Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Of Toys, Boys..... and Joys

My mother believed that imagination and not toys were a pre-requisite to play. And so, while we had a 10 year subscription to Readers Digest and an Annual subscription to Champak (it used to be an English magazine for kids) and mom’s office library subscribed to Chandamama (again English kids magazine – with short stories) – beyond that were fairly left to our resources. And since my brother and I had to share toys – we often ended up with fairly uni-sex kinda toys – badminton rackets, carom boards, playing cards and the like.

So its no wonder that I am fairly un-impressed by toys.

When my son A was born – we didn’t buy many toys for him. He also seemed more content at just lying in his grand-parents laps and seeing the world from there. But as he grew, hubby and I grew more allured by the world of toys. We soon found out, that toy buying was not an easy task – esp for a toddler. There were categories in toys:

  • Activity Toys: For infants this could be a play-mat with hanging toys. For toddlers it could be play gyms, activity centres, castles – anything that allows your child to spend that extra energy.
  • Development Toys: Typically these toys will sing rhymes, numbers, colors, parts of the body, alphabets. The permutation combinations of what it can do can be fairly mind-boggling.
  • Soft Toys: Typically your plush toys – don’t do much but act as comforters to the child.
  • Movement Toys: Your push and pull varieties. Some sing, others don’t. The boys start with these and then move onto cars of all sorts.
  • Stackers and Sorters: Stacking rings, blocks, etc
  • Adult Play: Doctor Sets, teacher sets, kitchen sets, even office sets – for the child to indulge in adult play.
  • Dolls & Accessories: Barbie and her ilk feature here.

Given this spread – I (as the designated toy buyer) spent hours browsing the net and toy shops to figure out what toy was ‘right’ for his needs. Each toy came with its own skills development promise. Did I want to develop his gross motor skills? Or his social skills? Fine motor skills, perhaps? His alphabet knowledge? Get his music ability enhanced? He’s an 18 month old – for crying out loud – have some mercy. Where are all those toys we used to see when we were kids? The monkey that banged cymbals – for no reason. That barking dog that did cartwheels for laughs. I mean – why does toy buying need to be such an hi-fi exercise? More importantly, cant a child just play with a toy – without having to listen to the Alphabet song or numbers?

Luckily for me – most of the toys that we chose – were approved by A. Or maybe because we bought such few toys for him – he played with each and every one of them. Most of his toys, I have noticed sing rhymes, alphabets, colors, numbers, parts of the body. How much sonny has picked from his toys is open to debate – since we don’t speak English with him – and the toys talk exclusively in English. One thing is for sure, sonny is all set to a DJ or RJ. For he lines up all his singing toys – and in some sequence (which only he figures) he plays a song from this one then a rhyme from the next – then something from the third. Then back to the first. I cant figure what he’s thinking – but he seems engrossed.

Last week sonny left all his toys behind and moved into the kitchen. Picked up my pots and pans, my cooking spoons and spatulas and for the next 2 hours played non-stop with them. After he finished playing – he lined them up on the floor – and went off in search of some new adventures. For the last 2 days – I cant seem to find my pots or spoons in their designated places. A treasure hunt ensues – with different spoons and pot covers emerging from under the sofa or in some corner of the house – courtesy sonny. Each morning he strides into the kitchen opens the shelves and drawers and helps himself to the favored pot or spoon of the day.

And now I'm wondering if this is what interests him - why should we buy any more toys for him?


At 11:56 PM, Blogger itchingtowrite said...

ooh i love your mom. so many books to read! i too loved books more than toys anyday and plan to do the same to my children. and to your toys list pls categorise newspapers, mom's books, pack in whch the toys come, pearlpet dabbas, pen, remote, cell, AC remote, garlic, potato, onion, switches & plug points, A/c, stereo, DVD wire, etc etc.. i hav started thinking that may be some toys are educative. for example, my kids hav a dalmatian dog toy and I am sure when they understand what a dalmatian dog is they will begin to relate with their toy. when they see any tioy animal or real animal they say it's a dog.. sometimes may be toys give practical exposure ... yes i do support you in not attaching an educative reason to every play activity but sometimes may be it helps

At 1:40 AM, Blogger The Inquisitive Akka said...

Somehow every kid I know has a fascination for the kitchen. I wonder why?

At 2:25 AM, Blogger iz said...

Hehehe! I remember the Champaks, the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tinkle comics. Oh to be a child again! BTW. Am blogrolling you if OK with you!

At 2:36 AM, Blogger That Armchair Philosopher said...

hehe, i remember. except that i always thought champak and chandamama were hindi mags, although i only ever could read the english versions. toys - :) - my favs were always remote controlled thingies and action figures.

that said, i know *I* have my parents to thank for reading to me ever so often as a kid, and mum buying me all sorts of books to read. i guess it helped somewhere down the line that i transitioned from that stuff to my dad's collection with minimal fuss.

of course, there WERE the times when all I would do was play and write computer games .. when i was perhaps or 6. sigh. nostalgia.

the kitchen fascination reminds me of this old oil ad on TV - about this kid running around with HUGE delicacies all around him, forget what it was.. he's in a tracksuit and has puris and jalebis falling around him and then ends up in the kitchen where his mom gives him stuff to eat. anyone remember?

