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Values & Education

Toy Story

My little grandson has just reached that very interesting phase when he is growing out of infancy and actually becoming his own little person. He has long since graduated from being a passive “player” whose hands clapped when we clapped them and whose legs cycled when we made them cycle, to doing his own thing at his own will.

Toy Story - Toys For Toddlers

How different things are from those early days when he barely opened his eyes. At that time he loved being cuddled and played with, loved having his hair ruffled, his hands clapped and his feet tapped for him. Gradually he began noticing things for himself and reaching out for things. Recently he has started reacting to buttons being switched on and off and watching the fans go round. He has also started taking a keen interest in his toys which excited us more than they did him.

Now all those toys that were just kept on his bed have actually begun to acquire some meaning. The giraffe has evolved beyond the stuffing and become a loving companion whom he can clutch on to when struck by a desire to grab something and squeeze it to death, giving expression to his uncontrollable love. He adores his little plastic ducks floating in the bucket and can’t understand why one is threatening to drown, his head falling to one side. Similarly, the crab hanging from his play gym which at one time, we would push with the hope of inspiring him to make deliberate movements, and was once the target of his vigorous kicks, is now his friend whom he stares in the eye and has long conversations with.

Which brings me to the wide range of toys available for young children today : From traditional cars and drums and dolls and stuffed toys, there are all kinds of “educational” toys meant to stimulate their little brains and feed their lively imaginations. There are mobile phones and computers for children under one; there are books that talk and sing and projectors that make stars on the ceiling.

Seeing him surrounded by his plastic toys my Montessori teacher friend advised me “Give him a vati chamach”, but when I did so, he just looked at them with curiosity, nothing more. He did not bang them together with the vigour which she imagined he would and after the initial curiosity wore off, wasn’t interested by the noise it generated, preferring instead to bang together the two plastic cups that made up his stacker. Their sound was far less dramatic but their colours so much more attractive!

The toy industry, may be driven more with an eye on their profits rather than actual interests of the child at heart, has developed beyond belief. In the olden days, children learnt about sound by banging together household items like kitchen utensils. Of course there were drums but more of the basic kind, not the sophisticated ones that come with a warning that the toy is unsuitable for children below 3 years of age. Actually I wondered why, because banging a drum seems the most basic of actions, but when I realized that a child could get hurt with the drumsticks, it made more sense.

Our children discovered textures by feeling things around them – soft meant cushion, hard meant floor, crinkly meant newspaper and so on and so forth. While children still discover these and other concepts through basic things around the house, the toy industry has created a whole range of toys for them to find out things in a “fun” way. With every toy designed to address different levels of a child’s development, his room can become a veritable toy shop with creatures that squeak, squirt, move and all but tell him what the world is all about.

I often wonder whether these toys, rather the surfeit of them benefit them more than simple toys. I remember my own children dragging together all the chairs in the dining room and making them into a train, or draping a sheet over the beds and making it into a tent. Such makeshift arrangements challenged their imagination and actually inspired them to think. Do our toys stimulate a child’s imagination or do they help them actually think and dream even more? I’d love to hear your views on this.

As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through baby hood, toddler hood, adolescence and adult hood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share my experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grandmotherhood