First students need to understand why toys are important as playthings. What can they teach us and what do we learn? It is necessary for students to be aware of the function that toys had in their childhood and how the toys helped them to grow and develop. As future parents and consumers purchasing toys for their young, the students need to develop insights into the importance of toys in the process of growing up.
Toys are not toys unless they are fun. At the same time, the basic function of playthings is the stimulation of a child’s imagination and the engagement of his action skills. Children are naturally innovative and imaginative. They have their own habits and style in different roles in different situations.
Thus, toys and play are important in the growing process. The child learns to discover himself, and toys provide the occasion for these discoveries. Toys provide an opportunity to experiment which is valuable to growth, first time experiences, and self-satisfying activity.
The child in the crib who reaches out and sets a mobile in motion learns to connect action with himself, and the child will continue to learn largely from its environmental responses. The process will develop a realization of control and predictable patterns. A small child will learn to control the movements of a ball, use it to get others to react, and confirm his self. “Toys are important shapers of the self in childhood and often continue in later life as symbols of different ‘leisure’ pursuits,” according to authors, Czikszentmihaly and RochbergHalton. (p. 92.) A professional basketball, soccer, or baseball player has simply developed his control to the highest level while the weekend golfer to a lesser degree.
“The importance of objects of action in the early years is a reminder of the powerful need children have to internalize actions and to define the limits of their selves through direct kinetic control.” (
, p. 100.) By adolescence, a person knows that he can control his body and its environment in predictable ways. Now a new challenge arises: the control of emotions and impulses. The “toys” of teenagers—stereos, TV, records, videogames—help them to interact and to define themselves through control of psychic processes. Thus, besides the pleasure and enjoyment that toys bring, they are concrete objects that aid in the development of a person’s control over his environment and encourage learning about himself and the world.
In many ways, toys help us as children to mimic adult roles, because they allow us an opportunity to experiment and discover in the safety of childhood. Dr. Benjamin Spock has written, “A child loves his play, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. He is striving every hour of every day to graduate to more difficult achievements and to do what grown ups do.” (p. 304) Remember when simple objects became important playthings, when ordinary things found new purposes in childhood hands? Jar tops, scraps of cloth, pots and pans, ale became building blocks with our imagination. We learned to mimic our mothers and fathers or older siblings. The objects were fitted into an unwritten script for our playing and becoming adults. Thus, toys combined pleasure, fantasy, and imitation of the world. They filled hours providing experiences in manipulation, sensory stimulation, mental exercise, and experiences in doing, often with sound effects added.
We may ask, “what is a toy”? The answer may be simply anything that a child is apt to play with. A teething ring, a blanket, sticks and stones, a chemistry set, wooden blocks all fit the description. The relationship one has with toys will reflect the cycle changes in life. The child learns that he can shoot people with a toy gun and must realize that it is only “pretend.” There are exercises in makebelieve that help children realize the limitations of the world and bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. As the child grows, the gun will gain meaning as sports equipment or as a weapon.
This issue raises the question of what may be the best kind of toy? The best toy is one that continually gives the child room to interact with it, to engage his imagination, to develop his skills, to enlarge his own mental and creative avenues, Children are not satisfied with only a few play ideas because their shorter attention span allows them to go on to new ideas. Toys should help play and not be its sum and substance; the plaything should not limit but extend the child’s creative involvement.
Store bought toys are often the parents’s choice. Who plays with them on Christmas Eve? On the next day, many small children will play with the wrappings and ribbon no matter how expensive the contents may have been. Often the commercial toy will have to wait until the child is ready. Commercials for toys persuade children what they should want to play with. In a study done in 1975, toy advertising on television made up 18 percent of the total. Doris Johnson states, “The toy category, was second only to the ‘cereals, candies, and other sweets’ category, which accounted for 25 percent of the total. During the holiday season, however, toys tended to dominate the commercials.” (pp. 167168.) The more TV that was watched by children, the more they asked for advertised toys. Often parents are forced to choose what is in vogue without consideration of the physical and psychological growth of the child. By recalling the toys that students themselves learned with, they might realize the important role that toys played as they played and had fun.