Playing With Toys & Your Kids

“Of course some fortunate parents are able to enjoy their children most of the time, even in adolescence.” (Spock, 1990)

I’ve always wondered what makes kids and adults do the things they do. What was their favorite toy growing up? What instinctively told them what to do in any given situation, and does a toy influence the outcome of life? I am a toy designer/teacher, and here are some snippets of information I have collected and discovered over the years to better help you understand, as well as ideas for how to play with, toys and your kids.

Why do We Grow Up?

Why do we sometimes stop playing, learning, and experiencing new things as we reach adulthood? The background stems from childhood where creativity and play were the only things to do in a day—all through imagination, teaching, and creativity. Toys were/are a form of education for me. I believe that creativity is a part of our collective intelligence. Picasso liked to have toys throughout his studio in order to seek inspiration from them. Other less distinguished, but equally restless, adults find solace in a variety of toys, to soothe the nimble finger, or to occupy the darting mind. After all, if toys play an important part in our childhood fantasies, may we not suppose that toys can play an equally important part in our adult lives? Perhaps the father who plays for hours with his son’s toys is exercising an important therapy. Think of toys as emotional, mental, and sometimes physical therapy. You use your imagination, skills, and creativity, interact with people, and listen and grow with toys. Play with your kids, it will help you in so many ways.

“The little world of childhood, with its familiar surroundings, is a model of a greater world.” (Carl Jung)

Some adults become so involved in the delicate creative world of toy making that they bring to it a talent for creation from the normal spheres of their life. This shows the enormous and immense hold the world of toys can have over the imaginations and talents of people engaged in other occupations. Toys can be a great learning or rejuvenating experience. You can begin to see a side of life not typically seen. You begin to become competitive again, create and have a renewed sense of humor, and begin to better understand your children. Because there is no racial bias, people react and interact together and learn together because toys are a way to hide or amplify what we really are. This explains the high curiosity and imagination with unusually high logic, and why some people are just not children any more. What playing enables a person to do is to have a sense of psychological and philosophical views combined with education, which helps us use our creativity as well as our imagination. Play with your kids, go shopping with them, and discover new things about toys and learning with them.

There are three stages of both growth and life. The first stage is learning, relating, and familiarizing. The second is using and creating. The third is analysis and knowledge. They may have a little retrograde, then the cycle repeats itself. I believe as we get older our bodies both physically and mentally begin to reverse. As you get older, you have experienced a lot as a whole and will return to the points that were the most creative or where the most learning originated. Whether at school or playing, both are a learning experience. As people get older, or as the child matures, society and the environment play a greater role. Toys of childhood are replaced with their collected objects of time, where they are used as an object of security. As one cannot fit the mold of society with the maturity of a child, people become stagnant and replace toys with other items. Only when we see other adults playing with toys is it all right to join in.

Invent new ways to play with toys and games. Think differently, role-play, and experiment with all kinds of toys. Even if you don’t have kids, toys are a way of discovering who you are and may want to be. Go ahead and play, you will feel and look younger, but best of all, you will have a big smile on your face.

Toys That Grow With Kids

Why do we have to grow up and stop playing, learning and experiencing with toys as we grow older? Is it because toys serve a certain purpose, and then we out grow them? We all remember our favorite Barbie, action figure, Hot Wheels car and game. There are intrinsic things we all learn from toys at certain ages, and then we move on to another toy for our next stage of development. Toys are a form of education. Toys teach and affect us as we grow up. I played with a lot of toys as a kid, and still play with them with my kids; it is all about imagination, creativity and what children can create as they play with them. Can toys grow with us, and keep the “Playability” factor?

Toys as Life’s Starter Kits
Children are like little scientists: full of curiosity, confidence, wonder and ignorance. For them, toys are a way to learn, grow and experience life. Toys are a“starter kit for life” – models for a bigger world, that show and teach children how to draw, drive, build, act and create. Toys may be likened to three-dimensional books for the mind and body – to learn from and experiment with, while encouraging self-motivation and curiosity and providing a way to let kids be what they want to be. Thus, when designing and inventing toys, the designer should consider how that toy can evolve and grow with the child and be played with by children in multiple age groups. A designer should ask himself or herself, “What, When, Where, Who, Why and How do children play with toys?” Toy retailers should apply the same questions when evaluating new toys for their stores.

