The Nature of Great Toys

It’s finally starting to feel like autumn around here.  The triple-digit heat has gone, and in its place rain has showered our desperately dry yard.  Recently on an afternoon walk, we gathered up leaves along the way.  We passed over apples left to rot on the sidewalk, dry browned leaves, and stopped to inspect bark peeling off of trees. We were just playing.
The products of nature are some of our favorite toys. We’ve used them outside and in, but it was their current, obviously evolving state that reminded me of why they are so valuable to children’s play.
Nature ages.  Natural artifacts show their wear.  One look at a fallen leaf after a rain, and the passage of time is evident.  With so many safe, durable, indestructible, made-for-children plastic toys that hardly show any wear, it is so enriching to play with natural materials that degrade over time.
Nature is irreparable.  Many natural materials are delicate, and few of the ones we find are indestructible. Flowers, leaves, and twigs can wilt, crumble, and snap, never to return to their original state.  Unlike most of our purchased toys, our natural ones cannot be glued or sewn back together.  Once changed, they will never be the same.
Nature reflects the climate.  Rain, heat, and humidity all leave their impression on our outdoor playground.  As nature responds to our climate, we change our routines and behaviors right alongside it. As our natural toys change, our play does as well. This change and response pattern keeps us engaged with our natural toys, and ultimately forges deeper connections to the earth.  This summer, our pine cones were open in the heat, but the recent rain has closed them and made them look like different objects all together.
Nature is unique.  I’ve mentioned before that one of the best things about nature is its irregularity. Even simple play with stones becomes far more intricate and complicated then Greysen’s play with uniform blocks.
Nature is colorful.  We have had some tremendous sunrises and sunsets as of late.  The girls and I notice a wide range of colors, from peach to periwinkle, all in the same sky. Unlike many of the toys marketed to today’s children in primary colors, nature offers a far more complicated spectrum of color.  Even beautiful Waldorf or Montessori toys in alternate ranges are not as commonly complex or varied in their color as nature can be.
Nature is something many adults find easier to love when it is fresh and contained (like in a vase), myself included.  All too often, we as adults are ready to throw flowers out as they start to wilt, or rake the leaves off of our lawns and toss them out.  Nature does not come inside as often as it could. What are your best solutions for your children to play freely with nature?

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