Play needs to be constructive and healthy for children. ‘Monster’ toys like battery operated toys, computer games are not toys as they lead to many socio-emotional and cognitive problems. So then what kind of toys should teachers select to enhance the play experience kids?
The Te Whariki curriculum framework for the early years, a New Zealand government framework is one of my favorite. I have been inspired by it and have designed the following criteria based on it to help teachers select the right toys and play material for early childhood classrooms. I call them the 9 Navratna’s of toy selection-
1. Empowerment- toys should make children independent rather than dependent, so avoid battery operated toys.
2. Holistic development- try choosing toys that develop more than one skill.
3. Family and community- it is seen that the level of children's play rises when adults join in the play with them. However, a word of caution- "joining in" should not be about controlling the play because controlling creates stress and will not lead to any cognitive development. Choose toys that are like group projects
4. Relationships- toys such as role play kits are good for dramatic play. When children follow the rules of make-believe and push one another to follow those rules, they develop important habits of self control.
5. Well being- toys should make children feel safe. Any kind of games of play that bring about fear or anxiety would not be good for the well being of the child.
6. Belonging- toys must belong to the child, let him put them away, let him decide and let him take care. Toys that always need adult supervision while playing will not inculcate a sense of belonging in the child.
7. Contribution- the child should be able to contribute in the play or in the use of the toy, toys that work on their own will breed boredom that leads to frustration and violence.
8. Communication- language development is one of the important skills developed through play and toys ensure that correct toys are selected to enhance this.
9. Exploration- allow children the chance to explore the entire toy, do not interfere or lead the game. A sense of exploration and excitement, is an integral part of all learning and play
With brain research facts available to teachers today, it is important that teachers make the right choice of turning their classrooms into learning and nurturing spaces and not drilling and coping spaces. When enough people raise ‘Play’ to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a smarter place for kids.