What is the point of buying your child a Barbie or a GI Joe? asks Abha Adams, education consultant, Step By Step School, Noida. It may be an attractive purchase but it is not going to add anything to your child’s development.
Toys that work are the ones that give young children multiple opportunities to explore and use their imagination. “Playthings which hone motor skills, allow for greater dexterity, improve coordination and concentration, teach children to work in sequence, and apply reasoning and logic are the ones that work best,” says Adams. She adds that children are often more attracted to a soundbox made with a handful of dal in a small container than a hi-tech rattle. “You may be surprised, but the best toys for toddlers and young children are often those that are makeshift or things like the Russian dolls which have been around forever.”
Toystores such as Souvenirs in Colaba, Mumbai, are seeing an increasing number of parents asking for wooden toys. “These toys are seen as educative and yet fun. From jigsaw puzzles, shape trays to bead strings and wooden shape sorters, parents are opting for such toys rather than plastic ones,” says Faizal Khatri, who goes on to list wooden blocks, wooden musical instruments such as the xylophone, wooden toolkits (complete with hammer, spanner), wooden shape sorters and alphabets, as well as animal sewing kits as top sellers for toddlers and maze chase, dartboards, puzzles for older kids. “Most of these toys fall in the range of Rs50-300. Today parents are keen to pick up wooden doll’s houses (about Rs4,500) over plastic ones.”
But don’t confuse wooden toys available in the market with Montessori apparatus. They are not the same thing, says Subhash Gorwaney, the man behind Khazana, which manufactures both Montessori apparatus and the Skillofun range of wooden toys. Montessori apparatus is used in schools that follow the Montessori system of teaching. Only schools with trained Montessori teachers opt for this and children can use these toys under guidance only. “The wooden toys in the market are loosely based on the principles of Montessori philosophy but they cannot be called Montessori apparatus or toys. These are toys which manufacturers and toy companies have adapted.” Also, these toys are usually not made from wood but with MDF board (medium density fibre wood) which, Gorwaney claims, is child-friendly and non-toxic.
According to Gorwaney, one common mistake parents make while selecting such toys for their children is that they buy toys that are not age-specific. “Parents think that a 10-piece shape puzzle is better than a four-piece one because it will last longer and the child will enjoy it more. But they don’t realize that for a two-year-old child, a 10-piece puzzle is very complicated.” His advice is that parents should not expect the child to work out any such toy at the first go. “Let your child become friends with the toy first. Even looking and touching the toy is an experience. Let him become familiar before you start explaining what needs to be done with it.”