It’s that time of year when people everywhere are mulling over gifts for children. I’ve been thinking a lot about it myself — especially the whole toys thing. Even with all of my efforts to keep them to a minimum and not buy into the commercial culture, it still seems like my girls have too many toys. But I know it’s not simply about volume, it’s the kind of toys they have as well.
One of the things relatives and friends have noticed about S and H is how imaginative they are in their play. This is likely due to the fact that, for the first four and a half years of their lives, they probably had no toys; instead, they would have played with whatever they found in their natural environment — sticks, stones, who knows what else. They now seem to be able to envision endless possibilities and create amazing scenarios with basic objects.
In this BBC News article, psychologist Oliver James says young children are better off “colonizing objects” in their environment because they discover their identity through fantasy play. “If their toys offer a limited repertoire, this process is eroded,” he says.
This is why I’m reluctant to buy a house or camper for my daughters’ little toy critters: Wouldn’t they be better off continuing to build such things with their legos and blocks? And while I’m not particularly thrilled that underwear and socks get used as baby doll head gear, I do like that froggy’s long spindly legs and arms get tied up so he can be used as a turkey for pretend Thanksgiving dinners.
Some toys seem like no-brainers — like wooden blocks and dolls, for example. In the article I mentioned above, author Liat Hughes Joshi says there are three factors that make a brilliant toy: “Social value — a dolls’ house allows children to play together, versatility — Lego bricks can be made into anything, and durability — such as a wooden train track that the child will use for years.”
Those seem like good guidelines for toys to me.
What are your guidelines for buying toys? Are there things you steer away from or particularly like?
Image: Zoe Saint-Paul