Toys of Today are Changing
Technology, the Internet and today’s fast paced lifestyles have given children the need for more sophisticated toys that really challenge their imaginations, skills and knowledge. Many new types of materials, use of recycled materials and better technology make toys even more special today, easier to make and safer as well.
Because, interactive play with its immersive role playing is one of the keys to learning and social evolution, one approach to designing and developing a new toy is to look to the past. Look beyond the nostalgia for those toys and take those basic play patterns – how children of different ages and developmental levels played with them – and combine those elements with today’s technology and the learning needs of today’s child. The outcome may result in something great at the end that is not only a good seller, but also a great learning and entertaining toy that is adaptable so that it will continue to engage a child as he or she grows. In the meantime, don’t forget to take time to play. It’s the secret of youth!

Toys of Today vs Toys of Yesterday

Toys of Today The toys of today are changing. The economy, technology and the internet, as well as people’s lives, have a great influence over toys. As a working Dad, I know this every day. Technology, the internet and today’s fast paced lifestyles has given us the need for more sophisticated toys that really challenge our kids’ imaginations, skills and knowledge. Toys have become more than just a fun thing to pass the time, but a way to learn, grow and experience life with a good, creative, fun, affordable and reliable toy. In the past, a toy would take up to two years to take to market. Now, toys are conceived, designed, manufactured and distributed within six months.

Today’s toys have changed in many ways such as safety, style, play value, manufacturing, retail distribution, cost, as well as brand awareness. The toy companies think like kids, adults, and educators. Toys of the present will soon be toys of the past. What kids can learn from the toys of today is to “learn as they play” and to take that combination into the future with them.

I often observe children playing in schoolyards, playgrounds and classrooms, and spend time at toy stores, take trips to museums, art galleries, hobby shows, antique shops and libraries. My children find that skills are learned and creativity is experienced. The toys of the present day rely on all sorts of play patterns from fantasy, language, motor-skills, thinking, perceiving and creating.

Toys of Yesterday Wouldn’t it be great to start out old and grow younger as we age? How do we compare the toys of yesterday to those of today? It is a matter of generational thinking, as well as the needs and wants of children. Not so long ago toys were simple, well built and served a purpose—then you would put them away. What we can learn from the toys of the past is play patterns and how to “learn as we play,” and to take that combination into the future. We all remember our favorite Barbie, Hot Wheels car, and board game to this day. The history of toys is made up of all sorts of contrasts and lies somewhere between the needs of the child, the interest of the historian, the desire of the collector, and last but not least, the involvement of the adult in his childhood, the magic world from which he can not bear to be excluded forever by the mere act of growing up. I know this all too well being a Dad of a 8 year and a 6 year old.

Toys of the Future The future of toys is pressing towards the combination of the past, present and future with generational thinking, philosophy and psychology. Basically all the aspects of life to teach a child what they will need later on. The technology of toys is increasing, as well as the needs and demands of the world. The character of a toy with its functions and mechanics gives the utmost variety to creativity, as well as the imagination of the child. It will teach children to be themselves and to unlock their own special ways of uniqueness, to teach them ways of manipulation and production of a theater of life, to show them options and possible solutions to problems. Are the toys of the past of actuality? Are the toys of the present of fantasy, and will the toys of the future be both? We will soon see.

Combing the past, present and future of toys with the needs and wants of children is key. Since infancy, my children have played with many different toys. They are an essential form of education for them. My children have separate needs and wants, they want to learn how to solve problems on their own, and need to. The nature of toys is compounded with pleasure, fantasy and imitation. Toys are a“starter kit for life” and learning to face what is ahead of them in life. Ask yourselfWhat, When, Where, Who, Why and How children play with toys. Who chooses the toys your children play with? Is it genetic, philosophical, psychological or the past, present and future aspects that chooses the toy? Creativity in play is a form of intelligence for children.

Ten features of a “Good Toy” that have stayed with us over the years.
Fun to use
Interesting to the child
Is safe and durable
Stimulates creativity and imagination
Encourages inquisitiveness and resourcefulness
Is a tool for learning
Is challenging yet not frustrating
Invites repeated use
Involves child interaction
Addresses developing needs

For more useful insights and advice, check out my book KID Toyology: An Understanding of Why Toys are, and how they Effect Us as We Grow (e-Book & Paperback)

By Peter A. Wachtel

★Chief Creative KID @KIDToyology® (designer+inventor+teacher+writer=creator)