Children

The joy of a toy: choosing the perfect plaything for your child

Not just child’s play So buy toys that are safe and engaging

Not just child’s play So buy toys that are safe and engaging  

How to choose the perfect plaything for the child in your life, so she picks it over the packaging!

A wind spinner that splinters. A car with its metallic paint peeling. Brightly-coloured plastic balls that go into the mouth and sometimes in the nose! India isn’t the safest for toys, and, let’s face it, we aren’t so vigilant at home either. A recall is almost unheard of and parents are unlikely to take a company to court for wrongly claiming that their instructive toys are actually making their babies brainier!

But toys aren’t as harmless as we imagine. If you’ve ever taken a toss on a car lying around the house, you’ll know. In America, a child is treated to a toy-related injury every three minutes, says the Centre for Injury Research and Policy, US. Over 50% of such injuries happen to children younger than five years. Riding toys are the cause of 40% of injuries in the 5-17 age group, and nearly 14% of toy-related injuries occur due to swallowing or inhaling parts of the toy itself. A study from the same centre a few years ago found that foot-powered scooters were the most dangerous type of toy. It isn’t just physical harm though. Toys also have a mental impact on the child. Here’s how to buy toys that are safe, yet engaging, and inadvertently build mental, physical and social skills.

The subtleties of buying

Look at toys that grow with the child

This helps the child develop the ability to cherish the toy, rather than encouraging a use-and-throw culture, says Mridula Shridhar, early childhood education specialist, and co-founder, Skola Toys, Bengaluru. “Children like to be challenged — a child may first just climb the ladder to a slide, then sit at the top for a while, before gradually sliding down. As he gains confidence, he will climb the slide from the opposite end,” she says. Ask the toymaker how the toy will develop with the child. Blocks are the obvious choice, but Shridhar says there are several in the market that grow with your child. Skola’s Bino-Colours (binoculars that come with four coloured filters) help a child see the world differently through the different colours. Later, they may hold up two colours to explore how hues mix.

Pick gender-neutral toys

“More and more toymakers are beginning to use orange and green now, as gender-neutral colours. Buy toys that don’t have a gender at all, that focus on the character, so the child is free to imagine it in his or her own way,” says Suhasini Paul, a toy designer based in Noida. She talks of her Monster Hugs collection that is gender-neutral. In fact, a child can develop a name and personality around the stuffed toy.

The joy of a toy: choosing the perfect plaything for your child
 

Consider fooducation

“The best way to get kids who fuss about food out of the habit, is to involve them in the cooking process. Encourage them to help out with prep, so they’re more likely to eat what they’ve ‘cooked’, building their palate and developing a healthy relationship with food,” says Pooja Makhija, a Mumbai-based nutritionist and author of Eat. Delete. Junior and the healthy food programme on missionnutritionindia.com. Try products from Curious Chef (amazon.in, ebay.in, homeloft.in); Sassafras The Little Cook (flipkart.com, homeloft.in)

Ask for AR-enhanced activity and STEM

To take the theory of school learning into practical application, Smartivity toys use the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) learning system for kids 6-14. The toys are made from MDF and must be assembled by the child, whether to build a xylophone or a dancing kaleidoscope that allows kids to change patterns. When it comes to young children, “We cannot take them off phones, so the idea is to add value to the content, rather than exposing them to constant music and colours that aren’t engaging and put kids in a trance-like state,” says Tushar Amin, one of the co-founders in Delhi. Some of their toys for the age group form a bridge between physical play and digital engagement, through augmented reality (AR). Children colour on a sheet, or put together a jigsaw puzzle, and to lengthen engagement and learning, they then hold this under a scanner on the phone and the image will ‘come alive’ for a few minutes.

Get a toy that comes with a positive message

Even as Barbie turns ‘real’ with different body shapes, there’s Nanea Mitchell, the newest doll from American Girl. A dark-skinned half-Hawaiian, she’s from 1941 wartime America. Then there’s Hearts For Hearts that has dolls from all over the world.

Read the toy label right

Look for the company name

Not heard of them? Check them out online. If they’re being imported, they pass our standards and are safe to use. If they are exporting to Europe, the US and Australia, they’ll be safe as well.