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Sanjay said...

Your childhood sounds a lot like mine, with few of any toys.

As for now and here, don't you think there are way too many choices and everything is over managed?

As for his fascination witht he kitchen maybe be you have future Iron chef in the making? ;-)

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous OrangeJammies said...

lol! interesting reading!

At 11:03 AM, Blogger GettingThereNow said...

I guess we have Champak and Chandamam in common. I grew up with books - till my 18th birthday, along with other gifts my parents always gave me books on evey birthday. And after that I got money which I invariably spent on books. We had subscriptions to a host of magazines - Champak, Chandamama, Nandan, BalBharti, Tinkle (or was it Twinkle?), Reader's Digest and some others that I forget. My parents had their own subscriptions to their magazines. It was a book wonderland!

I believe (and I read it somewhere as a confirmation to my opinion :P) the more a toy does, the less there is for the child to do. I never liked electronic toys that sang/said the alphabet/read stories at the push of a button. I preferred toys that would force my daughter to use her imagination. And what do you think she used her imagination on? Pots and pans, potatoes (which I would scrub and wash as soon as I brought them home so she would have a clean "toy" to play with), my "chunnis", empty boxes that became a boat or a house, forts made out of pillows, blankets and the dining table....

Like you and your mom, I think kids need to use their imagination more than they need sophisticated toys to teach them "stuff".

At 11:53 AM, Blogger @ said...

my thoughts exactly...we have very few toys, compared to what I see in the homes of some of K's age kids. I like the wooden toys from Melissa and Doug and the non traditional european ones...the kind where you drop a marble and watch it fall and spin and turn..we're yet to buy these. For now, nothing occupies him more than pots and pans and ladles...!

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Orchid said...

:) kid's pleasure or mom's misery ? I know , i too spend hours at the toy aisles, it gets easier once they can talk, i think my son exchanges notes in school with other kids and has very specific demands....luckily for us he loves books, so it is working out alright, so far.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Something to Say said...

itchy: seriously what do kids have for remotes, pens, cells, phones? its like the more you try to keep these things out of his reach - the more the attraction for them.

Inquisitive Akka: I guess kids are just role-playing - and who better to copy than Mom - who they see all day slaving away in the kitchen? (dads are u reading this?)

Iz: Blogrolling is most welcome. O to be a child again - true!

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Something to Say said...

TAP: O yeah - hubby tried to buy one of those remote controlled cars for sonny too - we had to return it within a week - because sonny just cudnt care less for it. i guess its a matter of time before he starts demanding those too.
o and the ad - Sundrop "Sehat hai uski yeh duniya usiki - Sundrop ki duniya mein sehat sabhi ki"

Sanjay: Sonny a chef? yeah - given what his mom cooks - that wud be a logical choice for a profession ;)

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Something to Say said...

OJ: Welcome! And thanks!

getting there now: Welcome to you too! We've bought books for sonny too - and wish to instill this habit in him too. the good thing is he likes to flip thru his books (only pictures and words now). oo potatoes - didnt think of washing those - he's madly fascinated with them - i keep them out of his reach now...

@: my thinking is - if we cud play make-believe - so can he....and he does.... so who needs toys?

orchid: o yes - that day's gonna come soon - when he wud have exchanged notes with friends to figure what toys he wants....until then - let me enjoy the peace :)

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Fuzzylogic said...

Ah!the enticing array of toys these days,they seem to be directed more so at parents than to the kids especially the ones in the younger age group.The other day my husband was enamoured by the robot pet toys!they have robot dogs,robosapiens,
roboreptiles which are environmentally aware and even snooze and indicate that he is hungry!infact he wanted to get one himself in the name of the baby(I have a 11 month old babygirl):)Why a robot pet when the kid can have a real dog as a pet,beats me!

My childhood really was so simple,pretty much similar to yours,never had any fancy toys but me and my brother turned out just fine.Toys can never replace the things kids learn from experimenting in their own way with normal day to day things.My kid also prefers playing with the pots and pans rather than with the rhyme reciting or musical toys.If we think just because a kid plays with such "special "toys they will turn out to be future geniuses with high I.Q,all I can say is Who are we really kidding?:)

Great post!I have linked you at my blog,keep them coming!:)

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Ashish said...

Brings me back to my own childhood, toys were traditionally things you at up to make them make noise, or they were noisy stuff that you pulled. Now if I want to buy a present for some toddler, have to look at the prescribed age written on the toy, calculate how long this toy will be useful if the toy does not get destroyed first; and of course, looking at some of the toys makes me want to buy them for myself (takes a lot of control to resist that)

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Coffee said...

