A while back (ahem!) I promised a necessarily-brief and very personal list of toys that I consider to be indispensible toybox contents for the very young. Here it is. At last.
- Wooden blocks.
- Imaginative play items such as plastic dishes, cups, and so on.
- A doll or two.
- Some plastic farm and zoo animals.
- Wheeled toys such as trucks and cars, preferably large, sturdy, and plastic so that they may be hosed off if necessary, or plonked into the bath with the child.
- Art supplies, which will vary in type depending on the age of the child.
- Everyday stuff that you already have around the house — clean large cardboard cartons, aluminum foil, adult-sized clothes and accessories for dress-up, and so on.
- That’s it.
Now, this sort of thinking might seem to be at odds with our role as toy sellers. The point is that very young children don’t really need a lot of playthings. The most important things that we as parents can offer them are stimulation and resource, and much of that can be had for free. By allowing children space for creativity and imagination, we allow them to grow their ability to amuse themselves. By not catering to their every demand for new, advertised, toys, we encourage them to find the intrinsic value in what they already possess.
There certainly comes a time in every child’s life when he or she actually needs proper equipment; in order to build a functional wheeled vehicle, for example, one may conveniently use Lego blocks. This is a logical category to add to the toybox, then, at this point. A child who has enjoyed scribbling with wax crayons may be delighted with the introduction of a water-soluble crayon set, allowing him to experiment with the fluidity of water colour. The child who has spent many hours playing with a makeshift doll house fashioned from a cardboard carton might love to have some more realistic and functional doll furniture.
The point is that, as far as possible, we should encourage our children to use their imaginations in their play and not to buy our children toys that do the playing for them. There will always be more gizmos and widgets available to buy, but there is a limit to childhood and to the development of imagination, resourcefulness, and cooperative and social skills that free play encourages. If childhood means experiencing life with joy, gusto, and curiosity, then what we need is not children behaving as little adults, but adults who behave like children.