The joy of a toy: choosing the perfect plaything for your child
 

Check for certification

If one of these is present, they are safe: EN71 European safety standard (CE mark), ASTM (US), AS4685 (Australia). Some companies may also have an ISO certification, but this is to do with the process of manufacturing rather than the safety or quality of the product. It ensures that cheap, recycled plastic is not used, nor are toxic enamel paints on wooden toys. A few Indian brands that work: Frank Educational Aids, Chalk & Chuckles, Skola Toys, Brainsmith.

Look at the name of the game

Online reviews are always helpful. There’s the 6-year-old who unboxes toys on YouTube, but there are also others: thetoyinsider.com, wtstoyreview.com.

Study the back

“It’s like reading the back of a book cover, says Kanaka Ananth, Assistant Professor, DJ Academy of Design, Coimbatore. You can get information about what the game aims at, the number of pieces, sometimes even the creators.

Follow age grades

If a toy stipulates 3-6 months, it is only meant for that age group. There may also be a warning about small parts, so pay attention to that.

Consider gifting

Ananth suggests these activities for a difference.

A toy library subscription

Rather than buying a toy, a jigsaw puzzle or a board game, a toy library works much like a book library does. You get a toy issued, play with it for a period and return it. Most services sanitise their toys. They allow you to pick your periodicity (once a week, twice or thrice), are age-graded and have a home-drop facility. A few: friendlytoyz.com, khilonewala.in, toyexpress.in; ₹600 per month upwards.

An activity-box subscription

Age-graded boxes arrive at home with a bunch of toys, so the surprise element is half the fun. Flintobox says they have Montessori experts and child psychologists as advisors, and cater to 12 developmental areas (cognitive, sensory, fine motor, amongst others) in the 2-12 age bracket. They have themes too (jungle adventurer, little architect, nature detective). Magic Crate develops toys in the 1 ½-to-12-year age group. Prices start at ₹595 and 599 per box (respectively) for a 12-month period.

An outdoor toy

With obesity and a sedentary lifestyle becoming a problem, outdoor play that involves movement is becoming a focus. A paper published in the Porto Biomedical Journal this year points to the reasons for diminishing outdoor play: globalisation, urbanisation, technology and parents fear of accidents. But “children benefit from being exposed to sunlight, natural elements, and open air, which contributes to bone development, a stronger immune system and physical activity,” it says. Koochie is certified in Australia, New Zealand and Europe as a safe brand.

Some sensitive questions

Dr Shraddha Kapoor, Associate Professor, Child Development, University of Delhi, answers a few worries we don’t often broach

    Do we really need toys — aren’t we already overloaded with ‘stuff’?

Yes, toys are important, but don’t necessarily have to be store-bought. A child who uses a tyre and a stick to chase it around has actually created her own toy. So let material be available to children and avoid giving them ‘how to’ advice (how to make a toy, how to play with it). What’s problematic is when children fall prey to merchandising and marketing. While the odd Star Wars toy is fine, when it becomes a race to own the whole series, it then becomes about possession rather than play. So avoid feeding into that.

    Are guns okay to play with?

It depends on why you’re buying it and what the child uses it for. Is it for target practice? If yes, then it’s all about hand-eye coordination. If it’s the odd sword fight friends indulge in, that’s okay too, provided it’s not about harming the other child. If children are able to put the toy aside and forget about it in a week or so, it’s nothing to worry about. It there’s consistent aggression with it and it seems like that’s the only thing the child is playing with, then it’s a cause for worry. Look at the reasons behind it, as there may be a deeper behavioural issue or even an ideological one, such as the over-emphasis of masculinity that’s often shown through aggression (either at home or through the media).

    How about over-sexualised dolls?

They aren’t ideal, but let’s not blame Barbie for over-sexualising little girls. The first role model is the mother, so if a mother has a healthy body image, a child may play with a doll for other reasons — perhaps she likes sewing clothes for her, for instance. Gendered toys are the problem at the buying stage, when the shop helper asks if it’s a girl or a boy you’re buying for. That must change, or simply don’t tell him the gender of the child you’re buying for and see what he shows you! And buy a ball — it helps develop relationships, takes the child outdoors and keeps kids moving.

    Do we really need educational toys with all that school stress kids already face?

An educational toy will do no harm, but they may limit the child, unlike toys like blocks that encourage the child to mould and create. The purpose of play is joy and learning is secondary. It happens as the child explores the world creatively.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 7:24:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/toysforkids/article21830968.ece

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