Recently in my conversations with parents I seem to hear a lot of ‘Should we buy this toy? Should we buy that new game? Which toys will keep my children occupied?’ Honestly the only one worrying about what your children will like is you. Children will play with anything, allow them some boredom and you will find they will devise ingenious ways to use their talents and strengths and their current stage of learning interest.
In the past year I have invested in less than 5 ‘toys’, I say ‘invested’ and not bought because ‘Play’ is not something that children simply do, Play is when children think, practice, fail, problem solve and learn. Given this, ‘toys’ are the tools that actually help them in their process of explore and discover, while many times when we think learning through play, we think of children learning numbers, alphabets or the solar system. The real deal of play is not memorisation – the real idea of play is to help children understand the idea of numerics or math, or the idea of language (spoken and written). it goes beyond specifics and allows them to explore the abstraction of these ideas.
Last evening the three year old was building bridges for his cars. He had 5 cars in his hand and he picked out 5 bridges to lay them out. Now, he is yet to master the idea of counting but during play it comes naturally to him that if he has 5 cars in his hand he must need 5 bridges. Right here is the concept of numerics or math. My older child was making a treasure chest last week, he pulled out his Playmag tiles used the squares to create the box and a double rectangle to make the top opening. That is a great mix of idea (treasure box to hold his coins), thinking (what material to use, geometry to align the shapes), problem solving (making the top different from the sides) and learning (that when you need something, you can make it).
While we can choose to introduce alphabets, numbers and specific science to kids through play. Natural, simple, play for fun is just as intriguing. If you are looking at buying toys for the kids, apart from, you know, satisfying our own play needs with cars, dolls and wheels, here are a few things to look for. If you are on a budget and would like to invest in fewer toys that will last and create meaningful play, you can look for toys that help your child –
Imagine – Most of us know this, we’ve heard the stories our children can cook up with their toys in hand. Some of the most interesting imagination toys that we have are our animal figurines (from wild republic), Dinosaurs, Trains, Cars and Peg dolls.
Think – Contrary to what we believe there are toys that actually help your child ‘Think’ about what they can be, how they can use them and why they are that way. Our favourite thinking toys include Legos, stackers and wooden toys that are open ended, blocks, Playmags or magnatiles, Geltiles in india are really good as well. Puzzles and tangrams are great in this category as well.
Learning and Practice – Learning and practice is a crucial part of play. My 3 yo was making a double point shooter and wanted to have two perpendicular blocks jutting out. After multiple trials and over two days he finally made it. Real play offers a ton of practice opportunities which flows back into their approach to learning. While using the playmags the little took quite the effort to fix them without getting pinched, but he did it.
Build – Children have an inherent need to build. You will hear my 3 yo declare 25 times a day especially around meal times and ‘lets go to the toilet’ times ‘Wait Amma, I need to build something’ and truly those are the times he is at his creative best. Again our favourites here are Legos, wooden blocks and recently Mega blocks.
Movement – I hear myself say many time ‘Why can’t you guys sit down for 5 minutes?!’ if you are like me, you know how much our kids need to move. Our classrooms being the way they are do not offer much room for movement so our kids turn to play to exercise their need to move. Our curvy board or balance board is the best investment I’ve made this year. The kids are on it all the time. So invest in toys that help your kids move, and jump. Ropes, balance boards climbing frames, swings, are all great toys that encourage and develop movement we have a pull-up bar too at home.
Rent – An even cooler option for play on a budget is renting, we have great renting businesses for books and for toys, one of our favourites are www.rentoys.in
If you have a toy in these categories, that is basically all your child needs for engaging, wholesome play. Now, to keep their interest going – let them get bored, present the toys in different ways, set them new challenges – Ah I see you’ve made a square fort, now can you make a triangle one? And if you still can’t get them to play, look for their interests, maybe their choices will tell you more about what toys your child likes to play with.
So don’t feel the compulsion to buy every toy you see, FOMO is a big thing but it’s not real. Your child will not play less or learn differently because you have fewer toys at home, given the opportunity they will learn to play with what they have and play well. In the spirit of the environment, home space and our bank balances let’s buy fewer but buy better.
Here’s to a year of Play and learning, but on a budget!
I’m also listing some of our favourite Indian toy makers and sellers