Tuesday, October 20

Christmas List Woes: What Do You Do?

I'm depressed. My daughter is asking for the dreaded Zhou Zhou pets for Christmas. Ugh.

I've tried to do all the "right" things. We limit tv time and stick to PBS almost exclusively. We have creative, open-ended toys like blocks and dress-up clothes in our home. We have even talked about how commercials can make items look better than they really are. Still, somehow, she caught wind of Zhou Zhou pets, and she wants them.

As a parent, I'm a little at a loss as what to do. On the one hand, you're only six during Christmas once in your life. A part of me wants to say, "What's the harm? Get her the glorified, battery-operated rat so she will be excited on Christmas morning ." But a bigger part of me knows how my daughter really plays. She will be bored and disappointed with a toy that just runs around on plastic paths within a couple of hours. The novelty will quickly be gone, and I'll be out some serious cash.

On the other hand, I know that if I get her some Playmobil pieces to add to her set, she and her siblings will have new play scenarios sparked. They play with those little pieces just about daily. Likewise, I could add the ice cream set for their kitchen and store play. I have no doubt that toy will see many hours of pretend play. But neither of those options will provide the squealy, excited just-what-I-asked-for moment for her that the rats--okay, they're really hamsters--will. Sigh.

I can't be the only parent out there thinking about such problems this time of year, right? I'd love to hear what others do when their children ask for a gift they just don't feel great about. Or is too expensive. Or just isn't going to happen for whatever reason.

So tell me what you do.

Thursday, October 15

Boys and Dolls: What's the Problem?

When my daughters are seen at the park pushing big trucks through the sand while they make loud vrooming noises, the other parents smile and nod. But when some catch a glance of my little boy zipping down the slide with Baby Sarah, his doll, proudly postured in his lap, some parents can look downright uncomfortable. This difference is why I feel a tad sorry for little boys.

My girls are allowed to play anything they want; dolls, trucks, blocks, trains, kitchen, family-- all are acceptable forms of play for my girls. But my son, who has loved Baby Sarah since he was barely two, has heard many times at the tender age of four that dolls are for girls. He has watched parents at the park pick Baby Sarah up off of the ground and assume that he (yes, a boy named Sarah!) must belong to his twin sister standing by. My husband and I have re-assured him more times than we can count that there is nothing wrong with him loving Sarah.

But I think our culture at large must disagree with us. Just a quick glance of the doll aisle in most stores fills one's eyes with a sea of pink and ruffles. I hate to admit this, but even at our store, the doll section is filled with "girl" dolls. We do have a soft boy peapod doll in the infant section. And we have a set of twin dolls, one boy and one girl, but no separate boys at this point in these more traditional dolls. We have tried boy dolls. They just don't sell. In fact, Baby Sarah, a doll created by Corolle to look like a boy, has been discontinued. It must not have been a big seller for anyone.

But I just don't understand why. Dolls teach children so much! Experts in this great article about the benefits of doll play explain, "Pretend play, of which dolls are a part, benefits all areas of development. By dressing and feeding dolls, children enhance fine-motor skills. By assuming roles and interacting with other children, they practice language and social skills, including sharing, cooperation, helping, and problem solving. They learn the different roles people play and begin to see their own place in the world. " How are these skills only important to girls? Of course, they are not. So what's the problem?

I'm guessing we're stuck thinking of doll play as just rocking them to sleep and feeding them. My son does indeed treat Sarah this tenderly at times. I think it's a good sign that he'll grow to be a caring, loving father like his daddy. But he definitely puts his own twist on doll play, too. Sarah slides down fire poles that are too scary for him to try first. He also gets put in handcuffs as the bad guy and knocks over block towers as a mean bully. And one of my son's favorite summer games is throwing Sarah in the pool and swimming frantically to save him. In other words, my son finds "girl" ways and "boy" ways to play with his doll. Like any other good toy, it sparks his imagination and creativity.

I'm sure the time is coming that my son will start feeling too self-conscious to bring Sarah out and about with us as he does now. But until then, this is one family who is fine--make that more than fine-- with their boy playing with dolls.

Thursday, October 8

Adventures of a Little Schleich Panda

They are cute. They are beautifully detailed. They are pretty inexpensive. But what exactly do you do with them?

I hear these sentiments quite a bit from parents when their children start asking for a Schleich animal. Kids always seem to gravitate to these little gems. Who can blame them? The animals are sized just right for little hands. But the first time my daughter asked for one, even though it was only $2.50, I was hesitant to say yes. I just didn't have the same vision she had. When I looked at the tiny little panda clutched in her chubby toddler hand, all I saw was a figurine to sit on a shelf. Boy, was I wrong!

My daughter saw endless uses. This panda has explored play dough caves and mountains, has helped clear the way for roads made in the sand box, and has saved more little animals from drowning in a sudsy tub than it could ever count. This panda knows how to drive our garbage truck and loves riding on top of a train car as it circles its wooden tracks. It also has traveled to many zoos and museums as a trusted friend who rides along in her pocket. Long waits in lines and car rides have become fun with panda along to play with. This little panda also stands guard on the bedside table each night. Truly, over the past three years, this panda has done everything except sit like a figurine on the shelf.

As you probably have guessed, this panda has been joined by many other Schleich animals over the years. At first, it was just to get baby panda a mom and a dad. But once my eyes were opened by my daughter's creativity, I was more than willing to let my children add to this collection. Some came in Christmas stockings, others in Easter eggs, some even found their way under pillows after a lost tooth. Others have come tied to the top of birthday packages or slipped quietly into a pocket as a little surprise for some job well done. No matter how they got here, they all have been living adventurous lives ever since.

This type of thinking is exactly the difference between adults and children: adults see a figurine, while children see endless possibilities!