SENSIBLE TOYS – THE TOOLS OF CHILDHOOD
By David Day (Kiddicraft Limited)
Hilary Page said that toys are for doing, not just for having. He went on to explain that toys produce responses; that they can stimulate mental and physical reactions. He was referring to that kind of toy which he chose to call ‘sensible’ – the toy with a purpose – specially designed to foster the child’s development.
It does not require very much study of young children in a happy environment to perceive just how certain playthings encourage this doing of which he spoke. Even household bits and pieces, if they are by their nature stimulating to the awakening senses, may happen to produce creative, happy concentration of effort, but there are often inherent risks associated with safety and hygiene. Much better are those ‘sensible’ toys specially conceived and made out of a real understanding of the child’s natural mental and physical growth.
Such toys are the ‘tools of childhood’, the means to purposeful activity, the stimulus to use developing abilities and so to progress happily and more swiftly on the long road to adulthood. Such toys make it easier for the child to come to terms with his environment, to become a person in his own right, in due course capable of independent decision and related action.
Truly educational toys can be designed to catch the attention of and to really interest children from their very early days; the filmstrip SENSIBLE TOYS – THE TOOLS OF CHILDHOOD describes some of those which are available.
Even at four months a baby is capable of grasping, of perceiving movement in general although not in detail, and is attracted by small noises. He is also at the stage of development when anything within reach is put to his mouth for examination. Consequently, a simple rattle toy which appeals to the awakening senses of feeling, seeing and hearing will stimulate these senses and give pleasure in the first use of them.
Such a rattle may consist of strong plastic discs on a non-rusting chain. This plaything can be washed repeatedly for perfect hygiene; dirt cannot enter into the material and resist washing clean. Bright, attractive colours are moulded into the material and cannot be removed by sucking and biting. This rattle is safe from every point of view, as well as being helpful to the baby’s development. It is a ‘sensible’ toy such as Hilary Page has written about, a good purchase by reason of its design, its materials and its subsequent enjoyment as a plaything.
Much of the value of any toy lies in its span of interest and use. For example, that combination of brightly-coloured balls and rings attached to a rod, which is suspended across the cot, will at five or six months encourage arms to reach and legs to kick, still appeals to the more active, crawling or walking child, when hung across a corner of the playpen or somewhere safe in the garden.
Another excellent ‘rattle’ toy with a long span of interest from about four months onwards consists of two dumb-bell shapes of tough plastics, each has room for a small grasping hand around its narrow centre section, and is light in weight so that baby can hold it and enjoy the bright colours and the ‘rattle’ sounds. Each end of these special rattles is made knobbly, but smoothly so, for additional pleasure when sucking and biting. After a while, baby will grasp and shake one in each hand.
Here again is the stimulation to perception of sound, colour and shape. Later those same rattles will become bath toys, being completely watertight, and also rollers to be reached for, and crawled after on the floor. Enjoyed like this, they lead the child quite unconsciously into the equal use of both hands, appreciation of movement, and an acceptance of water as a medium for play. Fun and happiness are linked directly to natural child development when parents seek out such ‘sensible’ toys. They are sometimes a little more expensive than others, perhaps, but immensely worthwhile.
Whatever rattles and other toys are given with thought for teething needs, they should be strong, grasped easily to put to the mouth, and have ample biting area. When his early teeth come through, over a period of several months, a child enjoys gnawing repeatedly on something safe, and his jaws excerpt great pressure.
Any toy that is really enjoyed will get dirty, and teething toys especially must be easily cleaned. The very young child tries everything with his mouth and, as far as possible; his plaything ought to be of materials not spoiled by sucking or washing.
Plastics toys should be washed in warm soapy water, not boiled, and harsh chemical cleaners or disinfectants should not be used. Many soft toys can be put into the washing machine, and even through the wringer or spin-drier nowadays. Wood is a natural material inclined to swell when soaked and to shrink when dried. As a result, it may split or the surface crack off. Such toys, and metal ones, too, should be wiped off with a damp cloth, and not left out in the rain.
To all young children comes a time when determination to create noise, to exercise growing by unco-ordinated muscle power, and to make conscious impact on their surroundings call for a safe means to quite aggressive self –expression. This release of emotional and physical stress is provided for by toys such as the hammer peg, with its wooden ‘nails’ to be driven fiercely into their holes in the strong ‘bench’ by means of a mallet. Similar satisfaction will be found in the safe plastics ball, pierced with holes to arrest its flight and reduce weight, which can be flung about and kicked across the ground. Skittles are another target for energetic action.
