The Value of Toys
A LITTLE pail and shovel, some water and soil or sand—that combination works wonders for a small child! With these tools he creates a castle, a bridge, a spaceship, a cave—any number of things his mind can conceive and delight in. Indeed, a toy may be anything a child gets his hands on to play with.
Toys come in all sizes and shapes, colors and designs. The majority are manufactured to amuse children, stimulate them into action and, hopefully, educate them as well.
Although they are as varied as they are numerous, the simple ones have proved to be the most durable. Balls, ropes, dolls, jacks, building blocks, marbles, model cars and trucks have been used for decades and are still popular with each new generation.
Others have been improved upon over the years. There are now dolls that do almost as many things as a live baby. A few toys even rival complicated computers, being especially geared to create problems for the child to solve and help him to reason and make decisions.
Then, too, there is a vast supply of unconventional toys. For when a child wants to play, he can convert almost anything around him into a plaything, as parents well know. It may be a piece of string, a rock, a flowerpot, a frying pan, a key chain, an old shoe, an ordinary box or a paper bag. As long as it holds his interest, it can serve as an electric light to his imagination, a bridge to the adult world and a train to that wonderful world of make-believe.
Why Some Are Not Used
Generally, the most practical toys are purchased by parents or close relatives, since they are the logical ones to know what will suit the child best. However, despite the wide variety of interesting toys that are now available, some end up unused. Why is this?
For one thing, some parents do not give as much thought to their children’s toys as they could. For instance, a mother may be out shopping when a toy catches her attention. If the color and price are right, she may hurriedly buy it without thinking enough about its value.
Yet her choice could often be wiser if she had asked herself some questions: Is it safe? Do the children have enough of this type of toy? Will this encourage them to think?
Some adults mistakingly purchase toys that fascinate themselves rather than the child. Have you ever done this?
To illustrate, consider a father who buys an expensive train set supposedly for his two-year-old son. He spends hours assembling it. Then when it is set up, he is captivated by it. But the youngster may watch it for a short time and then surprise his father by going off and playing with a paper bag instead. Or he may even take his toy hammer and proceed to hammer away on the set. This is a natural thing for a two-year-old to do, since he does not know how intricate the mechanism of the set is or its cost. He knows only that it moves around, it attracts him and he wants to do something with it rather than sit quietly and watch it. Now, this type of toy would be ideal for an older boy who could appreciate its value and even help to assemble it. But it is entirely too complex for one so young.
Therefore, a child’s age and mental capacity are factors that are essential to consider in selecting toys that he will enjoy.
Simple Ones Usually the Best
Parents usually find through experience that the general rule in toy buying is to keep it simple. Most youngsters will pass up an expensive toy in preference to one that is simple in design and function. Have you not found this to be so with your children?
It is surely not hard to understand, is it? An uncomplicated toy provides the freedom of movement and expression that is so necessary if a young child’s imagination is to work. One has only to observe a little boy at the beach with his pail and shovel to appreciate this fact.
Observation and Individual Personality
But how can you know which kind of toys your children will like best? Well, one of the most effective means of determining that would be to observe them at their play. For instance, that dump truck your son favors so much—why does he prefer it to all his other toys? Have you asked yourself that question? Have you really looked at that truck? Oh, of course you have noticed it. You may have stumbled over it many times. But, really, did you see it through his eyes? Do you know how many different things it becomes for him in his play?
And what about your daughter’s favorite doll? It may be coming apart at the seams, but she refuses to part with it. Why? Do you ever observe her when she plays with it? The way she handles that doll could be revealing. Children not only imitate the adults around them in their play but sometimes use toys to express themselves in many little ways. Yes, observation can be very helpful.
Perhaps, too, you may have found that each child must be dealt with individually as far as toys are concerned. A toy that is popular with one child may be ignored by another because toys mean different things to different children. For some, they are a means of expression: The child may use them to make noise, playact and do many other things. For others, toys are a source of amusement and entertainment. These children may be more docile and may prefer toys that allow them to be quiet spectators rather than vigorous participants. One would have to observe each child to determine which kind of toy will best suit his personality.
Stimulating Curiosity and Imagination
Play has been referred to as a child’s work, and if that be true, then toys are certainly his tools. They teach him to investigate, observe, reason, remember, build, and coordinate his mind and body. To make sure that your children’s toys do the same, why not take an inventory of their toys? With each toy in hand, examine it and ask yourself if it does any of the following things:
One of the first things a toy should do a child is arouse his curiosity. If it does not, it will rarely hold his interest for long. That is one of the reasons why a toy for a baby is purposely oversized and vivid in color. It first attracts his attention. Once he notices it, then he wants to know more about it. He will grasp at it, shake it, squeeze it, pound it and, of course, it will usually end up in his mouth for a taste. Frequently, he may break it in the process. But even then it has served its purpose. It has given him greater enjoyment and some new information to add to his growing fund of knowledge.
