Here come the gifts! The piles and piles of toys! Be grateful, right? Be happy for how fortunate we are to be given all these things. But why do we have all these things and no one uses ANYTHING??
When my big kids were toddlers, I remember feeling unsettled about the onslaught of toys around the holidays and birthdays. Well meaning friends and relatives would generously gift the children with expensive toys that were meant to make us all happy. But instead, I felt overwhelmed by the clutter and the children never seemed to use the toys after the initial excitement wore off. I felt guilty putting them in the closet or (gulp) donating toys that were just given to us. As an Early Childhood Educator, I knew that a good set of blocks, some sturdy art supplies, books and perhaps a few dolls and trucks could keep my children playing for hours. Despite the piles of plastic purses, fireman towers, and beeping, flashing balls, my kids returned again and again to their blocks, books and crayons. The less they had, the more they played. When our playroom was filled with overflowing piles of toys, it just didn't happen.
Why won't children play when they have all these toys? Think about walking into a huge grocery store. You are hungry. You need to make dinner. You want to eat. Your family will want to eat. And here you are. Easy, right? Wrong. So wrong. You are overwhelmed. It's loud in there and the lights are so bright! Sale specials are constantly blaring over the loud speaker. You toss chips in your cart. A head of broccoli. Hamburgers are on sale, you should get those. Oh wait, you need milk! Can you see where this is going? You end up in the long check out line with a full cart of random stuff and nothing for dinner. You are still hungry. Wallet empty. Tired. Probably a bit cranky. I imagine that this is how it feels to be a child walking into a messy playroom, full of loud, cluttered toys. They want to play. They NEED to play, but it is too overwhelming.
Now, imagine yourself walking into a well organized, small grocery store. There are limited choices. Someone who knows you well has placed the basic ingredients that you need to feed yourself and your family. You place a few delicious objects in your cart. You can relax, and be productive.
Now imagine your child walking into a play space that has only a few well chosen materials to work with. The materials are open-ended, meaning that they can become whatever your child imagines. There is clear space to play. They know exactly where to find what they need. Now imagine hours of peaceful, uninterrupted PLAY.
I have three children. They are nine, seven and almost four. They have very different interests and personalities. But ALL of our materials are open-endeded. Every material in our playroom can become anything. Our blocks are the probably the most important thing in our small playroom. My nine year old builds huge intricate marble runs and towers that would impress an architect. I swear he can defy gravity. My Seven year old builds as well. She makes homes for little critters. if you remove the roof, you can look in and see rooms deep inside. There are little beds that are cozy with colored bits of wool and fabric scraps for blankets. Her own mini art works hang on the wall. She uses her finger knittings to hang hammocks off the outside of the abode. My littlest uses the blocks constantly. She doesn't "build" with them, really. But boy can she play with them! She sets up little enclosures for her dolls, she pushes critters around on a "bus" and sends them off to school. She processes her own life experiences, by transforming the blocks into whatever she needs in order to set the tone for her play. For me, that is the key; open ended materials that can transform into whatever your child needs to set the tone for his or her play. My best advice to you is to keep it limited. Keep it simple. Keep it open-ended.
Here is a list of my top five open-ended materials in our playroom right now.
People and Animals
What works for your family in your playroom? Do you have any great ideas or materials that you love? Let me know! Thanks for reading along, Lizzie
*This post is not sponsored in any way.