Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

Seeking Simplicity: Child’s Play Is a Job Well Done


Before there was playdough, there was just dough.

Before there was felt food, there was just dinner.

Before there were hula hoops, there were just hoops to roll.

Before there was a battery-powered light saber, there was just a stick.

Before there were chore charts, the chores just got done.

It struck me one day, as I was fumbling to explain to my little kitchen helpers how rolling out cracker dough was just like rolling playdough, that I had it totally backward.

It’s not that bread dough mimics playdough. The games we play are modeled after real life tasks. We miss our mark, however, when we allow children to play exclusively and never experience the real thing.

How many high school students mastered the art of rolling out playdough and cutting out shapes but have never kneaded bread dough, formed pizza dough, or cut out homemade cookies instead of slicing them off a pre-packed tube?

We as a society have it backward when the play that is to prepare children for real life never gets beyond the craft table.

RELATED: Non Toy Gift Ideas & Kids, Toys, Cooking and Chores (for a 5 year old)

I waxed poetic last spring about my love for the traditional foods in the Little House on the Prairie series. Since then, we’ve read the next three books in the series, and I continue to be struck by how simple, yet fulfilled, were the lives of the Ingalls family.

With one doll instead of dozens, Laura learned to truly cherish.

The children managed to occupy themselves outside all day – after doing their daily chores first – without any hassle or boredom.

Boots, coats, and dresses were worn until they could be worn no longer, and even the little ones had true appreciation for new items.

New mittens, one toy, and a few pieces of candy were a wonderful and glorious Christmas gift, inflaming deep gratitude in their hearts.

Everyone pitched in to help with the farm chores, or they wouldn’t have anything to eat in the winter. One task might take all day, but it was done well.

I often yearn for a return to simpler times. I couldn’t realistically trade in the comforts of my modern home, my electricity and technology for a life of uncertainty where a swarm of grasshoppers could demolish my livelihood with the clicking of jaws on wheat, but I’d like to foster the attitude of detachment that I see in the Ingalls family.

I’d like my chores to be focused on what’s important, be less complicated, and to become a shared responsibility for the whole family.

I’d like less stuff.

And I’d like to see the pretend play that children initiate  to practice real work be short-term, instead of indefinite, allowing them to become proficient in something other than magenta-colored playdough snakes. image

I roll out real dough with my two-year-old. She can have her own piece to play with so that productive play really can mimic real life.

I give my preschooler a real broom, squirt bottle of vinegar water, an old towel and a little bit of instruction, instead of a child’s playset that won’t clean anything.

A trowel, yard gloves, and a child-sized wheelbarrow instead of a motorized jeep allow our children to work alongside the parents, making outside play an opportunity to learn the value of a job well done, rather than the thrill of pushing yet another button.

My son had no toys at his birthday party, but learned a deep lesson of service instead.

The imagination doesn’t need many tools to be inspired. We’re determined not to let our children’s imaginations be confined by toys that structure their play.

We eat real food because it is in its whole form as the Creator intended. Let us also live real lives and teach our children how to do real work, trusting that they, too, were created for more than just pretending.

Certainly I’m entering the Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop this week!

Photos from Tony the Misfit and witigonen.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

33 thoughts on “Seeking Simplicity: Child’s Play Is a Job Well Done”

  1. Pingback: Cooking Day | Child's Play: Where Learning Happens

  2. I got here thru the Simple Mom Weekend Links email. I opened the link, but then got distracted and didn’t get to read the story until late tonight. This fits so well with a conversation I had with my husband this morning-it may actually solve part of what we discussed! I feel like there’s too much to do and maybe we aren’t focusing on what matters, and by including our young son more in those things that MUST get done (we need to eat, animals need to eat, etc), maybe we resolve some of my inner turmoil.

    Thanks for a great reminder!

  3. Jen @ BigBinder

    You got it, girl. 100% right. I hate it when there are ‘food crafts’ (that aren’t intended to be eaten). Yes, it’s true. I hate maraconi necklaces. Not because I hate that my kids made them – but it is the ultimate in excess. I could write a whole post back in this comment. I’ll refrain, but just say that I love you even more now than I did, which was a lot.

