The most important toys

Editor’s note: Holly Karlsen is the mother of two adventurous sons, advocate for early childhood education, the administrator at Next Generation Learning Center, and an adjunct professor at West Shore Community college. She will be a regular contributor to the Manistee News Advocate on the education page.

Kids can be innovative in the type of thing they make toys out of when playing. Sometimes something as simple as a box and pipe can spark their creativity and imagination.

Kids can be innovative in the type of thing they make toys out of when playing. Sometimes something as simple as a box and pipe can spark their creativity and imagination.

We’ve all watched it. It’s a holiday or birthday and the family gathers around to watch the little ones open gifts that have been purchased and wrapped with anticipation of seeing the face of the child as they open it. Wait. “Where are you going? The toy is over here, you don’t need that wrapping paper!”

Sometimes children prefer the simplicity of the material that was on the outside of the box, sometimes children prefer the box. Remember that story about how you pulled out all the pots and pans from your kitchen when you were a child? Children need toys that have endless opportunities and blank slates to develop and exercise their development, creativity and imagination.

As a child grows and matures they go through all different stages of play development. For example, a child around the age of one year has reached the phase of sensorimotor where babies will actively explore toys and other objects-first with their eyes (newborn) and then with their hands and mouth (infant). So, when you give them that expensive toy that they just aren’t sure what to do with, they toddle towards the shiny wrapping paper that is crinkling in their hands as they enjoy the sight and sound of the paper. The child will explore the paper by pulling it apart, or tearing into tiny little pieces and new shapes and dropping them on the ground and picking up the pieces again and again.

Children are curious and need the opportunity to exercise their creativity and imagination, and play with purpose. This type of symbolic play starts as early as eighteen months and follows children through life. This is where we can foster their play by giving “toys” that are open-ended and everyday objects found within the house that allow children exercise their minds and play with a purpose instead of a template.

Some examples of these open-ended toys include:

• Cardboard boxes (always a favorite with endless shapes and sizes hours of fun)

• Toilet paper rolls

• Baby wipe containers

• Plastic drinking cups

• Kitchen Tools such as a whisk

• Paper plates of different sizes, or real plates and kitchenware

• Measuring spoons and cups

• Cookie cutters

• Fabric scraps, buttons, yarn

• Sticks, pinecones, bark and leaves

• Puppets from old clothing

• Towels or sheets

It is important once you have these materials that children are able to play with them in the appropriate environment. Safety is always a priority, and depending on the age of the child some materials are better to start with than others. It’s always fun to take learning outdoors and play with kitchen tools in the mud, or build with blocks in the sand. Make a cape out of a sheet and run through the woods.

For those broken toys, have your little engineer can take them apart and, with help, rebuild a new toy or try and put it back together.

The way we think about the toys we buy for our children really reflects on what we want our children to accomplish. Toys have the ability to draw a child in, make them want to play for a while, try new things and explore a new concept. It’s fun to get new toys, and it’s fun to explore, create and wonder with everyday object “toys.”


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