A baby of just a few weeks old will start to play, at first with his own fingers and toes, and then with objects around him. These objects are his toys: they may be modern, expensive, purpose-designed playthings or an old saucepan and a wooden spoon, but they will all be giving him the opportunity to learn. All toys, therefore, are educational.
should be chosen to give the child the opportunity to investigate and experiment, and to develop skills.
These skills may be physical. creative or imaginative, or the intellectual skills of numeracy and literacy, and of finding out facts. Parents should provide the child with the opportunities and the materials for developing intellectual skills, and also be prepared to give him their time, to answer his questions and to teach him these skills.
ChoosingFor Intellectual Development
The senses are being developed. The baby is curious to know what is going on around him.Toys that move and attract his gaze and hearing, such as mobiles and musical rattles; objects that are interesting shapes and have different textures and colours. Activity centres in the, and floating toys. The nursery should have interesting wallpaper and objects such as pictures, collages and an alphabet frieze to stimulate curiosity.
The child is becoming mobile and grasping the first essentials of language. Building bricks, pop-up toys, tough books, posting box; toys that involve sand and water play. Nesting and stacking toys encourage the child to think about order and how things are done. The child needs toys that will encourage him to find things out for himself.
18 months-3 years
The child is very curious and requires constant and varied activities. Drop-in jigsaws, picture dominoes, playboards, felt shapes, mosaic sets; word and picture; constructional toys. The child is learning from everything and everyone around him. He may even damage his toys to try to find out how they work. He may be destructive if the toys are beyond his capabilities.
A time of concentrated learning. Concepts of letters and numbers are becoming understandable. The child has a longer span of attention and is prepared to go back and try again. Books, jigsaws; word building, alphabet and number sets, reading and counting games; clockface with moveable hands, calendars, height charts; pretend shop with money; Lego, railway constructional sets; toys and activities that involve weighing and measuring of liquids and solids, such as measuring jugs, tape measure. Toys and games must be sufficiently demanding to encourage the child to develop his abilities and make progress; but not so advanced that he loses interest and confidence. He needs constant help and attention from the adults around him.
Closely linked to the toys and games that develop the intellectual skills are those that help to develop a child’s imaginative and creative abilities.
Opportunities for creative and imaginative play are important for teaching self-reliance, developing the imagination, and giving the child the opportunity to act out his fears and aggression.
In the early stages a child’s mind is accepting and building up a store of information and ideas. He discovers that he can use these to create new ideas, make up stories, and imagine new experiences. He learns to differentiate between truth and fantasy, but often, in the early stages, his imaginary ideas and activities are so strong that he confuses them with reality.
That is why a child who tells you that there is a witch living in his wardrobe should not be accused of telling lies, because he really believes it.
The small child will often create an imaginary playmate, who acts as a very useful companion. Sometimes the playmate is made responsible for the naughty things which the child has done and parents have the delicate task of helping the child to sort out fact from fiction! Children who are not allowed, or encouraged, to use their imagination and creative abilities can grow up into dull and uninteresting people, who may be unable to cope with the problems around them.
Creative imagination can be encouraged by:
- providing an interesting environment that contains books, pictures, music, flowers and food that stimulate the senses.
- listening to the child when he tells you his stories and ideas and about his imaginary companions.
- suggesting imaginative games and activities, and joining in games of ‘let’s pretend’.
- providing paints, crayons, clay, playdough and sand, from which the child can create pictures and objects.
A child can sometimes create bad images in his mind because he has not fully understood some situations. The death of a well-loved granny, for instance, may make him think the same thing is going to happen to him; or some frightening aspect of a story may take on reality in his mind. Parents must carefully explain facts and fantasy, so that he realises that ‘let’s pretend’ is enjoyable but is not real life.
Up to the age of two the child is busy mastering the basic skills, learning about everyday objects, and imitating sounds and activities around him. These form the basis for his creative activities. The young child will enjoy the feel and the texture of sand, clay and water, and as he gets older he will begin to use them to construct and create things. A small child will imitate his parents polishing the table or washing the car, but the older child will assume the role of mother or father, doctor or nurse, in role play games of make-believe.
