Choosing Christmas Toys
Women and the Home
Toys are tools by which children learn and should be chosen with this end in view
MABEL CREWS RINGLAND
WHEN making up a Christmas list it is so easy to write “Toy” after the names of our small acquaintances—son and daughter, niece and nephew, grandchild—that we fail to realize the problem which the choice of such a gift presents in this age of cheap novelties and endless variety of play equipment. If we have nothing in mind beyond the child’s age and the price we wish to pay, we are apt to find a visit to a toyshop a dazzling and bewildering experience. Unfortunately, all toys are not manufactured on the basis of the child’s needs, but of what will sell readily, and as long as we choose at random we cannot hope for any marked improvement in the situation.
“Take the youngster along and watch what he chooses for himself,” somebody suggests as a wise expedient. But even that fails unless the child is very exceptional. He is apt to be carried away by flimsy mechanical contrivances that catch his eye. Their novelty and motion fascinate him for the moment, but he soon tires of them. Well-meaning parents and doting aunts and uncles are also apt to choose a toy that amuses them by its bizarre or intricate qualities. A wind-up motor car, for instance, that will soon find its way to the junk heap, easily attracts much more attention than a sturdy wooden truck which the child can sit on and push about, and which will be a favorite of long standing and hard usage.
Store reaction, then, is not a safe guidepost to toys of real worth. “The wise parent often has to steel himself against the appeals of clever displays and the pleadings of his own child, just as he resists the pernicious influences of too much movie or of harmful sweets,” is the advice of an expert who knows how often toy money is unwittingly wasted. When we stop to realize that the playthings we and other fond relations give the children are not simply devices to keep them quiet, amused and out of the way, but are the tools with which they learn, both mentally and physically, we will agree that they deserve some thoughtful consideration. We are all human enough to want our gifts to be appreciated and used by the youngsters for whom we select them. What, then, is the secret of successful choice?”
In the first place, toys should always be bought on the basis of what the child can do with them, rather than what they can do to amuse the child. The reason we are tempted to forget this first principle of play is that when we grown-ups play, we usually want quiet and relaxing entertainment in which we do not have to exert ourselves excessively. But with the young, activity’s the thing; they are happier when they can be the performers, not the audience. Toys that usurp the actor’s rôle, leaving the child a passive observer, are not only a poor investment because they so soon fail to interest him, but they may be actually harmful. They are more apt to stimulate laziness and a desire to be amused than to encourage spontaneous play and inventiveness.
A boy of three or four, for example, is apt to want an electric train like the one some older friend has, though at his age he would probably obtain more real play and pleasure from a large sturdy engine that will bear his weight when he straddles it, and with cars that he can couple and uncouple and load. The electric train will be an education to the older boy if it suggests the construction of other related objects and teaches him the uses of electricity.
Then, too, the toys we choose should be durable. A few good strong playthings are worth more than a great variety of cheap, destructible toys. If things fall to pieces readily, the child becomes destructive and flighty in his play, failing to concentrate on any one object long enough to explore its possibilities. The Vetcraft wooden toys offer a fine example of the sturdy variety that is built to stand plenty of wear and tear, and the cost is actually less in the end, not to speak of the subtle values unconsciously absorbed by the child who uses them. We can scarcely expect youngsters, brought up on cheap, flimsy play equipment that is forever being discarded and replaced, to grow up with a fair sense of values or respect for property. Wooden toys are as a rule superior to iron because they are more readily repaired, quieter and easier on household furniture,
rT"'OYS that provide for plenty of activity and wholesome outdoor play are popular with boys and girls of all ages. For wee tots there are all sorts of balls, attractive wheel toys, carts, engines, animals to be pulled about, as well as kiddy cars, wagons, tricycles, scooters, roller skates and footballs; all of which encourage the exercise and contented play in the fresh air which every child needs. Swings and ladders are excellent muscle developers, and boxes and boards which can be carried
about are apt to be used as much as the more elaborate equipment. Large hollow blocks of different shapes are good but expensive, as they have to be made to order. If you want to give some youngsters many hours of happy, busy outdoor play this winter, treat them to a set of packing boxes smoothed off a bit and painted green. I have seen such an outfit provide more ingenious entertainment than I could have imagined possible, for months on end
For indoor exercise there is a splendid canvas swing for the toddler, that hangs from hooks in a doorway; and for the runabout age a more elaborate gym trapeze and swing that clamps on the woodwork without damaging it. An older boy would love a trapeze arrangement or a punching-bag for use in the cellar or attic. A homemade gift which pleased one youngster as well as his mother was a box on wheels with the painted name “Toy-Moving Van,” which had many indoor uses, the chief one being the cheerful transportation of toys to the cupboard when play periods were ended.
Materials that allow a child to copy adult occupations may be safely selected as a rule. Through imitation little folks learn much about the great world around them and how they may take their place in it. Girls love to play at homemaking with dolls, miniature cooking sets, dishes, and laundry outfits; while boys choose to be storekeepers, farmers, firemen, policemen, postmen or what you will. If given the necessary tools they will take delight in learning to be actually useful. Unfortunately, sets of outdoor tools are usually too light and flimsy for practical purposes. It pays to buy adult tools of a small size and shorten the handles, so that the youngsters may have the added satisfaction found in doing real work, however slight. Toys of this type in series are admirable, as they suggest progressive play and develop ingenuity. They may be bought singly, but if grouped about some central idea such as a garage, a dairy, a store, a railroad, a doll’s house, they will have many more uses and create more enjoyment.
