lately I’m wondering about toys. here’s what Roland Barthes has to say in his Mythologies. he’s talking specifically about French ones but I think it applies just as fairly to our own.
“All the toys one commonly sees are essentially a microcosm of the adult world; they are all reduced copies of human objects, as if in the eyes of the public the child was, all told, nothing but a smaller man, a homunculus to whom must be supplied objects of his own size. Indeed forms are very rare; a few sets of blocks, which appeal to the spirit of do-it-yourself, are the only ones which offer dynamic forms….
“The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions cannot but prepare the child to accept them all, by constituting for him, even before he can think about it, the alibi of a Nature which has at times created soldiers, postmen and Vespas*. Toys here reveal the list of all things the adult does not find unusual: war, bureaucracy, ugliness, Martians, etc.…
“However, faced with this world of faithful and complicated objects, the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it: there are, prepared for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without joy. He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him readymade: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish.
“The merest set of blocks, provided it is not too refined, implies a very different learning of the world: then, the child does not in any way create meaningful objects, it matters little to him whether they have an adult name; the actions he performs are not those of a user but those of a demiurge. He creates forms which walk, which roll, he creates life, not property.”
anyway, he goes on about “graceless” plastic toys and the virtues of wood. I really don’t mean to get all Montessori on anyone. I’m probably full up of rabbit turds myself, and there are days when I can barely change a diaper without spreading it all over the Levolors and wainscoting. but I’m trying to sort this toy thing out a little.
currently, little Ash’s favorite toys seem to be:
magazines (for tearing)
plastic spools and canisters for blank CDs
her bendy Grover
her Mr. Man blobby
the wood lath/crossbars under the futon
the black fuzz she tears from under the couch
a knit wool armadillo
her plastic tiger which is actually a piano/xylophone
a loooong crazy necklace of “gold” Mardi-Gras beads
and a strange species of wooden porcupine with wheels and a pull-string.
so, as a parent, how does one offer his child a balance of toys and materials? point to the woodpile, lump of clay, forest or sandpit and say, “look son, yonder is matter unorganized. go and make something beautiful and unprecedented. give it a name and then, maybe, give me a little tour…” yeah, I don’t know.
don’t worry, I’m not loosing sleep over this. just curious.
* understand that I intend absolutely NOTHING against Vespas for kids here. Vespas are just the sort of thing that aught to cross the generations. and if you see some thief riding around on Dave Hurtado’s kids’ Vespa, make the tackle, call the cops and notify him.