  4. Pingback: Childhood Simplicity “Little House Style” « Practical Pages

  5. Your article so inspired me! We are great Little House fans and are on to our 3rd Little House book and lapbook and so I penned my thoughts on Childhood Simplicty Little House Style. I’m sure Ms. Wilder never dreamed that she would inspire a whole modern generation through her beautiful stories!

  6. You have really hit the nail on the head. As an Early Childhood teacher, I have been struggling with the fact that many children simply don’t know how to play. They just don’t know what to do with a toy or object that doesn’t entertain or interact electronically with them. All the toys that “speak” to children, “read” to them … are not what our children need. They need human interaction, tools and toys that they can manipulate and imagine with, not the electronic “educational” junk that is out there.

  7. What an amazing post – I think you put everything I feel into words for me LOL I always read the Little House books and wonder how I can get my boys and I back to that simplicity. I want it so bad, but it’s so hard to give up what we already have – ya know? I keep working towards it though!

  8. Love this, Katie! I feel the exact same way…why do we have to have so much STUFF to “entertain” our kids? Why can’t they just LIKE nay, LOVE being in our family? In our home? In life?!!

    {I wrote a whole series on the Ingalls, too:}

  9. Have you read The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff? She spent some time with a primitive tribe in South America and wrote about how smoothly they incorporated work into life and blended childhood into adulthood. It’s very inspiring, though she does jump to conclusions about the meanings of some things.

    Another great book about the importance of letting children do “real” things is How Children Learn by John Holt.

  10. Sustainable Eats

    Love this entry Katie. My kids have both attended a montesorri and I love the philosophy. Native Americans and early settlers of course followed this same dictate. If a child didn’t show respect and appreciation for a toy or destroyed it they weren’t made new ones. They had work and play was preparation for it. Things are so different today and our children are coddled and un-nurtured. As a society we see it’s effects. This post really struck a chord with me.

  11. I love your comments. My son just started in a Christian Montessori school and they spend the first 4 months or so doing “practical life” work. It has really made me rethink his work at home. Kids are taught how to take care of their environment from dusting, to polishing (with real polish), to watering plants, etc. The teacher (or parent) demonstrates how to do it (using adult equipment but with kid appropriate modifications) and then they enjoy doing it and contributing to the community. These activities help children master their environment, learn useful skills and help develop things like hand strength (kneading dough), fine motor skills (polishing), etc. – all in a very natural way. Some parents don’t get why kids do practical life- we don’t have much polishing anymore and the dishwasher works just fine. But it is amazing to watch a four year old concentrate for 30 minutes to make something beautiful.

    Your post encourages me to keep a high standard and give my kids a chance to do real work around our house. Right now, my 4 year old likes “feeding” our live bread – sourdough.

    I especially like the comment about learning to treasure the one thing instead of having the many. I hadn’t really thought about that before.

    Great food for thought.

    1. Missy,
      Yay! My son is a second generation Montessori child right now. I really need to get my 2yo daughter going on the pouring with a pitcher and other little activities she can do at home…life is so different for no. 2.

      You describe it all so wonderfully – thank you!
      🙂 Katie

  12. Church Mouse

    Beautiful! Just Beautiful!

    So much I could say, but I would just be rambling on… so, thank you very much for sharing your lovely thoughts!

  13. Fruitful Harvest

    So true!

    I always say the you have to go THROUGH bordom to get to real creativity.

    The way we homeschool here is hands on!
    Even my youngest kiddos help in the kitchen.

    They love to load my crockpot and breadmakers.
    They help plant seeds in our garden and harvest the veggies.

    I am quilty though of shopping for wooden food for the play kitchen. I remember when I was little we would just make dirt pies ect.

    My dad was military and he could not accumilate to many things in case we had to move. We lived in a warm climate so we did play outside more months of the year! We live in Washinton State….rain rain sun rain rain and more rain….lol
    We do love it though.

    Great post!

    Peace and Love,

  14. DeputyHeadmistress

    I love this. My oldest is 27, and instead of play dough, she did get bread dough. Once a week when I baked, I made a little extra and gave it to my children to play with, and then we baked and ate the results!

