Toys are a joyful addition to any household containing children. It has become one of my favourite pastimes, since my first child was born two years ago, to browse through toy shops both online and in person, scouring for the next toy that will enrich my, now two, kids’ lives. Subsequently, we now have an obscene amount of toys that I am desperately trying to get rid of. But as I go through the process of sorting these toys into keep/ sell/ giveaway piles, I find myself reflecting on my toy buying journey.
In my early parenting days I was drawn towards toys that lit up, buzzed, talked or spun around at just a push of a button. I mean, what child does not get a thrill out of initiating such an immediate cause- effect scenario. The flashing lights draw them in and the sound keeps them enthralled enough to continue pressing the button over and over. Many toys even sing or teach things like colours, numbers or the alphabet at just a push of a button. This seemed genius at first look – being exposed to early learning in this way can only be beneficial, right?
I’ve since realised that whilst these toys sure do capture the attention of children, these types of toys may not always be the best for encouraging some of life’s most fundamental skills such as problem solving and persistence, nor do they allow room for a child’s imagination to blossom or their creativity to grow. In fact, I have found that my first child, who was exposed to many more of these push button, light up toys than my second child, has a much lower attention span and whilst highly intelligent with phenomenal recollection, her ability to persevere with a task and problem solve does not seem as developed as my younger child. She doesn’t seem to have the same investigative skills as her younger sister who was given significantly more open ended toys to play with.
After being guided by RIE teacher and expert, Janet Lansbury, I was led down an exciting new path of using open ended toys for the girls. Traci McGrath from Simplicty Parenting describes Open ended toys as “toys not locked into any one role (i.e., “dinosaur” or “police car”), rather, they can become many different things. Open-ended toys allow the child’s imagination to take their play in any direction they dream up.” Our favourite open ended toys that are repeatedly used include:
Blocks: Kids have been playing with blocks since the dark ages and will continue to play with them until the cows come home. It’s funny though because my children don’t use blocks to build structures, that just doesn’t seem to be their thing, rather, Lucy (2) will stack a couple together and then hand them around to Mum, Dad, sister and teddys as pieces of cake. Penny (nearly 1) explores the textures in her mouth and then crawls around the house with a block in hand sliding it along the floor like you would push a toy car. So straight away, it is clear that imagination is being fostered.
Cardboard boxes: It is always exciting when a new boxed item arrives at the house. The kids are never interested in what’s inside – that’s for Mum and Dad- they just want the box. Lucy takes her dolls and teddys into the box for a picnic whilst Penny crawls in and out marvelling in the change in sounds and light. Both girls also love opening and closing the door and playing peek a boo or knock knock with each other. More recently Lucy has started climbing on top of the box and sliding down it as it collapses on the open ended side.
Scrap material: You can get material in so many wonderful patterns and textures these days and my girls love getting into my material box, pulling out a piece (or 10) and using them in so many different ways. Lucy will wrap her dolls or teddys in a piece or use a bit as a picnic rug or run watching it as it trails behind her in the wind. Penny’s favourite thing is to put a piece over her head and then pull it down suddenly for peek a boo or she likes slinging it over her shoulder as she stands at the couch and then watching it as it falls into a heap when she drops it on the floor before picking it up and repeating over and over.
Sewn material squares: For those of you who dabble in sewing, this is a relatively new one for us and I am just seeing the imagination set in for these. Kate from An Everyday Story has a link to show how to make them. Just recently, Lucy has started using them as sandwich fillers. She has the bread, the lettuce, the tomato and so on. She puts it all together and then feeds anyone within cooee. Penny loves rubbing them between her fingers before stuffing them back in their little bag and pulling them out again to repeat. She also loves crawling around the floor with them similar to the blocks ( should give her a scrubbing brush next – haha!).
Kitchenware: My Children love to explore my kitchen cupboards. I have the unsafe ones safely locked up and allow the girls access to the non-breakable items. Often, I will simply give them a stainless steel colander and a spoon or a cup and let their imaginations go wild. As Penny mouths the cool texture of the steel and then places the cup in and out of the colander, Lucy will wear the colander as a hat or stick the spoon handle through the holes. There are so many wonderful ways a child can play with kitchenware. If more parents realised this, toy stores would go broke!!
Simple open-ended toys like these will actively spark children’s imaginations and allow for more engaging playtime and for those of you who would like more inspiration for open ended toys, Kate from An Everyday Story has a lovely blog showcasing her wonderful Reggio and Montessori inspired play room.
So whilst my children argue against my selection of toys to go on the ‘leaving’ pile, I am happy in the knowledge that the toys which remain will form the foundation for them developing higher order thinking skills, imagination and creativity as they mature.