Isabelle and I have been in the house for the better part of a week since we’ve both been sick. I don’t even we should be around people yet, but Isabelle had a serious case of cabin fever yesterday so I knew I had to get her out of the house today. Seeing as we’re both on antibiotics and sound worse than we probably are, I ventured out to Barnes & Noble with her for their morning story time. Isabelle didn’t want to sit through story time (I suppose that’s because she’s finally got the energy to move around again!) so we spent most of our time by the toy train tracks.
The train area at our local B&N is adorable. It’s in a little “room” that is complete with adult chairs and two child-size Adirondack chairs. It is surrounded by books. But there aren’t just any books surrounding the train tracks. They’re all branded. There was Thomas the Train (obviously), Disney Princess books (not as much of an alignment there), Dora the Explorer (still not sure of the train connection), and something that began with a c. Isabelle was into the trains — that was it. She didn’t gravitate towards the books surrounding them. However, the other kids, who were playing with the train, were enamored by the books more than the train set.
- Toddler #1, who was also two, kept grabbing Dora the Explorer books. She kept saying “Dora” over and over and over and over again to her mother. Her mom read her each of the Dora books she grabbed off of the shelf. Isabelle, who loves books, wasn’t the slightest bit interested. They got up and came back with — wait for it — more Dora books. Eventually her mother pointed her to something different: a Yo Gabba Gabba book. (I know there was a beautiful display of Caldecott Award Books in B&N. Perhaps that would’ve yielded some higher quality picks. Just sayin’.)
- Toddler #2, who looked like she was three-ish, made a bee-line straight to the princess books. She carefully selected a few books, which included Cinderella, and handed them to her grandmother. Her grandmother suggested they bring them to a quieter part of the children’s section since Isabelle and Toddler #1 were busy playing with the trains at that moment. (I later saw this child walking out of the store with a bag, presumably of princess books.)
Isabelle eventually wanted to have a snack. While she ate Cheerios out of a Snack Trap, I gathered a few books from other places in the children’s section to read to her while she ate. I grabbed Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds plus two more. I began reading aloud, in a relatively quiet voice, as Isabelle settled into an Adirondack chair with her mess-free snack. Toddler #1’s mother, who was not reading her daughter a book at the time, looked at me funny. I wonder if she was wondering why I didn’t just grab a Dora book, which was closer than the ones I selected.
We have a Dora toy (pictured above) in our house that Isabelle plays with. We also have a Dora book. Both were given to us. I didn’t purchase either of them. While I don’t have anything against Dora, I don’t feel the need to buy Isabelle character toys, except for Cookie and Elmo since she fell in love with them before I got on my kick to eradicate as much TV as possible. If there’s a cartoon about it or they come to the Hershey Theater to perform, then chances are it’s not coming into my house — at least for now. Until Isabelle goes to pre-school, I am in control of what she absorbs. She doesn’t know who Dora the Explorer is because she doesn’t watch her show on TV. She doesn’t know Yo Gabba Gabba since she’s never seen it on TV. She has no clue what princesses are since we don’t do the princess thing in this house. She has played with Thomas trains, but she couldn’t pick one out since I haven’t made it a thing. I’ve started to think that toys should just be toys. They don’t really need to be named and labeled. It’s what kids do with them, with their own imaginations, that matter.
While I am trying to provide her with an early childhood free of commercialized products, part of me wonders if I’m doing her a disservice. What will her peers think of her when she cannot identify all of the Disney Princesses by age 3 1/2? Will they think it’s strange that she doesn’t know anything about Dora the Explorer’s “life”? How will they respond when they realize she’s never been to “Sesame Street Live” or “The Wiggles”? Kids catch on pretty quickly, so I’m going to keep going on the path I’ve been on lately and will continue to keep her away from character toys. If nothing else, I will continue to expose her to well-written and beautifully illustrated picture books while building her creativity and imagination in the process.