Post No.: 0939
Play involves experimentation, discovery, practice, and thus learning. This furry behaviour therefore probably evolved to help us survive. Through trial and error, we create, test and solve problems. Many of our experiments mightn’t exactly help with our survival but we won’t know until we try.
Toys that stimulate and educate children in a new way, that cultivate the imagination to experiment and create, and have more than a limited play pattern (i.e. not toys that can only really be played or configured in one way) are the best.
But having too many toys, at least out at once, can lead to a child finding it hard to focus on developing any particular skill well, as they’ll more easily give up on tackling a practical or creative challenge to try something else that gives them a more immediate gratification. If adults find it hard to concentrate in a cluttered environment or to not be distracted from competing items that are vying for their attentions, like mobile phone notifications or snacks that are just in view, then kids have even less chance!
Also, the more we have of anything, the less value we place on each of those individual things – so toys or treats become regarded as throwaway or taken for granted rather than appreciated if kids have too many of them i.e. children become spoiled. Scarcity increases value, and vice-versa. Often, when we feel we don’t have much to be grateful for, it’s ironically because we have too much. When one extreme seems wrong, it doesn’t mean that the other extreme has got to be right – deprivation is wrong, and spoiling is wrong too. Being deprived a little can even compel us to innovate, which builds our confidence when facing other challenges.
Ideal toys are also those that are appropriate for the child’s age and developmental level. A mix of rule-based games and creative freedom games, and games played together and alone, are recommended. Children’s brains are like sponges so take advantage of this by introducing variety to them. It’s thus nice to have a range of different types of toys. Manipulable or mechanical toys like construction and building toys and puzzles help develop fine and gross motor skills, dexterity and coordination. Active toys like sports equipment and outdoor toys help build physical activity levels. Learning toys include board and card games, books and specific-skill toys like shape and colour sorters. Creative toys include arts and crafts equipment and musical instruments. Make-believe toys include dressing up and role-play, plush toys and dolls.
The most brilliant toys are arguably 10% toy and 90% child i.e. toys that only come alive with imagination. Imagination flourishes when we ask questions like ‘what happens if I do this?’
Most toys can be played socially, and including a mix of individual and social play is encouraged, whether kids with other kids and/or kids playing with adults. You often find that young children won’t leave you alone as they follow wherever you go – illustrating that all they really want to do is to play with others, like you! Different age groups can play together – the younger children will learn new tricks, and the older children will learn how to lead and teach. Unstructured play teaches kids ways to get along with others and to resolve fuzzy disputes amongst themselves, thus develops their social skills.
Toys don’t have to be expensive. Well as long as they’re safe – everyday household items, like cardboard boxes, toilet roll tubes, clothes pegs, string or simple pencils and paper, promote imagination and creativity far better than ‘just make and do what’s shown on the box’ toys. Creating something out of nothing is satisfying and empowering. It’s like knowing how to cook reduces worries about going hungry, or knowing how to improvise mechanical fixes gives one the confidence to venture off-road. I’d rather boys and girls be encouraged to use their imagination, creativity and to develop their problem-solving skills rather than just their instruction-following skills. And young kids don’t understand or care how much something was bought for – all they care about is how fun something is!
As they grow older, we should try to raise children to become active creators rather than passive consumers. Raise them to understand what tricks businesses and commercials use to influence people to spend on things they don’t need (or will quickly forget about as the novelty wears off), to not form brand loyalties, and to not blindly crumble to peer pressures.
It can be frustrating to find kids get quickly bored of many toys. Many toys are limited in their play pattern, including some expensive, big-brand toys – whereas generic toys, like generic wooden blocks, balls and buckets have potentially limitless ways to play with them and thus kids won’t get bored of them so rapidly.
Some moments of boredom are okay though because they allow a child to take the initiative to develop their own creativity and solutions to pass the time. If they still feel stuck for ideas, give them a challenge to amuse themselves imaginatively e.g. to hunt for as many different insects as they can in the garden, or to build a contraption that lifts their favourite toy up from the floor onto a table.
Magic tricks work well with 2 to 5-year olds because they seem to have trouble noticing when things might’ve moved when they weren’t watching! So it’s easy to make things suddenly ‘appear’ or ‘disappear’ as if by magic. Woof!
In most videogames, it’s about goals, support and rewards. Set players a goal, be responsive enough to support them if you sense they need help, and ultimately reward them for reaching each goal. Find a fun game mechanic then set them free to play and replay. Establish a system that rewards players early and often, then introduce greater challenges as they progress. Be flexible enough to anticipate and account for happy accidents too. It’s about listening and empathising with the feelings of the players as they play.
