Playful Parenting Tip #2 - Toys

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In December, I wrote about how unstructured play makes kids happy.   Each Tuesday in the next two months, I will be sharing how I encourage unstructured play in our home.  This week's playful parenting tip is to provide toys that encourage imaginative play. 

Like most moms, I have read a lot of books, blogs, and parenting magazines that provide differing perspectives on toys.  There are families that don't allow plastic toys in the home.  Other families try to make many of their own toys.  Some families love Disney and buy a lot of their toys for play.   Parents may prefer that their children play with gender appropriate toys.  Some people favor certain toy brands.  Others may try to acquire toys to match a certain design aesthetic or color scheme.  

This discussion about toys will be sharing general ideas that can fit a range of families with differing opinions and backgrounds.   Using car speak, the make, model, year, or color isn't the most important thing about a toy . To support the practice of unstructured, imaginative play, caregivers need to provide a range of toys that allow children to create a story.  The stories can be role playing stories of real life like pretending to be Mommy or going on an airplane.  Stories in imaginative play can also be fantasy like fighting dragons or going on adventures in space.  I am sharing toys that work in our house to help our daughter with imaginative play.  

Characters are important to stories.  Dolls, stuffed animals, and/or figurines help children create characters.  My daughter enjoys playing with stuffed animals more than dolls, and we provide more animals than dolls.  Provide toys that fit your child's preference.  If your child loves cars more than anything, those can be made into characters too. At times, children like to pretend they are the characters in a story.  Dress up clothes, fabrics, or accessories can help children get into character.  We have dresses, Halloween costumes, tutus, bags, and costume jewelry in our dress up bin.  

Allow for a setting to develop.  Toys that encourage children to construct can help children create settings in their play.  We use blocks in our house to create settings.  We have traditional wooden blocks, Keva Planks, and Tykes Large Waffle blocks.  Doll houses can provide for settings, but our doll house is called a cat house by our daughter since it houses her miniature cat family.  

In stories, there is a sequence of events.  As the story progresses, the characters sometimes need to literally move along.  Toys that move and carry allow children to make changes in the setting and the story line.  In our house, a doll carriage and large vehicles that hold toys are favorites in imaginative play.  

Toys can serve as props in imaginative play, but I find there is not one specific type of toy Miss E utilizes for this purpose.  For props she uses toys such as play phones, toy food, bags, or musical instruments.  I find that random items destined for the trash serve this purpose just as well for her imaginative play.  

It's these types of simple toys that keep our daughter entertained creating stories with her toys.  By setting the stage for story telling while playing, she creates plots, conflicts, and works out solutions - all fundamentals to writing.  These aren't the only types of toys in our house, but these are the ones that support her the most with unstructured, imaginative play. 

Toys from nature and junk are also instrumental to imaginative play, and I will be discussing them next Tuesday for the Playful Parenting Tip series.   

I have not been paid by any toy company or other enterprise for this article, and all of these opinions are based on my own opinion and not influenced by monetary gain.  


maryanne @ mama smiles said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

My kids love to play with little figurines and their blocks. One thing I've learned, is that kids can create much richer play scenes if I don't worry about their mixing toys together or cleaning up one toy before getting out another. Makes for a messier house, but also a much more creative one!

Rebekah said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Maryanne - I had never realized that caregivers didn't allow kids to mix different toys together until I had my daughter stay at our gym daycare. They have a rule that you have to clean up one toy before taking out another. I understand it in a setting with a lot of kids, but it does diminish the creative process. Glad to hear that you are relaxed about a messy house. I do have a future post in this series about keeping toys organized, so I think it is possible to not always have a messy house once they are finished playing for the day.

De tout et de rien: Activités pour le Préscolaire said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I am glad that at my son's preschool ( in a public place) that they allowed the unstructured play. They were all mixed and they had to clean everything all together at the end (the were approx. 22 kids). I am looking forward to read your posts about organizing the toys :)

critters and crayons said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Yes- the cleaning up of one activity before beginning another is an aspect of our child's Montessori classroom. Her learning environment there is highly structured but the activities require some creative and unorthodox approaches to tackle. When she comes home, it's unstructured play party time. I like that balance. Hands-on, innovative learning for a few hours in the morning, and wanton childlike play abandon all night. Great post- Really looking forward to the nature toys. Nature is our favorite play room... :)

PlayDrMom said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Have a variety of different types of toys ... including non-desript toys that can be anything ... is essential for unstructured play. I have a few different posts, including just a general lists of toys and age-appropriate toys on my blog PlayDrMom.
Great post ... looking forward to reading more in the series.

Rebekah said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

De tout et de rien - Yes, it's great when school encourage unstructured play!

C&C - Yes, my daughter's montessori school is like that too, and I love that they teach that responsibility to the children to clean up. Schools need to accomplish different goals and I am understanding of the need for more order with the materials. One reason I am glad that Miss E only attends half day is that that she has lots of time at at home for play. Your house sounds like our's. =) Well, we don't exactly make toys from nature bc I'm just not THAT crafty ;), but we do use things from nature to help our play along.

PlayDrMom - Thank you! Completely agree with you that children need non descript toys available too. Next week I talk about that with my article about junk and nature in play.

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