Timeless Tips from Homemakers of the Past is an ongoing series highlighting useful and thought provoking tidbits from the generations of homemakers who have gone before us. Our goal at Sheep Among Wolves is to provide a forum for Good and Great literature, and to help you in your quest for godly, high-quality resources. It is our hope that these Timeless Tips will be an aid and encouragement to you as you strive to follow the example of Titus 2, and become a keeper of the home.
Kids today have too many toys! Our houses are full of them. They overflow the toy box, they conquer the bedrooms, they fill every spare nook and cranny. At the best of times they seem a necessary evil—at the worst, an unmitigated disaster.
And yet, a wise choice of toys can mold the person your child grows up to be. So how can you choose toys that will change your child’s life for the better?
Giving Your Kids a Jump Start
I recently came across an interesting tidbit in Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-book. Eliza Leslie, writing in the 1840’s, remarks that:
“We cannot but think, that if every child, at two years old, was supplied with a slate and pencil, every child would teach itself enough of drawing, to lay a good foundation for the acquirement of that useful and delightful art, when cultivated at a later period. We have seen very intelligible sketches on the slate, made by children of four and five years old; and in every instance, the same young persons have drawn admirably by the time they were fourteen or fifteen.”
Toys—Entertainment or Education?
Children are actually a lot happier when they are doing something productive, than when they are playing purely for entertainment. Miss Leslie was commenting on the wisdom of choosing toys which encourage actual play:
“Slight gaudy toys, that are merely for show, afford no amusement to children. They do not like play-things that they cannot play with.
A rag-doll, (as babies stuffed with linen are most disrespectfully called,) with plain clothes, that can be put on and taken off at pleasure, and washed when dirty, and that can be thrown about without danger of injury, will give far more enjoyment to a little girl, than a splendid, but fragile effigy of wax or plaster, in habiliments of satin, and gauze, and spangles: very showy, but every part of the dress sewed on fast, and immovable.”
I think that many technological toys might be classed in the same division—not because they are breakable or “immovable”, but because they don’t encourage a kind of play that trains children for adult life.
The Toys Children Love
“Miniature articles of crockery, tin, and wooden ware; nine-pins; blocks for building houses; little carts; wheelbarrows, &c; are always interesting and agreeable to children; most of whom also take great pleasure in a slate and pencil. Their slates should be small, (of six cent size, for instance,) and furnished with two long twine strings, one for the pencil, and one for a bit of sponge.”
As you can see, Miss Leslie was not advocating toys that were useful over toys that were “fun”. She was, in fact, simply giving a list of toys children enjoy, versus those which give them little pleasure.
But the “play-things” which she mentions, are in fact toys which encourage children to aspire to useful, wholesome, desirable pursuits as they grow up. And yes, they are the simple, foundational kinds of toys that children love to play with!
How to Choose Toys That Will Change Your Child’s Life
In looking at Miss Leslie’s list, I am amazed by the fact that almost all of the toys she mentions are still on the shelves today. But to give a few more ideas, and to put some old fashioned terms in a more modern light, here is another list of toys and supplies that will keep children occupied for hours—as well as encourage pastimes that will be a treasure for the rest of their lives.
- Paper, Pencils, Crayons, etc. The modern version of a slate and sponge.
- Dolls and Dollhouses These are not the classic girls toys by accident! They foster the mothering instinct which little girls are born with.
- Kitchen Toys Most of these today are plastic, but they are what the 19th century writer is picturing when she describes “crockery, tin, and wooden ware”—things to play cooking with.
- Building Toys There are numerous sets, ranging from wooden blocks to complex toys with battery-powered motors—the more versatile the more they will be played with.
- Books Yes, I know, we’re a book company! But putting that aside, books are the one “toy” that children do not abandon as they grow up. Giving them an appreciation for godly literature will be a blessing all through their lives.
- Sewing, Knitting and Carpentry Supplies Children obviously need to have a certain level of maturity before they are ready to use these without supervision, but they are an excellent occupation for older children, and transition seamlessly into adult activities.
Don’t Waste Playtime!
Children are children for such a very short time—they have so very few hours in which to grow into the men and women that God intends them to be. Just as we are striving to offer them godly, encouraging reading material, that will form the standard of their future life, so too, the toys which we offer them should mould their image of good and great recreations.
Don’t waste these precious years. Yours is the incredible privilege of choosing toys that will change your child’s life.
The standards for selecting godly literature are in many ways equally appropriate for choosing good and great toys. Click here for our post on good and great books.
Unless otherwise referenced, the quotations in this article were taken from Miss Leslie’s Ladies’ House-Book by Eliza Leslie.
This post has been shared on The Art of Homemaking Mondays linkup.
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