During the past ten months of my husband being deployed, I have spent very little time taking my little one to today’s popular toddler haunts. We have lived with family, so grandparents and friends have satisfied all sorts of socialization needs. For a toddler, traveling to a new place is an adventure enough so that we aren’t driven to seek out play areas to “explore our senses”.
In the past week, I’ve been staying with a friend who has a son near in age to mine. Already we’ve been to a play gym and a discovery museum, and in my opinion (of course it’s my opinion; it’s my blog), these aren’t very natural ways to play (for my two-year-old, any way).
Toddlers don’t play together in harmony. They snatch things, push, hit, and ignore each other. They haven’t developed a sense of others’ needs and feelings, how to share, what a “turn” is, or rules of possession. Some play with others better than… others, but most toddlers have no concept of group play.
I spent the hour corralling my boy, and refereeing him. It felt as if he were constantly going in and out of “trouble”. After my past feelings of accomplishments for removing any fights from our day, this “play” time was exhausting. Not to mention he spent most of his time playing with the toys in the area, toys he already has at home, leaving me to wonder why I spent $10 for this.
Naturally, he eventually discovered the joy of a bin of plastic balls, but immediately before and after that adorable photo was snapped, he was wrestling another child or chucking balls at one’s head.
My son is kind, but he is a dominant little male. He’s self-confident and enjoys attention, which combined with a disregard for other children’s feelings equals a pretty intense child. One on one he makes a great friend, and has always sought out other children to play with. Ultimately, though, after making the acquaintance of a few other kids, he prefers to play alone. Attention he loves, help he loathes.
Today we went to a discovery museum. Like many of the patrons, he is too young to enjoy the main attractions (but the stimulation is too exciting for him to stand still, making it also a little dangerous), so we headed to the toddler-only zone. [I’m not even going to comment on all the snotty noses I saw, but if I were going to, it would be right here.] This was as intense as the rubber-gym, but more so because it wasn’t designed for running. It was supposed to encourage little corners of delightful discovery, with one or two children at a time. Instead the little ones’ parents all decided a rainy day was a good museum day, and the cacophony of headstrong wigglers was intense.
My son’s age is a huge factor here, and it bears mentioning. I don’t want any of you to feel defensive about how much your youngster enjoys these places. Six months ago, my son was an angel in these places. He was old enough to walk and run, laugh and squeal, climb and roll, but too young to exert his will. What I mean is, my son is a strong-willed boy who feels the need to make his presence known, so where there are more people, there is a greater need to exert himself. He can satisfy himself knowing one or two children are playing nearby, but multitudes of wobblers make him maniacal. He’s curious about every other child’s play, wants to sit, climb, and crawl where they are, touch their toys, and experience whatever else they appear to be enjoying. Perhaps in time this will subside and I’ll be happily purchasing a membership for weekly trips, but for a two-year-old: now’s not the time.
Fun was had. I admit that. Excitement was achieved, and perhaps even a bit of discovery. But I’m left wondering why I would intentionally bring my child into a day’s activity that revolved around scolding? We’ve had magical days on the beach, or watching construction vehicles. We love to feed ducks on the pond, or build with Duplo blocks. The PA Farm Show was second-to-none as we petted every imaginable farm animal. Sometimes, we even bring a friend along. I don’t think my son is learning about interpersonal relationships in these establishments.
I like watching my boy work out his friendship with other children, but it requires time to observe each other. Play separately, then together. To circle and sniff and poke and get poked back. Play is not accomplished in rambunctious corrals of disease such as these. I really don’t want to be incendiary, but I can’t help but think these types of places are built to make mothers feel good, and not so much because they are good for toddlers.
Don’t even get me started on the too-big children and inattentive parents, either. At ten bucks a pop, I can find many more meaningful and teachable opportunities with my son than these.
Gotta run, he just asked me to color with him.