“Let’s Make Something”
ONE can hardly say enough in favor of the great mass of equipment now on the market that enables a child to use his creative imagination and make his own playthings. In this class are the many good knock-down toys, trucks, trains, fire engines, airplanes, that can be taken apart and reconstructed at will. Other types of construction material give freer scope to the youthful engineer’s ability by providing building supplies, from the simple wooden sticks and spools suitable for a small child, to the more elaborate steel outfits for older boys that produce workable models— cranes, trucks, dredges, towers, airplanes and many more. These represent some of the finest educational developments of modern toymaking and fill a very real need.
We will include in this group blocks, which share with balls an astounding perennial popularity, possibly because so much can be done with them. Unfortunately, the most useful blocks for real play —very large ones—are not on the market, and bear but a distant relationship to the elaborate sets of small fancy blocks shown in the stores, with which very little real building can be done. But no youngster need be without them, for they are easily made at home. The most generally useful are brick-size, which can be readily cut from a “two-by-four” obtainable in any lumber yard. With a couple of dozen of these blocks children can construct garages, houses, stations, bridges, towers, and with a greater supply, augmented by a few still larger hollow blocks or boxes, can build an endless variety of ample structures which will keep them busy and happy for long periods at a time.
Because it requires more initiative, resourcefulness and ingenuity to make a toy than to use one already made, carpenters’ tools are an excellent investment for any child from the age of three up, boy or girl. Their use requires some supervision at first, but most youngsters can manipulate simple tools and make toys for their own play much sooner than is generally supposed. A three-year-old will delight in hammering nails into a soft board along a line to form a pattern, and later to put in screws, while a four-yearold can construct actual toys with patient, tactful oversight and help.
Unless you have seen, as I have, simple toy animals, wagons, engines, dolls’ furniture, airplanes, made by youngsters of four and five, and observed the thrill of achievement which they experience in the process, you may find this an incredible idea. As a matter of fact, it is astounding what such young carpenters can produce, given the right type of tools and assistance. The toy tools sold in sets are as a rule not meant for use. A few real tools, a carpenter’s apron and a toolbox make an admirable gift for a child with the right sort of parents who won’t begrudge spending a little time on instruction and guidance. Show-card colors which come in powder form and are mixed with water are the best for painting the articles, as this mixture will wash off clothes as well as hands and faces, and even ears, where it is apt to find its way during the process, which is almost as much fun as the carpentry work. Try it and see for yourself.
For an older child the book Homemade Toys for Girls and Boys, by A. Neely Hall, will prove suggestive of countless things to make from materials found around every home. If a boy is a lover of outdoor life, Handicraft for Outdoor Boys by Beard, or Book of Woodcraft by E. T. Seton, will make a strong appeal, in which case a hatchet, a whistle and compass, bow and arrows, a scout water bottle and so on may be the tools from which he will obtain the most enjoyment.
Fitting the Toy to the Child
"DERHAPS the most important yet
difficult phase of the whole problem is to suit the toy to the child for whom it is intended, which means recognizing that play materials are graded just as surely as schoolwork is. In this respect, size is of paramount importance. Most of us instinctively pick out little toys for small tots, because we have never observed that a young child, left to itself, rarely chooses a small plaything, for the simple reason fhat it is more difficult for him to handle until he has gained control of his
smaller muscles. Within certain limits, a safe rule to go by is “The smaller the child, the larger the toy.”
The same principle holds good with dolls’ houses. Young children would rather have one they could crawl into than a tiny replica bought with everything complete to the last detail. To meet this demand the toy stores are now selling a most attractive and roomy; knock-down dolls’ house or playhouse of fibreboard with wooden framework, which would be a joy to small kiddies, as they could play right in it. The price is only three dollars. I once saw a fascinating doll’s house made from a packing case divided into four rooms and painted gaily, with windows and doors cut out with a fret saw. When curtains and furniture were added, the result was quite lifelike, and the house was vastly more usable than the fancy store variety.
Play materials that provide occupation and contentment for rainy days and quiet indoor playtimes make excellent gifts, as there can scarcely be too great a variety in any home. Plasticine or glitter wax is one of the perennial favorites and if a diminutive rubber apron and a square of oilcloth for the table are included in the outfit, there should be no parental objection to its use. Quite young children can also use to advantage blunt scissors, construction paper, crayons, scrapbooks, paste, water colors, paper doll cut-outs, and even stencil patterns, and with some guidance learn to make very clever things for little gifts as well as their own use. A visit to a kindergarten and school supplies store will reveal many unthought-of possibilities along this line—posters to color, designs to work, besides such busywork materials as peg-boards, beads to string, etc., which should have a place in every toy cupboard. A box of rainy day equipment would make a wonderful gift for any youngster and would be doubly welcome in a home where there is sickness. The wise mother will keep a few of these materials in reserve for special occasions and emergencies so that the enjoyment derived from them will not be dulled by everyday use.
For older boys and girls there is no dearth of variety in indoor games and amusements. Many new card and table games are being offered that are excellent, but it is interesting to learn that the old reliables, dominoes, checkers, parchesi, authors, and others, are still among the best sellers, and that there are still many homes where group games are a happy feature of the family circle. As a matter of fact, most parents welcome any social or group play that tends to develop teamwork and good sportsmanship, or foster good fellowship in the homes.
In the perplexing task of selecting the right toy for the right child it will surely help us if we recall the words of a noted child specialist: “The thing to keep in mind is that a toy is neither an artistic model, an aesthetic ornament, nor a mechanical spectacle, but should be a stimulus to call forth self-activity, invention, imagination and skill.” Let us hope, too, that the day is not far distant when every toy store and department will have its own toy adviser to whom we may turn in our bewilderment for sound counsel and suggestion, just as we have learned to depend on experts for advice on books, budgets, fashions, cookery and what not.
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