By eighteen months or two years, the child is full of movement, walking and running about, and clambering wherever he can reach. These interests will be encouraged with a toy such as the playtruck or wagon, safely based on four wheels and with a sturdy handle. Making ‘journeys’ to and fro with this ‘vehicle’ and filling it and unloading it using playbricks, will be great fun. More important to the understanding adult, in playing thus the child is, in fact, planning in his simple way. He is carrying out ideas which occur to him when presented with this stimulus to his intelligence which such a ‘doing’ toy represents.
Every possible use is found for a plaything like this truck. Therefore, the intelligent manufacturer ‘designs in’ versatility, all the more worthwhile is the purchase if it also serves naturally as boat or castle, dolls’ pram or cradle, in due course.
Childhood is full of contrasts, and the joy of carefully piling up plastics cups or rings, whilst sitting on the floor, takes turns with the vigorous scattering of the tower so tirelessly created again and again. Building beakers are now a universal choice for this activity, but care should be taken to buy the more rigid yet unbreakable polythene type. Very pliable, thin material used for components of such a toy will deform in use, and what use is a durable plaything if the child finds he cannot pile up or otherwise connect the pieces properly himself.
Building a simple tower leads on to nesting, to elementary mosaics and other forms of stacking and fitting by colour and shape. Choose a reputable brand, and do not give too many toys of this category, or any other, at one time. Let the child come to the fullest use of each plaything in his own way.
A put-together train which can be assembled, pulled along, and taken to pieces again is further encouragement to sequential action – to mental and physical process of one thing leading to another – although to the child it is just another part of his happy play activity. This sort of toy is best in wood for stability and the feel of pulling something with weight.
At the age of two or three, children commonly start to develop a degree of muscle control which cries out for application to more and more intricate tasks set by the child mind. Such play is a step towards the high level of manual dexterity which is a part of every complete adult human being. In placing within reach of the child toys which have been designed to give more and more scope for muscular control, and the co-ordination of hand and eye, we actively assist his ‘growing up’.
There are many good playthings which suit this particular stage of development. For example, plastics nuts can be screwed on to a threaded rod. Quite soon the child places them in any colour sequence he chooses, but he may find it more difficult to unscrew them than to put them on the rod. One task requires more complex co-ordination of muscle movements. Once mastered, achievements of this sort will be repeated again and again, for young children love repetition, so much disliked by adults.
Simple jigsaws call for similar effort to achieve full assembly. These first jigsaws have only a few, rather elementary pieces, forming an easily recognizable object such as a dog, an elephant or a lorry. Each simple piece is some definite part of the object depicted, for example an ear, a leg or a wheel. The variously cut pieces are a challenge; the dog or the elephant, or the lorry can only be made to come true, to be talked to and enjoyed, after trying all the pieces many ways. Even then it is fun to tip up the puzzle tray, and to make the picture again and again.
This so essential co-ordination of mind and muscle which is applied unconsciously in adult life will be stimulated and helped to thrive only when the young child’s environment, his play circumstances, are favourable. To play is to grow. Without opportunity to play a child is retarded and unhappy.
Following on the early put-together toys, other more complicated constructional playthings can be introduced, for example sets of smaller bricks and associated components, with which even whole ‘ town’ layouts may be constructed, according to directions provided. This toy will encourage the child in the more intricate building of individual units, and also their placing together to form the composite ‘town’ or ‘village’. He learns to read simple diagrams, to interpret illustrations three-dimensionally, and eventually to create with his hands original ideas stimulated by the assorted building materials he is using.
Constructional toys will continue favourites to eight or nine years old, because of the growing interest to create realism, to model play activities on real life. Drawing and painting, as well as giving rein to the imagination, also convey the child’s perception of life around him, as he comes closer to the real world in his whole being – gradually growing out of the entirely separate, set-apart world of babyhood and early childhood. This is the fundamental change which means, amongst other things, ‘going to school’, first simple lessons, much less dependence on his mother and full association with boys and girls of the same age.
All parents should be just as much concerned with this natural development of the child as they are with matters of hygiene, clothing and feeding. The child plays, knowing nothing of the value of his toys in this respect, simply enjoying his achievements and all the delightful sensations of early life. The understanding parent knows that toys of the right kind foster child development in the fullest sense. Such toys are the ‘tools of childhood’, used for doing, not just for having.
This article was written for reference by those people who have seen the filmstrip mentioned, but it is also available to anyone else who may be interested.
Filmstrip: SENSIBLE TOYS - THE TOOLS OF CHILDHOOD
Available from: Camera Talks Limited, 31 North Row (Park Lane), London W.1.