Playing with playing

My dollhouse
Years and years ago, a part of my day job was to visit an Irish language Parent & Toddler group, once a month, in Co. Clare. The group came together in a Steiner-Waldorf Kindergarten. I was in my early twenties and it was the first time I had ever heard of this type of education, which is still not very common in Ireland.

I remember coming into the room, which from the outside looked like an ordinary Community Hall, one you might find in any small town in Ireland (i.e. not very pretty), and being surprised to find pink muslin suspended from the ceiling, creating a cocoon around a central play area. I remember being very interested that the 'toys' were literally 'sticks and stones'. Smooth beach stones and pieces of gently sanded wood, with bark still on them.

I remember the dolls, soft and woollen and almost featureless. I remember a tiny wooden kitchen and a small dolls bed. I remember one of the mothers explaining the basic philosophy behind these types of playthings and being greatly impressed by the simplicity and beauty of it all.

I know I made a mental note at that time to store up the information for when, one day, in the future, I had my own little ones.

So then the future came, and my babies came and with them came the gifts, from generous and thoughtful family and friends. So generous. So thoughtful.  And also, with those babies came an overwhelming need to make them happy, to give them all that I can possibly give them.

One day last week I took a look around my house and finally admitted something that had been at the back of my mind for a long time. My children have too much stuff. Also, most of the stuff they have is not the stuff I intended for them, and they do not  often play, in any meaningful way, with any of it.

I decided there and then that I would see what I could do to simplify the playthings in our home and by doing that, hopefully encourage more creative play. I downloaded 'You are Your Child's First Teacher' to my Kindle, something I had been meaning to read since before the girls were even born, and I have been enjoying it immensely, digesting each chapter and trying new things daily. Even though I don't think we will be sending our children to a Steiner school, or following every belief, I do aim to use this philosophy more and more in our home life.

Blog posts like this one and this one have been a huge and timely inspiration to me too.

I have filled three large bags with toys the children genuinely don't engage with. Toys they take out of boxes and dump on the floor - over and over, because making a mess is huge fun to them! The toys have not been discarded, they are in toy-limbo, waiting until I figure out what happens next.

We may bring them to a car-boot sale and use whatever money we earn for different, simpler toys, or a family day out or something else that the girls will enjoy, because they are their belongings and they should benefit from them.

I have strong feelings of guilt as I do this. I was raised by two hoarders, taught to throw nothing away. Taught to value things, to be grateful for gifts, to care for things. I do care for things and I am so grateful for the gifts we have received for the girls thus far. So grateful that our loved ones display their affection so generously and so often. I know that each and every toy my girls possess was chosen with love and with consideration.

But the question of 'value' is what is making me stop and think. Do we have to value everything we are given, because we care for and are grateful for the spirit in which it was given? Do we have to value toys which, in themselves, hold no real value - neither monetarily nor developmentally? Do I have to keep everything because they essentially belong to my children and not to me?

Lately, when I think about value, I think about what I value most, which is my girls. I think about how I value their childhood and how I want it to be light and carefree and supportive of their different stages of development. I want their childhood to be rich, but not 'stuff' rich. I want it to be rich in song and story and imagination. Rich in movement and expression, in creativity and adventure. Most importantly I want it to be rich in love, which thankfully it is.

I am their mother and it is my duty to do my best for them. I strongly believe that editing their toys can only bring more peace and calm to our home. Presenting them with toys made of natural materials just seems right to me. To me, natural toys hold more value.

A few days ago I watched Sábha play with driftwood and beach stones. She was re-living a recent visit to a playground. The stones were people and the tangled driftwood became swings and slides and rope-bridges and who knows what else. I was filled with joy to see her imagination begin to stretch and grow, to see through her play, how she is viewing the world.

This is all a work in progress. I am still figuring out how it will all come together and how some new rhythms can be established in our home. But, I feel like it is a good time to begin. Lúnasa comes tomorrow and with it the beginning of a new season. A new season in the big wide world and also in our little corner of it.


  1. Good for you! I had a similar experience when my girls were about 2. I took away all the plastic and have slowly replaced it with simple wooden toys.

    No matter how hard I try, more and more stuff seems to seep into our house and each year I find myself re-purging. It always feels so good!

    Another book you might like is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

    Hope you feel better soon, parenting twins and being sick is the worse.

  2. Thank you!
    Yes, it's a constant process really isn't it. Toys just find children! I am already bracing myself for Xmas!

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I just downloaded it to my Kindle and looking forward to reading it on my commute!



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