Future Reflections         Fall 2008

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Rags to Riches? Just Pretend…

by Tina Bruce

Reprinted from LOOK Newsletter (Spring 2006, Issue 43), a publication of the National Federation of Families with Visually Impaired Children, a registered charity of the United Kingdom.

I remember my grandmother--who would be well over a hundred years of age if she were alive now--telling me that she used to tie pieces of rag around the handles of the chest of drawers in her bedroom and pretend they were children in a classroom. She would then teach the class, pretending to be the teacher, and make little books for each pupil which she would write in, make deliberate mistakes, and then correct with a red pen.

Imagine if my grandmother were a child of today. She might be given a plastic school set. She might be given a Barbie doll. But what would she have done with these expensive toys? Probably exactly the same as she did with her ragged school.

Finding play in everyday life can be rich and without cost, and Treasure Baskets are one example of this. These are the invention of Elinor Goldschmeid and they celebrate the importance of offering children natural playthings. I prefer to use this expression rather than the word toys which has come to be linked with expensive, commercially produced, profit-orientated, and (usually) plastic objects.

Research shows that children get more out of playthings which offer very open-ended possibilities in the way they are used. Many commercial toys have narrow possibilities. Once you have pressed the button on a plastic toy and a bell has rung for red or a buzzer for green, what else is there to do with it? No wonder most children prefer the box it came in.

Many grandparents now are making Treasure Baskets for their grandchildren. All you need is a basket made of natural material which is stable and circular. Children often like to lean on the basket, so it shouldn’t tip easily. It should not be less than 14 inches in diameter and 4 to 5 inches high, it should not have a handle, and it should have a flat bottom.

The principle of a Treasure Basket is that everything you put in it should be natural, safe, and definitely not rubbishy. You might gather objects made of natural materials, such as a small wooden shaving brush, raffia box, or woolen ball.

Alternatively, you might decide to offer things from nature, such as a fir cone, large corks, a dried gourd, a piece of loofah, or shells that don’t splinter. Maybe you have some lovely wooden objects which would make perfect playthings. A wooden egg, a small turned bowl, a pastry brush, bobbin, or dolly-type of clothes pegs are a few ideas.

Cardboard and paper can also be offered, such as scrunched up grease-proof paper, small cardboard boxes, soft corrugated paper, or different kinds of material.

Of course, if any object worries you in relation to safety or sensitivity, then don’t put it in the basket. You know your child, and you must feel comfortable about what you offer.

The best way to support Treasure Basket play is to sit near the child but to be a quiet and encouraging companion. It is very difficult to really enjoy the play if people keep talking to you and interrupting your explorations. This is not the time for vocabulary building.

Treasure Basket play is especially suitable for children with visual impairments. Adults and older children can enjoy Treasure Baskets as much as children, as they offer a quiet space with tranquility and peacefulness.

Children need to develop their own play agenda, which involves their ideas, feelings, relationships, and sense of physical self. This is very satisfying for a child--giving the child a feeling of power rather than being controlled by others all the time.
Of course, play only flourishes if children freely take part in it. They need to choose to play. The moment must be right. When a child is involved in rich play, they are deeply involved. Rich play means children with greater well-being, and richer learning.

Sitting and reaching for something you want on the far side of the basket, and fishing it out without toppling, is exhilarating--even for a child with a range of disabilities. These children are doing what children have done since the beginning of time--enjoying the magic of play.

We need to give ourselves permission to act on the wonderful fact that play is free of charge. It doesn’t have to involve any money at all.

Think of my grandmother playing with her ragged school. She was using what we might call “found” playthings to create a very rich play scenario.

LOOK trustee and professor Tina Bruce is an eminent early year’s specialist. She has written many books on the subject and is currently based at Roehampton University.

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