The two- to five-year-old can be helped to develop his imagination by being given:
- dressing-up clothes. These may be old hats, shoes, dresses, trousers or shirts discarded by the family or bought from jumble sales; or shop-bought dressing-up kits such as Indian sets, Superman, a doctor’s outfit or a space suit.
- old make-up, or special make-up sets produced for children.
- face masks, bought or homemade, to look like a witch, clown, etc.
- small places for the child to play, such as a Wendy house, toy shop or space ship, or large cardboard boxes which the child can make into a castle, hospital or train.
- toys that imitate the equipment used by adults, such as gardening tools, baking sets, sewing machines, post office sets, tea sets, etc.
All these will allow the child to act out the roles which he may have to take in adult life; and to investigate some of the situations which puzzle him. Dolls are very important in this type of play, for dressing up, for becoming the baby to be loved or the patient, or simply the naughty child who has to be smacked!
Toys for imaginative play
Things that will help to develop the child’s creative skills include:
- materials for drawing and painting, such as crayons, paints, finger paints, plenty of paper (even newspaper will do), felt-tip pens, posters to colour, pencils and charcoal.
- materials for modelling, such as modelling clay, playdough (this can be homemade), Plasticine and plaster of Paris.
- materials for making collages, such as coloured paper, tissue paper, gummec shapes, scissors, glue, scraps of fabric, dried seeds, lentils, small nuts and different textures and colours of thread and yarn.
- sewing and knitting sets, craft kits, models to make, printing sets, templates. stencils, design and doodle boards, art straws and pipe cleaners.
It is not necessary for creative work to be expensive. All kinds of household odds and ends, such as silver foil, empty cartons, old buttons and cotton reels. can be used to make attractive objects and pictures.
Creative play is usually messy, and parents must resign themselves to the fact that the child and his working area are going to get very untidy. If the child is restricted to just colouring in pictures in books, to avoid making a mess, then he will not be able to express himself as he should and his enjoyment will be lessened. A child loves to smear and blotch on paint; cut pictures from old catalogues and make a scrap book; paint a large picture on the bedroom wall. Does it matter if he makes a mess in the process? He will have learnt a great deal. He can wear protective clothing and the floor can be covered over.
Music is another valuable way of developing a child’s creative instincts. It is noisy, of course, but the child gets a lot of pleasure from making music, and it is a good way for him to release aggression – better for him to bang a drum than to scream with rage. Musical instruments like the ones shown on the next page are useful, but instruments can be made at home by sealing some dried peas in a clean tin box, making holes in a wooden tube to blow down or using a wooden spoon and a plastic bowl.
Safety of toys
All toys can be dangerous, so they must be chosen carefully. These general points are important:
- If the toy is not suitable for the child’s abilities, age or size, it could cause an accident. For example, a bicycle that is too big for the child will be unmanageable, or a baby could chew and swallow very small toys.
- Safety regulations for toys made in the UK are very strict, but those imported are not so strictly checked. The buyers must therefore check for themselves.
- Homemade and second-hand toys must be carefully checked before being given to a child.
- All toys should be regularly inspected and repaired, especially large-scale toys such as bicycles. Outdoor toys such as swings and climbing frames can corrode and wear.
- Look for the Kite mark and the Lion symbol (UK) of safety when buying toys, and buy good quality.
- If a toy is given to a child as a gift, and it could be unsafe or unsuitable, it should be put away, even at the risk of offending the giver.
There are many potential hazards. Here are some of the more common ones:
- rough or sharp edges.
- brittle plastic that will break and splinter.
- dressing-up clothes or soft toys that are flammable.
- paint that is not lead free.
- unsmoothed wood that could cause splinters.
- small easily removed parts that can be put in the mouth.
- soft toys with eyes that can be pulled off or internal wire that can push through.
- rattles with tiny beads inside.
- marbles and beads a small child could swallow or push into ears or nose.
- crayons, pencils or paints that could be toxic.
Having chosen sensible, safe toys, the major rule is this: never leave a child to play alone; give him constant supervision.