We have all had a giggle at the child who is more interested in the box that the toy came in rather than the toy itself. I believe that children are sending us a loud and clear message by favouring that box over the toy. We can help to give our little ones a truly enriching play experience by following their lead and offering an interesting array of simple items and toys that can be anything they see in their imaginations eye.
Following are my five tips for encouraging open ended, creative play. These are ideas that can help to spark imagination that can develop into elaborate, creative fun of the childs own making.
(Note: Im offering a guide only and assuming that you will be aware of the types of toys, natural materials and other items that would be appropriate for the age, developmental level and safety of your child.)
1. Think outside the (toy) box.
Source materials that can be or do anything your child can imagine. Think sand, sticks, water, rocks, shells, ribbon, old sheets and rags, beads, paper, string, toilet rolls, there are endless options!
2. Offer a selection of open ended toys.
Only beware of overwhelming young children with too much œstuff. A small selection of good quality toys for creative play is all they need. Blocks, baby dolls, miniature dolls and dollhouses, cars and trucks, Lego, play dough, toy animals and kitchen equipment are all time tested winners. In my experience, old kitchen equipment is a clear favourite for imaginative play.
We have indoor kitchen things that are used for tea parties and feeding the dolls. We also have an outdoor space where they are free to dirty up their things with mud, water, sand, leaves, sticks and whatever else happens to show up in their œcooking! I personally favour second hand equipment for their durability over plastic toy sets. A fun trip to the op shop will provide you with some great old bowls, saucepans and spoons and youre set!
3. Set the scene.
Your children will be far more inclined to make use of their things if they are displayed nicely than if everything was shoved into a toy chest. A simple and beautiful display can be achieved for very little expense. I use an old childrens bookcase that has been around since I was a kid to display our open ended bits and pieces. Second hand baskets hold and organise blocks, beads, buttons, cars, string, wooden trees, animals, shells, rocks, lengths of fabric and pretend people. I know other mums who use colour coded plastic containers and others who make clever use of old strawberry punnets and cardboard boxes.
Ive found that an organised toy display leads to a significantly less painful packing up experience and it encourages children to respect their toys. You can keep it fun and interesting by rotating things according to your childs interest or the season. Maybe you could put away the shells and ocean animals until the summer and bring them out when youre spending a lot of time swimming or at the beach.
4. Allow time.
Set aside large chunks of unstructured time where you wont need to interrupt children unnecessarily. The gift of time without pressure allows children to really feel free in their play.
5. Keep your distance.
In my experience, the golden rule in creating a meaningful play experience is not to impose our ideas. Rather than suggesting what children œshould be doing with a certain toy or item, experiment with just being a bystander. Asking questions is a great way to get an insight into what theyre up to, but minimal intervention is an immeasurable gift to them.
Its such a thrill to see true innovation and creativity in your child. I have been impressed beyond words to see ideas from my children and their friends that I could never have dreamt up! When children are older and are playing in groups, the teamwork, adaptability and problem solving that is possible when we allow them the space is magic.
Happy play time!
Guest Post by Kylie of Raw Toys