Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Toy

A few nights ago the three of us went out to dinner. Ryan was generally very well behaved, but the service was a bit slow and at a certain point he started to get a bit restless. He wasn’t interested in anything more to eat, and I hadn’t brought any toys with us, so I gave him an empty single-serving plastic milk bottle and a crayon to play with. He was fascinated. He must have spent more than 20 minutes taking the top off the bottle, peering inside, dropping the crayon in, peering inside again, then dumping the crayon out on the table. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The most interesting thing was how intent he was on what he was doing. Sometimes when he plays it’s just random banging on things, enjoying the sounds he’s making but not really paying all that much attention. But he was very deliberately examining the bottle, figuring out that the crayon had to be turned the long way to fit inside the neck, discovering that he had to twist the cap to make it come off, and figuring out what angle he had to tip the bottle at to make the crayon slide out again. I could practically see the wheels turning inside his head. Earlier in the evening he had been paying attention to the other patrons, the servers walking by, and the ceiling fans overhead, but once he started playing with his milk bottle, he could have been the only person in an empty room for all the attention he paid to his surroundings.

I’ve said many times that he is really the master of finding amusement in whatever happens to be around him, and that night was simply further proof of that. He has fun exploring his toys, discovering what their various buttons do, how they come apart and go back together, and what you can do with them. But give him a simple milk bottle, or a box, or a square of paper towel, and he’ll examine it just as carefully. A box can be a hat, or a propeller, or a sled. Paper towels can be scrunched up, or torn apart, or used as a blanket. (Or eaten, but I try to discourage that.)

His favorite toy this week is not a true toy but a little brass bowl with a snug-fitting lid that he discovered on a storage rack. He discovered that not only does the lid fit nicely on top of the bowl, but since it has a little lip, the bowl will sit snugly on top of the lid as well. The set makes wonderful resonant cymbals when he clashes the two pieces together, or when he clashes either piece against some other object. Both the lid and the bowl spin nicely, and land with a resounding crash when he spins them on the top of the wooden toybox. If he turns the lid upside down on top of the bowl, it slides around with a lovely metallic swish.

Educational toys are all well and good, but I think sometimes he can learn more about physics and geometry and spatial relations by simply playing with trash. And the best thing about that is that we’ll always have an endless supply of it!

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