LOL!!!!! interesting post!!!!! Don't have a kid as yet so can't comment on it :)

At 3:15 AM, Anonymous artnavy said...

I think a little thought on
whether a toy is harmful-

i.e. sharp/ toxic appropriate for age/ sexist

is all the time i spend on it while buying it

A good variety and lot of home stuff is what shld be encouraged

Did u read my post on comics( comic tale)

happy 2007!!

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Tharini said...

You know, I recently read an article on toys, and there was this one quote by Tagore which fascinated me and will stay with me for a long time:

"The best toys are those which are innately incomplete and which a child completes with her participation."

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Tharini said...

Toying Around

The best playthings are made out of items of common use.

A parent bought an expensive toy and after removing it from its gleaming box gave it to the child with a warning, 'Handle it carefully, don't break it'. The toy had rounded corners so the child could not even feel its edges. She couldn't hammer it on the ground as it was made of plastic. It had no smell or taste. Within three minutes flat the child had left the neatly rounded plastic toy in the corner, and was merrily playing with its box. She knew that she would not be scolded for throwing the box on the floor. From her own viewpoint the little girl had made an intelligent assessment of the toy.

Today, children are inundated with expensive toys. Parents seem to be in a hurry to buy the latest toys with flashing lights and sounds. Pedagogic learning is now associated with gloss and gleam. Children play with such toys for a while and then they throw them away. Instant gratification, instant forgetfulness seems to be the norm.

Children need large chunks of time to play and mess around with things they like. This is how they construct their own knowledge patterns. According to Rabindranath Tagore, the best toys are those which are innately incomplete and which a child completes with her participation.

As a child, my daughter was gifted many expensive toys. But she was happiest playing with spoons and pots in the kitchen. Whenever we broke a coconut to make chutney we would preserve all the pieces of the hardwood in the washed plastic milk bag. In her spare time she really enjoyed putting the pieces together to make a wooden ball. This was akin to a three dimensional jigsaw.

Children are eternal explorers. In their free moments they are experimenting and improvising. They are always making and inventing things out of odd bits and trinkets. They learn a great deal from ordinary, organic things found around the house, and without being taught. The main thing about scrap is that children can use it freely without adult admonishment.

Traditionally children in India made their own toys — sometimes with the help of adults, often by themselves. Old pieces of leftover cloth were recycled into dolls and puppets. Empty matchboxes were favourites for making dressing tables and houses. Crown caps made lovely gears. Old newspapers were wonderful for making caps one could wear. And one made several kinds of whistles using leaves and scraps of paper.

Over a hundred such handmade, self-made toys have been documented by Sudarshan Khanna, a professor at National Institute of Design, in his fascinating book, The Joy of Making Indian Toys.

In today's context these toys can only be described as minimalist and eco-friendly. Since everything mattered nothing was ever destroyed, only reincarnated. These toys are a salute to the genius of Indian children. Much before the onslaught of the Barbies and Skullman — sexist and violent toys, children made their own toys and had loads of fun. They used local materials, often throwaway discards which didn't cost any money. Even poor children could enjoy them. Traditional toys evolved over centuries. Someone tried a simple design. Others added to it, and still other generations refined it to perfection. So the aesthetics, simplicity, utility, costeffectiveness of a vernacular toy is a product of years, maybe centuries of R&D effort. And it is left behind in the public domain for subsequent generations to enjoy — magnanimity in an era of constipated patent regimes.

'The best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it', might sound like an anarchistic slogan. But there is great deal of truth in it. Every curious child would want to rip open a toy to peep into its 'tummy'. Good toy designs invite children to pull them apart and put them back again. The Mecanno is a classic example. Children with fertile imaginations make far more things with the generic pieces of the Mecanno than are listed in the manual.

Children learn best with familiar things. In 1907, Yakub Perelman, father of Russian popular science, published a book Fun with Physics, in which he used roubles and kopeks as weights. Coins are minted and therefore have standard weights. Coins are also accessible to the poorest children. A century later none of our puritanical science textbooks start on 'weights' with coins.

What is the weight of an ordinary matchstick? Many science graduates wouldn't have a clue to this simple question. Our feel for things and phenomena are very crude. Our estimates of length, area, volume, weight and time are often off the mark. These concepts are merely 'covered' in the course curriculum and remain empty words.

Before children can understand a thing they need experience: Seeing, hearing, touching, arranging, taking things apart, and putting them together. They need to experiment with real things. Children require a lot of experience, with different materials and situations before they start making sense of the world.

The biggest crisis of Indian design is that educated people do not wish to dirty their hands. And there are no good schools for children of artisans. Burettes, pipettes, test tubes and fancy glassware often threaten children. Fortunately, in most schools they are kept locked in the cupboards with a grime of dust covering them. The need of the day is to do more with less. The great pioneers of science did their work with simple equipment. It is possible to follow in their footsteps. After all, the child's mind is the most precious piece of equipment involved.

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