now jeopardize the simple joy that comes from exploring, testing, discovering, and inventing by suggesting that the pieces in the box represent the making of one specific thing (e.g. Lego).  On the other hand, building blocks shaped like boulders, generic figurines and construction toys grow with children encompassing changing skills and knowledge along the way.

Other questions you might consider are:
Does the toy appeal to many senses? (the more senses, the firmer the brain networks)
Can the toy be used in more than one place? (in the house, outside, in the car, waiting at a restaurant)
Can the toy be used in more than one position? (sitting, standing, lying down)
Does the toy encourage activity and movement?  Problem solving? Interaction and communication?
Are the materials used in the toy's construction natural and eco-friendly?  Safe and non-toxic?
Was the toy made in Canada?

At the end of the day, memories are created in environments that are safe and loving and in which children and adults find joy in each other's company.  Discovering the mutual benefit of open-ended play materials and good quality children's literature (a topic for another blog) is just one of the ways that you can experience joy both on Christmas morning and throughout the year without breaking the bank in the process.  Knowing what you value (e.g. creativity, problem solving, empathy, health, caregiving) and passing on those values through the thoughtful ways that you select gifts for children is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself this holiday season.

Yours in playful curiosity,


Monday, 23 September 2019

Cardboard boxes and childhood. The perfect match.

Cardboard boxes and childhood.  The perfect match.
Just like saying ‘no’ when you really mean ‘yes’;
The requirement for boo-boo kisses and special bandages to make the 
tiniest of tiny injuries feel better;
The first time one selects a ‘sprinkle donut’ at Tim Horton’s
and a sticky popsicle on a hot Canadian night -
 Cardboard boxes and children simply go together.

Give a child a box, ample time to explore, discover and invent and see where the play unfolds.  Adding loose parts and found objects such as ropes, string, tape, tubes, empty containers, paint, cushions, and blankets extend the play as the box is transformed into a submarine, a rocket to the moon, an amusement park ride, a fort, a castle or a cave.  Boxes can also become puppet theatres, operating rooms, as well as storage containers for important collections including rocks, gems, action figures, and things that roll.

Did you know that cardboard boxes were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005?  The significance of boxes of all types has been well researched and both scientifically and anecdotally studied for hundreds of years.  Here are some of the most significant developmental reasons why including boxes in children's every day environments both at home and at school, inside and outside is so important:

Spatial awareness
Ever notice that regardless of age, when presented with an interesting box, children will
try to climb in!  This is an essential part of the brain's discovering where the body is in
space.  Opportunities to climb in, around, over, and under things helps children to
understand themselves and their impact on the world around them.

Comfort and security
The emotional sense of well-being that children experience when they are bundled up
tight and gently embraced in the arms of loving adults is extended throughout childhood
when children are given opportunities to seek out and use small spaces.  Cardboard 
boxes give children a chance to take a break from the overwhelming stimulation that
bombards their brains every second of every day.

Mastery and control
Children delight in discovering that they can move and manipulate objects.  The sense of
creating something from nothing comes with intrinsic satisfaction
that encourages children to continue to think of new ways to solve all sorts of problems.


Cardboard boxes offer a wide range of possibilities in part because they themselves are typically neutral in terms of sensory input.  The subtle nature of natural containers including colour, texture, design, shape, smell and muted sound offers both a tranquil experience and a clean palette for experimenting and inventing original ideas.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Let me introduce myself!

Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself!

My name is Sandy Christie and I am a founding member of Simply Curious.  I have had the privilege of spending most of my working life thinking about children, families and caregivers and what they need for healthy and happy development.  By trade, I am an early childhood educator. By practice, I am a playologist, a professor, a mom, an aunt, a sister and a grandma.   From a very young age, I entertained myself using my imagination and wondering about the world around me both the seen and the unseen.  I am a believer in fairies and things that go bump in the night.  I am inspired by kindness and the simple things that define every day adventures.  My philosophy of life is that it is the journey that matters and that rich tapestries of people and places are best created through relationship.

Play is my passion.  It is the vehicle by which everyday experiences are transformed into extraordinary events and ordinary objects become magical playthings.  Without a doubt, I know that the early years of life set the stage for later emotional and physical health, resilience and holistic development. My heroes include Mr. Dressup, the Friendly Giant, and Dr. Fraser Mustard.  The educators that have influenced my practice include Loris Malaguzzi, Maria Montessori, Jean Jacques Rousseau,
Friedrich Froebel and more recently Ann Pelo and Deb Curtis.

My grandchildren have rekindled my delight in the possibilities that exist when nurturing caregivers use developmentally appropriate play things to awaken the potential that lies within each child.  Exploring the great outdoors from a young child's perspective has reminded me of the dangers that lurk around every corner as adults in the 21st century fail to consider the ramifications on the environment of the daily choices made.  We have been lured into a consumer culture that is all about instant gratification.  With that has come a devastating legacy of waste, climate change and other environmental ramifications that our children and their children will bear.

All of the above contributed to the positive response that I gave to my daughter's invitation to combine our skills, knowledge and interests to start a social enterprise.   Ideas for Simply Curious were hatched in January, 2017 and continue to percolate.  Our vision is to use open ended play as the vehicle by which relationships between children and adults are strengthened.  Our mission is to create  eco-friendly toys for play loving people.   Over the past 30 months, we have developed amazing partnerships with others who share our passion for a welcoming community where diversity is celebrated and similarities form the foundation for growth and prosperity.

Each month, I will use this platform to share musings related to a topic of interest to us and hopefully to you, dear readers, as well.  We hope to offer you a forum for sharing your intense curiosity regarding children and the important people in their lives.   Ask questions, share observations, post photographs, offer ideas and insights.

Until next time, I remain yours in playful curiosity....Sandy