It’s more about the opportunities and support to learn new skills or knowledge than owning the material toys – hence toy libraries (like book libraries) are a good avenue where available.
Children should definitely be taught to take good care of their toys and to understand the value of them. Yet some adults can conversely be too protective of things they treat too preciously that they end up not enjoying their utility, to the point they might as well not have them e.g. owning an expensive mahogany table that’s permanently covered to protect it, even on special occasions – it might as well be pine because no one would know! There may be some purely psychological reward for just knowing that one owns something one never fully utilises, and some things are bought as investments like unopened toys in their boxes. But when it comes to being too protective of our children, we can stifle them as well as our joy with them.
Younger kids require more supervision than older ones and safety is crucial, yet overprotection can stunt a child’s emotional growth, development and any sense of real achievement. A child who falls is less likely to fear heights than a child who has never experienced heights at all. Learning to pick oneself up again after each fall or knock is a critical life skill. Self-confidence also builds from doing things we thought we couldn’t personally do before. That’s why children should be encouraged to try new things and be allowed to engage in free, unstructured, inquisitive or imaginative play.
Taking small risks is how kids grow and conquer their fears. Making a mess is fine in the areas where they’re allowed to play, as long as they tidy up afterwards.
Telling them what to do before they’ve had a chance to work things out for themselves won’t help them bloom. Intervention and input is only necessary if there’s danger or frustration. Give hints rather than solutions too.
Physical or hands-on games can be mental or intellectual games too. Young children can better learn arithmetic with a fun game involving catching balls, or explore the history of Rome through role-play, for example. It’s better to learn things through personal experience than through rote. Playing, particularly free play, is a perfect way for children to explore their environment, to ask questions and to follow that curiosity beyond initial comprehension, discovery or idea formulation. Team games and team problem-solving games also foster cooperation, the sharing, listening and honouring of other people’s ideas and views, providing constructive criticism, practising turn-taking, as well as other valuable social skills that are widely transferable into all parts of personal, community and work life.
If everything in life can be turned into a game then even tidying one’s room can be fun and engaging if you’ve got the ideas and imagination!
Children who don’t/can’t play sufficiently during school break times tend to struggle with self-control, sitting still and learning during lessons and other times. And traditional playground games like tag must never be forgotten in this age of electronic games devices. Outdoor active play is vital for physical development and health. The streets have changed over the decades, with more cars around, so local councils must provide public fields, playgrounds and other safe, accessible spaces where ball games are allowed. (Some neighbourhoods have experimented with closing their streets off to vehicles for a couple of hours each day so that kids can play on them safely.) The risk of child abduction and abuse is horrifying but there are ways to keep kids safe and supervised.
PE (physical education) time in schools needs to stop declining. Children shouldn’t be disheartened by a bad sports experience – even every professional had to start somewhere, and they all started not knowing anything about a particular game, and then they took years to reach elite level. And there are dozens of different formal sports or informal physical games for children to try if they don’t like or suit a particular one. We often don’t know if we’ll enjoy something until we try it. The important thing is to give things a go and then to not give up easily. We can surprise ourselves with what we can do if we don’t think something is impossible.
Lots of short bursts of physical play contribute just as much to a healthy active lifestyle as longer bouts of organised exercise. Well all moving is moving if at the same intensity. In fact, children are more naturally inclined to engage in short, vigorous bursts (<5 minutes at a time) of running, jumping and playing with toys and people. Kids are naturally active and parents shouldn’t see it as rowdiness or naughtiness when they’re just trying to actively play.
Force typically creates resistance so it’s often not about something in itself but how it’s presented. In one experiment in school, they attempted to introduce 15 minutes of physical activity before the actual start of the school day each day, but the students were forced to do whatever the gym teacher decided, which most of them didn’t like. So they decided to give each student a heart rate monitor so that they could do whatever activity they wished as long as they increased their heart rate for a sustained period of time. This improved participation, motivation and enjoyment significantly.
Whether adults should deliberately let children win at games or not will depend on the child and the situation hence we cannot predetermine this answer. It’s about not dashing their confidence yet not allowing them to become overconfident. So be sensitive and adaptable to the particular child and particular situation.
Young children must be taught to be gracious winners and not sore losers though! Focus on the fun and cooperation, not competition, otherwise the risk is that children will not play or try a game unless they think they’ll win, which will guarantee their failure.