IT is by no means a matter of indifference what toys are put into the hands of children, since their young minds receive permanent impressions from the objects with which they are surrounded in early years. We think a few hints, addressed to parents, on this subject, will not be out of place.
1. At the present day, when the dignity of labor is coming to be more and more acknowledged, and those sciences which touch the workshop are taking their place as the equals of the ?learned professions,? it is highly important that the perceptive and constructive faculties should be developed and trained in children; and that, as they grow up, both boys and girls should be taught some useful trade. On the latter point, we shall speak at some future time; we only mention it here because the topic we have chosen is so intimately connected with it. The indications afforded by children in their play are often the key to a knowledge of their natural genius.
2.What sort of toys, then, should be given to children? The answer to this question is not exclusive or dogmatic. It lies in the principle that children?s toys should be chosen with a view to the development of all their faculties, and especially of their observant faculties. We say especially, because the observant faculties are those which nature meant to blossom first, and she punishes the neglect of them in early life by the loss of them afterward. How many scholars and men of learning walk through the world blind to every thing around them! When they were young, they learned books, not nature; and now they are men of closet and shelf, not of street and field.
By far the larger class of toys are those which appeal only to the imagination. Children like to ?make believe? therefore, mamma buys little horses and carts, little cups and saucers, little chairs and tables, little dolls and doll-houses. These things are all well; but a child should not be confined entirely to them, since they stimulate but one part of the mind. Especially should the mistake be avoided of buying expensive, ready-made toy apparatus of this class, such as is imported from Europe, and giving it to children, who find in a few hours that there is nothing left for them to do but to admire that which has been done for them. The children of Nuremberg or the Black Forest, who make these elaborate toys, get all the good out of them; for they are educated to skill in their pretty handiwork. But the pampered city boy or girl who receives one of those marvelous complete sheepfolds, or baby-houses, or trains of cars, with passengers and conductor and baggage complete, and an engine which papa must wind up before it will go, can do little with it except to smash it; and this healthy instinct, we are glad to say, is generally followed. Children are popularly said to be destructive. So they are; but in many cases their destructiveness is famished and hungry constructiveness. Your boy would make a whistle if he had a chance; but you buy him a whistle, and he breaks it. Among the toys for the imagination, to which we have alluded, there are many which call into activity what might be called the practical application of imagination?ingenuity, inventiveness, etc. For girls, no dolls are so instructive, and amusing too, as paper dolls. When girls can sew, it is almost a wicked waste of their time to leave them sewing clothes for those great monstrosities of dolls which require as much labor and care as real babies, and are horribly ugly after all. But paper dolls give larger dividends of entertainment, beauty, and education, both in taste and dexterity, than any others.
Let us say just here, that we do not believe arbitrary distinctions should be made between boys and girls. Nature causes their tastes to diverge quite easily enough; and while they are unconscious of such a difference, it is unwise to force it upon them. For girls to engage in out-door sports, and for boys to find pleasure in quiet play, even with dolls, is beneficial to both. Besides, the only way to discover what may be the bent of any mind is to open all the avenues of activity to the child, and see into which it naturally enters.
Marbles, tops, kites, and all games of dexterity, especially when accompanied with healthy exercise, are admirable. But children should be allowed to assist at least in making their own kites and balls. Pinewood and a jack-knife are better than all manufactured toys put together; and even before the age when these may be employed, it is possible to begin to educate children in the direction of ?making things.
But still more important and easy is it to provide entertainment which trains the powers of observation. Lead-pencils and paper, slates and pencils, give pleasure to very young children, and should be furnished them freely. If a child scrawls on the leaves of books, the remedy is to provide it with plenty of fair white paper, or with a pretty blank-book, and to praise its free use of the pencil there. A small magnifying-glass is a wonderful pleasure to a child. Nor is it difficult to interest very young children in the various natural objects around them. The youngster who is painfully taught, at three years, the difference between A and B, should rather be learning how to distinguish an oak from an elm, or a cricket from a grasshopper. In those cases (unhappily rare, as yet, among us) where the parents themselves are familiar with nature and natural science, it is astonishing how rapidly the children imbibe the knowledge and the love of it.
Philosophical toys, so-called, are of no great benefit. Either they are quite incomprehensible to the young, or they demand reflection, without particularly stimulating observation. Their proper function is in the school-room.
To recapitulate in better order the hints thus given, we subjoin a list of toys which we would recommend as at once the most agreeable and the most profitable to children. The list is arranged in the order of advancing age, beginning with the time when the child is first able to play by itself. No account is made of gender; but it is evident that the articles mentioned are not equally appropriate to both genders. A proper choice should be made. Here is our catalogue: Soft ball, of bright color; blocks, not all of one size, but of various shapes and sizes, and with pictures; books containing pictures of animals, trees, and other familiar objects; a little toy cart, which can be loaded and unloaded, a pair of reins for ?playing horse ;? a rocking-horse; paper dolls; lead-pencils; slate and pencils ; a magnifying-glass; marbles and tops; nine-pins; mineral specimens, and other objects illustrating natural history. All these may be given before a child learns to read. As soon as possible, the all important jack-knife should be added, and, after that is done, the question of toys will take care of itself.
The prevailing evil at present is, that too many toys are given to children. A few well chosen ones. susceptible of varied use, are better than many costly but cumbrous and unfruitful contrivances. The children of the last generation, who grew up on one picture-book and a basketful of chips, got as much amusement, and more profit, than do the pampered little innocents of today.