Also, does a toy stimulate your child’s imagination? Once a toy triggers a child’s imagination, there is no limit to what the item can become to him. It need not be a formal toy. Your three-year-old son can take one of your shoes, and in seconds it becomes for him a sailboat on the high seas; a cave in which refugees are hid; an ark in which stuffed, as well as live, animals and insects are housed, including perhaps a dead frog or a live caterpillar. Any number of toys could qualify. It is not the materials used that are important to him but what these become through his mind’s eye. A complicated mechanical toy that does all the work itself would rob him of much of his pleasure in make-believe.
The same principle holds true with girls. How little girls delight in dressing up in their mother’s clothes and playing house with their dolls! Why, a little girl may line up all her dolls on her bed, and they become schoolchildren listening to a stern lecture from their teacher; next, they are a row of sick patients being ministered to by a sympathetic nurse; still another time, they become a silent first-row audience observing her great stage performance.
In this connection, a word of caution would be in order. There are now too many things that tend to stifle children from using their imagination. Television and many other gadgets have robbed children of much of the simple pleasure of yesteryear. As a result, reading has become almost a lost art. And this is a pity, for reading can be a means of opening up new worlds of learning to a child. In the days when listening to the radio was a popular pastime, a roomful of children could listen to a program and then relate dozens of different concepts from the same broadcast.
Although television is certainly a marvelous means of educating the young, it can stunt their imaginative powers. Many children sit immobile in front of a television screen for hours at a time with little mental stimulation. In fact, a study by the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the United States Office of Education found that “preschool youngsters spend 54 hours a week watching television.” They put the blame partly on the parents who use television as an electronic baby-sitter. Surely, concerned parents will try to arrest this trend by providing entertainment that will not only amuse their children but, more importantly, stimulate them to think.
Aids to Physical Growth
When a child gets past the exploratory and imaginary stages of his development, his play becomes much more physical. Toys that help him to develop physically will be most practical then. By the time he is three years old, his toys usually include those that improve his coordination and strengthen his reflexes.
Tricycles and scooters are excellent developing leg muscles. Then as he moves about in these mobile toys, he is able to learn to coordinate his leg movements with his arms in steering. Next, he may advance to jumping rope, use of skates and swings and then to the bicycle. And although much of this physical activity is hard work for him, he enjoys the feeling of movement and especially speed. It gives him pleasure and laughter and helps him to grow at the same time.
As a child’s play becomes more physical, he may tend to concentrate on the toys that exercise only his body. It is up to his parents to see to it that his play remains balanced. They can encourage his use of books, puzzles and various table games to offset activity that is solely physical.
Developing Various Skills
Some children give evidence of having unusual skills from a very early age. In fact, a child’s favorite plaything is often related to his ability. The little boy who invariably prefers his planes and toys with motors may show an aptitude along mechanical lines when he grows up. And the four-year-old who often goes to the piano with great interest may have musical talent. Of course, you may not have a budding Mozart or Einstein under your roof. But if your child does show some talent, he can be encouraged with certain toys.
There are various toy instruments that are inexpensive, and parents can use these to determine if future lessons to develop these skills are warranted. Miniature pianos, various stringed instruments, xylophones, harmonicas, accordions and the currently popular guitar are some, to name just a few. There are also clay sets, chemistry sets and water-color paint sets.
Even if your children are not especially talented in any of the arts, they can still enjoy expressing themselves in ways unknown to them previously. Toys can cause their little worlds to grow and expand.
Now as you proceed to analyze your children’s toys, you may find that some are not as effective as you would like them to be for one reason or another. There is no need, however, to throw them out unless, of course, they are unsafe or unwise. But you can resolve to be more selective in the future. Safety should certainly be a factor. Toys that are poorly constructed can break easily and cause harm. They all should be examined for sharp edges, rusting, peeling of paint and many other features that could be dangerous, especially for the very young.
Additionally, some toys may be quite safe but still unwise for children to have. Just because toys are sold in a store or may be currently popular with the majority, this will not unduly influence those who follow godly principles. The toys that methodically train a child to be violent and pretend to “kill” are not in keeping with the Christian command to “have intense love for one another” and to “seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Pet. 3:11; 4:8) So principles besides safety and popularity govern Christian parents’ choice of toys.
Thus, as you resolve to select toys more wisely in the future, you may want to give more consideration to what each toy will help your child to accomplish: Will it arouse his curiosity and imagination? Will it improve his coordination? Will it stimulate his creative ability? And, most important of all, will it make him think? Indeed, toys are a valuable aid in a child’s mental and physical growth, and you, as parents, can use them as tools to guide that growth.