Our children don’t play with toys

We’ve always been quite aware that our children do not play with toys. I think this is partly our fault, we engage with our children through practical activities and through materials that encourage learning and building connections rather than sitting down with them with ‘toys’. I have sometimes watched friend’s children playing with their toys and thought, “why doesn’t my child play like that?” But then I’ve taken a step back and realised their play is different, meaningful and important. In no way am I suggesting that other children who play with conventional toys are not experiencing deep, meaningful play but it is different.

Our children would rather create a world from blankets and pillows, fan fires made of shoes and socks and drive to South America on the sofa. They bypass the train tracks, the toy cars, the animals and dolls house in favour of bowls and spoons and mud and practical life experiences.

They do sometimes come back to the more conventional toys we have. Joseph, for example, has a big interest in farm machinery and excavators. He will sometimes ‘brum’ his digger around the floor, creating quarries and ditches in his imagination but this has only started relatively recently.

From babies, they have all been presented with treasure baskets to explore rather than brightly coloured, noisy or flashing toys.

These are baskets with a variety of objects that appeal to the senses and encourages problem solving and exploration from a very young age. Here Jude is pictured independently exploring his first treasure basket which consists of a wooden rattle, wooden beads on a string, wooden egg and egg cup, wooden shaky egg, wooden spoons of varying sizes, a blue play silk and wooden rings. The items will change to incorporate different objects, textures and materials as his interests move on. I set up a little area in the kitchen whilst cooking dinner the other day and gave him serving spoons and the whisk to explore which he enjoyed.

We have gradually moved to a more ‘loose parts’ play set up on our shelves. Loose parts is a theory devised by architect, Simon Nicholson in the 1970’s, who believed that creativity is the, “playing around with the components and variables of the world in order to make experiments and discover new things and form new concepts”.

Providing baskets of natural objects like shells, wooden blocks and pepples allows the child to be totally creative; designers, builders and destroyers of their own work. A toy that forces a child to play within the confines of it’s own restriction does not allow this freedom of creativity to flow.

This is why I’ve found the move towards this sort of play. Here are our shelves currently:

There are rainbow people (made by my Grandad and painted by me!), a basket of wooden strips, wooden coasters, bowl of shells, natural rainbow arc (Grandad again), wooden musical instruments, tangram puzzle and a basket of wooden pepples.

From those few bits this is what was created the other day:

Apparently it’s an elephant squirting shell water. Note: this was the people before they were painted! Joseph sat for a long time arranging, rearranging and balancing the items till he was pleased with his result.

These sorts of open ended objects is what is so appealing to us as parents and the personalities of our children.

I really believe that children don’t need toys to be happy and creative individuals. Doesn’t everyone always say their child preferred the box the toy came in rather than the toy itself?

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