  15. I totally understand and agree with you. Over a few months starting from the end of last year I read every single of the Little House books (right up to the one where Laura marries Manly and leaves home) and they left such a deep impression on me. I so wish for a simpler life, not that I would trade my modern home for their wagon or house on the prairie but just the simplicity of their lives, of a job well done, of children working alongside adults (the way it should be) before play, of being thankful and grateful for simple pleasures.

    Great post!

  16. Right now I’m wondering why I never thought of that whole play dough thing… duh! I totally agree and I thank you for pointing out the obvious… that wasn’t so obvious:-)

  17. I agree with you! We love the Little House on the Praire series too. I think I’ve read it 4 times now. I always gave my kids little bits of bread to play with when they were small. Now my 13 year old is baking all by himself!

  18. Amen! Amen!

    Love this post, Katie! Simple, to the point, and heartfelt. It might be one of my favorites of yours! Fantastic!


  19. This is your best post ever! I could not agree with you more on any of it. This is what I am trying to live and do with my four daughters. If we all could live in this way, what a better world it would be! God bless you!

  20. Frequent reader, very infrequent commentor – this merited a big “AMEN!” Thanks for summing up what swims around in my head and heart while raising our littles. Fuel for the journey. Thank you!

  21. Anastasia Borisyuk

    That is so well said! We’ve been limiting our daighter’s toys and people are surprised at how little she has (even though I already think she has too much)! But your post put into words what I have been trying to do, I couldn’t quite explain why we don’t want too many toys for her and why we’re picky about the toys she does have! Thank you thank you thank you! I often struggle between having her help in the kitchen and sticking her in front of the TV, even though she LOVES to help, but she’s 21 months old – her help means taking 2-3 times longer for every task. I’m learning to let go of being a perfectionist and letting her do these things with me. Thank you for sharing this so eloquently! I’m sharing this post with my Facebook friends (all our relatives too).

  22. Michele @ Frugal Granola

    YES!! 🙂 I think you just summed up my last 3 years of blogging in one post. Thanks, friend. Beautifully said. 🙂


  23. Such a great post. After watching The Story of Stuff on the web, I’ve been purging so much and being so conscientious about what I purchase. We are in the process of moving and as I box up stuff, I realize I still have so far to go! What strikes me most is all the stuff that I have that was given to me. It’s all stuff that serves no real purpose and I find myself torn over letting it go and hurting the feelings of others. I have decided that from now on, I will no longer give things with no purpose as gifts! (Sorry, Hallmark store.) It is truly freeing as I keep letting go and I am excited to start being extra creative in my gift giving. BTW, if you haven’t watched Story of Stuff, check it out at I realize it’s a bit oversimplified, but it still rings true with me. And now when I walk past the latest sale, I feel like such a rebel. 🙂

    1. Katie,
      Also well put! Let’s rebel against trinkets together! You might like to see what we did for my son’s birthday this spring:

      🙂 Katie

  24. Tsh @ Simple Mom

    Katie, this is so, so good. I love it. What a great way to start off the day.

    We’re huge Little House fans around here, too, and in the middle of reading the 2nd book, in fact. My heart swells at how Laura loves her first doll in Big Woods.

    Totally sharing this on SM.

    1. Thanks, Tsh – an honor to have you visit! We just finished no. 4 in the Little House series, and it’s just awful what happens to poor Charlotte (the doll) in that book. One of Ma’s few parenting mistakes, in my opinion.

      🙂 Katie

  25. Thanks for this post Katie, back to simple living and yes the less we own the more time we have to get back to basics. We were brought up with not much and as children were forced to be more creative. This is such an important character trait we strive for our children to have. As I write this, my 14 year old is planning to work on her home made teddy bear during our bible study time. many blessings and may God continue to lead your family towards a simpler life.
    Blessings ~ carmen
    p.s. the benefits of a simplier life? we can be still to hear Him

  26. This is my favorite post of yours so far….I totally agree with you. I feel crushed under the weight of our “stuff,” and have set Thanksgiving as my deadline for some serious purging. And yes yes yes kids should be in the kitchen every day, in some capacity. It really tests my patience sometimes though, with six hands grabbing, and three mouths instructing me!,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.