Sheila and Jay are brand new parents- and they are in a quandary. “We want to give the best of everything to our baby… and that includes even the toys he plays with. But our doctor has warned us that many of the toys in the market can actually be harmful to the baby’s health. We are really confused as to what we should get,” said Sheila worriedly. Jay too was confused. “I know that early toys can have a long lasting effect on a child’s development,” he said, “Now I want to be certain that what I buy will not only delight my son but also stimulate his imagination and educate him in a fun way.”
Jay is right when he says that toys help a child learn about the world around them. This fact has been recognized by Ayurveda, the world’s oldest system of medicine. A child spends most of its time playing, eating and sleeping and Ayurveda has laid down guidelines as to what types of toys are best at different stages of a child’s development. These guidelines have stood the test of time, and are as valid today as they were 5000 years ago.
The Ideal Toys
One of the foremost Ayurvedic physicians in Kerala, which has been synonymous with Ayurveda since times immemorial, explained to Jay and Sheila that that according to this ancient science, toys should be introduced to the baby when he or she is about six months old. An auspicious day is fixed for a ceremony known as Samsakaara, and toys shaped like animals or birds are first given to the child. The toys can also be in the shape of everyday objects like a ball or a cup. These first toys are crafted from dough made of milk, cereals, ghee and honey. After the ceremony, the child can be given toys in different shapes made of natural materials like wood, cloth, gold, silver, bronze or copper.
Ayurveda also defines what the ideal qualities for toys are. The first quality is termed “Vichitra” which means they should be colourful and in different shapes and sizes. The second quality is “Koshayanta” which means that they should produce a pleasant sound, to stimulate curiosity. Yet another quality is “Ateekshnaagaara” referring to the fact that there should not be any sharp edges that can harm a child. Finally there is “Apraanahara””- the quality that ensures no harm is done in any way to the child. Toys should not be made of harmful materials, nor should they invoke fear or cause pain. They should be light, so that even the child drops it on itself, there will be no harm done.
Most children have a tendency to put toys in their mouth. Today, many of the brightly coloured toys available contain harmful amounts of lead paint. Long term exposure to lead can cause serious health problems to young children- and can even prove fatal. Concerned parents like Jay and Sheila should make it a point never to go in for cheap mass- produced toys. It is far better to give a child something simple to play with, to choose toys that encourage a child to think creatively and become more aware of the wonders of the world around us. This is Ayurveda’s message to Jay, Sheila and all new parents- and to anyone who wants to buy a toy for a precious child.