What toys do I buy for baby?
– mother of a 4 month old in Mumbai.
When it comes to toys, I do believe that less is more and that one should strive for "nothing" as an ideal. It is, paradoxically, unattainable, as our world is full of things and we feel anxious, insecure, and incomplete with out "things." Anyway, what is "nothing?" We don’t even know really. But we can consider what is the good and harm that can come from toys.
Good – they are fun. Some toys endure for years, generations even. Which ones? This will vary from family to family, since what makes the toy fun tends to be less about the toy itself and more about the play that has been rubbed into it over the years. Low-feature toys that don’t have a set script as to what does with them are amenable to varieties of stories, structures, actions and imaginative play. Even a piece of cloth or powder dabba can become a treasured plaything.
Harm – It can happen that toys are are used as substitutes for time, space, interaction with people, and access to other "things" that the baby desires more, e.g. household objects, access to household space. Confining kids to a "play area" with "play things" when they really want to explore the pots and pans or distribute items from the shelf around the floor is not fair to them. (If you don’t want your baby or toddler to touch it, keep it out of reach. As Dr. Sears says, "Don’t Fence Me In.")
Human company can delight a baby again and again, for a long time. Toys, esp those that light up, make sounds, and "do things" will soon be cast aside. And then one gets a new toy, which is again interesting for a little while. Most toys are sold as "educational," but what one learns from this steady stream of toys is their disposability.
Yet what delight a sieve or set of katoris can bring! By the age of 1 my daughter was "helping" around the house – washing, drying, sorting, wiping, arranging, etc. To "help" was easily her strongest craving (while to "be helped" she took as an insult). It may be that what takes me 1 hour alone will take me 2 hours if she helps. But then I have to value that 2 hours not only for the work I set out to complete, but also for the work my child took up, which was just as important to her. Rather than create a separate space, separate attention, and separate activities / supplies for babies and kids, why not include them and allow for them in what you are doing and fit yourself into their time-space-worldview. You just may find that they reciprocate.