Toys are necessary for a child to play and learn. From about three months, a baby needs stimulation in the form of simple playthings. A mobile suspended above the crib will amuse the baby and provide visual stimulation. Noise-making toys such as bells or rattles are useful as soon as the child learns to hold an object in his hands. The toys need not be expensive. Simple wooden or plastic blocks make excellent toys. Make sure that the edges and corners are not sharp. The quality of paint is important too. It should not come off if the child puts the toy into his mouth. Although paints containing lead are forbidden for toys, one should make sure and buy only the reliable brands.
The child learns to appreciate different sizes, shapes and colours, he arranges his blocks in a line and it becomes a train, he puts two or three together and it looks like a house. His fancy knows no bounds and he can imagine and create all sorts of play situations. The mother can participate by asking him to call at her house with the cart and pretend to buy something, go for a ride in his train or stop by his house for a cup of tea. Children derive a lot of pleasure from blocks with which they can make all sorts of things like cottages, bridges and trains depending on the age of the child. The same blocks can be used for years, only the game and forms become more and more complex as the child grows older. Some children prefer cuddly toys.
Sand can provide a great deal of fun and can be kept either in a corner of the garden or in a sand box. It may be difficult to arrange it in a small flat, but the child can go down into the common park where some sand can be kept for him to play with. Picture books and colouring materials help learn about animals, birds, and other things in the child’s environment. Even before his first birthday, you can help the child learn by reading simple stories to him. He learns to use his hands and takes pleasure in the ‘picture’ he has drawn or the ‘letter’ he has written. Later, he begins creating forms and makes a house, a man or a train. He learns to use his muscles and his eyes and creates shapes out of his imagination. Though the train may not look like a train at all. Next time he may not want to do it himself and may want you to draw the pictures for him. Old newspapers or some paper from old school exercise books provide ample material for drawing. A pair of scissors with rounded edges and some old newspapers can provide a lot of fun too. He must learn to amuse himself rather than have someone organise his play for him all the time.
Many children in India are discouraged to use pencil, paper or colours to avoid scribbles on the walls, furniture or the floor. Such children lose out on interesting experiences at that age. What you could do is explain to the child where to draw and where not to draw. If he has a piece of paper to scribble on, he will not want or need to scribble on walls. Give him some clay or plasticine, it will help him develop coordination of hands and eyes and to learn about shapes and sizes. Some children are more careful than others and will not tear books or break toys. Just as each adult differs from another, children too are very different from one another. The answer is not to punish the child or take away his toys, but to give him a stronger toy, and a cloth or cardboard picture book instead of a paper one. He will soon learn and you can help him to learn gently and affectionately. The worst thing you can do to a child is to take away his favourite toy as punishment.
Much of the young child’s play is pretending. He is either riding a train or getting off a bus, or feeding or cooking for the doll, or shopping. You can join in as much as possible and then leave him alone to play by himself.
Playing with Other Children and Sharing
Every child is different in his degree of generosity and desire to share. The child should be ready for it and understand it before he is made to share or give up a toy because it is ‘proper’ to do so. He wants to take his favourite toy to bed with him so how can you expect him to part with it? In a large family, sometimes sharing comes more easily, and yet at others, the desire to possess something which is all his may become stronger. You can intervene at times, but you will have to be fair or appeal to the large-heartedness and generosity of the child towards a younger child. But do not force him to part with his toy just because a visitor’s child wants it. Later, he will learn to share his toy because he likes to play with other children.
The child wants to play and not be perfect at the game. So do not teach him the skill of how to throw a ball but just play with him. The child has a sense of enjoying the game and sharing in fun. When he is older, he will like to play the game properly and then you can teach him how to do it. When playing together, children often knock each other over. Either your child may be pushing or taking advantage of the other children or others may be doing the same to him. Normally, children learn to get on with other children without the adult interference, but if you find that your child is always being bullied by others or being aggressive, then perhaps you have to de something about changing his playmates to suit his size and age.
Certain amount of fighting is common. But children learn to sort it out themselves. They learn from each other to share and to play fair and fight fair. A grown up can help by suggesting, ‘let Sanjiv pull the train and you be the station master and after some time you change over’.
Putting the Toys Away
A child at a young age does not realise the need or importance of being tidy. He has enjoyed his play and is now tired and sleepy or probably wants to do something different. If you tell him firmly ‘put your toys away’, he does not understand the necessity of doing so. He may start crying if you force him to do something he does not want to do. So you can help him do it and make the chore enjoyable. If it is near his sleep or meal time and the play has just come to an end, watch the play for a while or even join in and then gently suggest that the toys should be put away.
Help him do this, and soon enough he will join you. Keep a basket or a wooden or cardboard box in which to put the toys away. The dolls or stuffed animals can be lined up on a shelf. Doing things together will teach him orderliness and neatness and he will gradually learn to put away his toys after play.
Learning by Imitating, Doing, and Exploring
From six months onwards, the baby imitates the simple things he is asked to do like clapping or putting his doll or toy to sleep. Later, he imitates what his mother does, like cleaning and dusting. He loves to get into his father’s shoes and even tries on his coat. He loves to put on his reading glasses and sit with a pencil and paper in front of him. Do not discourage him from imitating you since this is the best way to learn.
He loves to explore — turn over the toy basket and then put the toys back, examine what is lying around, like ash trays and decoration pieces. He may even want to explore books. He may throw them down from the shelf and may even tear them. He may drop your precious piece of ceramic and break it, much to your horror. He may explore the electric plugs and wires and even get inside a cupboard if it is left open. A lot of it is learning so you must make his exploration as safe as possible and keep an eye on him.