No Kidding! Children can play without toys           

Toys act a friend and sibling to a child.  In India where most of the families especially in metros are going nuclear with both parents working and no siblings, toys play a vital role in a child’s life…. but imagine a scenario when toys are taken away from them…Vibha Singh ponders

Imagine your little princess gets up in the morning and finds that her Barbie doll, she loved the most, has disappeared. Also when she walks inside her kindergarten she finds that all toys had been removed and would not be returned for next two months.

Similar kind of scenario was witnessed by thousands of children going to playschools in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland that are participating in a remarkable and innovative project called toy-free kindergarten. The project called “Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten” (the nursery without toys) was founded by Rainer Strick and Elke Schubert, public health officers who worked with adults suffering from various forms of addiction. According to the study conducted by the officer, it was found that the addictive habits start early in childhood and wanted to show that children can play happily and creatively when they have no toys around them.

We discuss with experts and parents about the pros and cons of toy-free kindergarten and the ideal situation for the children in Indian scenario.

How important are toys?
Every kid has a toy that they believe is their best friend. They believe it communicates with them, and they imagine it being alive, their toy horse or car or whatever it is. Ankur Mehta, director, Pause N Learn says, “Toys and childhood are inseparable to me. Reflecting back to our childhood days, I remember very well that in our toys there existed our own dream world. The Barbie dolls, the small cars, the robots, or the simple kitchen set, the business game or the word game scrabble, Mario as the only video game option and many more.”

As a result the children may not be able to easily separate from their most cherished possession. Bela Kotwani, CEO and principal, Cosmikids International is of the view that, “Any kind of extreme decision rarely has a balanced outcome. We have always had some kinds of toys as part of growing up. Compared to the kind of toys we played as kids which had not much thought behind them, the toys these days are more child centric and learner focused. I am all for striking the right balance between the two concepts. The impact will be different for every child. However a broad generalisation would be that children may find innovative ways to spend their time. I personally feel that taking away toys from the children will take away color from their lives.”

Even Ayurvedic paediatrics which is the first among the medical sciences emphasised on these important aspects of the child’s development i.e. the need of playground (kreeda bhoomi) and toys (kreedanaka) which are child’s best friends. T Rajeshwari, a psychotherapist who specialises in nutrition and health and works as a therapist in Montessori schools, emphasises on the importance of toys and says, “The children will throw tantrums, and some may weep and search for something else. The toys are important in so many ways. They help a child to feel secure. Creative toys help develop thinking, creativity and work as an emotional outlet. Building toys helps in logic thinking, imagination and language development.”

A toyless environment leads children to see, feel and visualise things on their own

Learning lesson
What an adult may term as mere ‘passing time’ as a child plays with his toys is actually much more than that! Through toys and games, social skills (making new friends), patience (waiting for their turn to roll a dice); perseverance, focus and concentration can be easily inculcated in a child by allowing them to play! At a very young age the child develops qualities like compassion (to help a friend who is stuck at a level in the game), alertness and promptness (else they may lose a point) and ability to accept defeat (it completely ok to lose a game).

Dhara Mehta, founder, The Kids Company says, “While I was raising my son from an infant to a toddler, we spent a lot of time playing board games, puzzles and blocks and that’s when I realised the power of games and toys. A child can think, discover, create, explore, interact, and have fun all at the same time while playing games. Children can be taught the biggest lessons of life while they are playing games.”

Free play
Some experts are of the view that when we put a bunch of kids together in a room, on a ground or any space with or without toys, they will find ways to entertain themselves. They might prance around, run and catch, jump for no reason, or come up with a hopping game that other kids slowly get drawn into and participate in. Child development experts call these kinds of spontaneous, child-directed activities “free play.” Suman Roy, Mind body oriented psychotherapist, trainer and consultant, St Xaviers English High School and  Junior College, says “A toyless environment may lead children to have a higher learning capability as they will see, feel and visualise things on their own. Without any toys, children have the time to develop their own ideas. Because it will involve kids to spend more time outside with the nature, outdoor activities would help them to be mentally and physically healthier as they would gain more information and knowledge through the nature. This makes them grow more resourceful too. The kids learn to socialise amongst other things and take better care of their possessions.”

How we can make a balance?
In the Western societies the children are born and bought up in an environment where there is no strong family structure and children stay in crèches. Thus a serious intervention is required for which such experiments are being proposed and conducted time to time. In Indian context we can adopt both the models and this is more important as we can make them realise the importance of human interaction alongwith their cherished toys.  Dr Shashi Mehra, mother of two boys opines, “We are a culturally and emotionally knit society. Spending quality time with family, sharing moments of love and care, creating an environment of mutual growth, bridging the younger generation with the previous one is relatively easy for us to do.  Extremity is bad. Neither devoid them from lifeless toys, nor devoid them from life. Even when they are playing with toys if we can become their partners in learning, we can help them become better and stronger.”

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