Have you ever wondered whether you are buying too many toys for your child, or perhaps not enough? Or do you think about your own toys? Perhaps a surfboard, a mountain bike, or even a new phone?
What is the right amount of toys and when should we buy them?
A school principal needs to think about these things every day, because teachers ask to buy chess sets, building blocks, toy pianos, modeling clay, the latest brain gym, etc.
Honestly, it’s hard to say no. It’s like being a parent. When I am shopping with my wife and daughter, I try to avoid the section of the mall with Hamley’s. I just know there will be some red-shirted hawker blowing bubbles at my daughter and sucking magenta-coloured Rupees out of my wallet!
When I was younger, I was skeptical about the value of toys. When my son Jason was born, a good friend bought him the latest Brain Gym toy. It was full of mirrors, bright colours, sandpaper, noisemakers, etc. It was supposed to stimulate all sections of his brain and foster the development of new neural networks. Jason looked at it for about 10 seconds and then got bored. That evening, Jason’s grandfather used a spoon and a glass to play with Jason, and kept him entertained for an hour!
“Forget the fancy toys,” I thought, “the simple toys are best!” And when teachers asked to buy the latest gadget, I told them, “Unnecessary!”
It’s true that simple toys, such as building blocks and modelling clay, are very educational. These toys help children to develop imagination, motor skills, creativity, spatial awareness, and even social skills and language, as the toddlers work together and proudly exclaim joy at their new creations.
Over the years, my understanding of the value of toys has developed. Play is a fundamental human need, like touching or friendship — you just can’t live a normal life without it. Learning through play is essential and playing with toys is one of the fundamental types of play — all human cultures have toys. Anthropologists have found dolls, balls, rattles, tops, and toy animals in every human culture.
Dolls are a particularly interesting type of toy, which, unfortunately, have developed a bad name.
A particularly infamous doll was the 1992 “Math Class is Tough!” Talking Barbie. This doll enraged feminists in the 1990s, but it has since become a favourite among mathematicians, male and female, who point out that, “Barbie was correct!”
The beautiful thing about dolls is that children create the most intricate and imaginative fantasy worlds with dolls, and they develop their language skills as they narrate these fantasy worlds. Interestingly, dolls seem to be universally appreciated by girls more than boys, and research shows that that girls have superior language skills to boys.
It is worth having a look at the most loved toys of children from around the world. Poor children make their toys out of rubbish, such as discarded tyres, and rich children tend to have intricate toys made of synthetic materials. Children from middle income families tend to place value on universally popular toys with educational value, including storybooks and musical instruments. That seems sensible to me.
Toys that stimulate cognitive development are my favourites, and now I am more generous with teachers who like to buy those play pianos. Toys that have stood the test of time are irresistible, too.
Perhaps I’m just getting soft in my old age, or perhaps parenting has softened me, but who can deny the value of Lego?
Mick Purcell is the head of school at KC High IGCSE Board Cambridge International School, Chennai. He teaches mathematics, creative writing, elementary drama, disc sports, reputation management, and Rubik’s cube.
He has 3 beautiful children and a lovely wife, but he dreams about climbing mountains and getting away from it all. You can email him at email@example.com.