Ask any child and they’ll confirm what we all know to be true until the end of time: classroom learning will always lose to the appeal of playtime. It’s only natural — after all, what kid doesn’t love toys? Toys are fun; they’re engaging and they’re entertaining. But they also serve a higher purpose.
Toys, more specifically open-ended toys, are essential tools for facilitating the kind of play that heavily influences childhood development. These moments of whimsical, creative, open play allow children to develop critical problem-solving skills and fully engage their imagination. When children are the directors of their own playtime, they make their own rules and practice both their leadership and decision-making skills. Without rigid instruction, children are free to try new things without the fear of doing something “wrong,” becoming more confident in the process. That’s the beauty of open-ended toys: the more ways a child can play with a toy, the more opportunities they have to learn.
Open-ended toys are those that don’t have a “right” way to be played with. They’re the toys whose use is determined by the child, the level of imagination, the audience, or even the time of day. For those of us who were born before everyone had a cellphone, these made up the majority of the toy chest save a few board games. That was then.
Today, things are a little different. We face the challenge, in our hyper-connected and tech-forward world, of getting kids to “switch off” and divert their attention to the simpler toys. It’s a question we get often: how do I get my child to be more interested in their “low-tech” toys? You get creative.
Join in on the playtime
Moms and dads (and babysitters, and grandparents, and educators) it’s time to get on the floor! Set the example and create scenarios that will engage children in a make-believe situation. Remember, the child should have the creative freedom to dictate how the play will go (within reason, of course) but by being a part of it you’re helping create the habit of playing with toys that don’t require a charge.
Make it easy
A child’s attention span can be fleeting, but it also can be easily piqued! Consider “setting up” a scene for open-ended play with a set of toys. Some carefully-arranged cardboard boxes, a few action figures, and some blocks can easily be turned into a cityscape just waiting to be brought to life with a little bit of imagination.
To the earlier point about attention spans, having a sea of toys out on display (or a single charged tablet) can easily cause “shiny object syndrome” to dominate playtime. Children, like adults, function better in clean spaces that allow them to focus on one play activity at a time, resulting in higher creative output.
Play to their interests
What excites your children? How about your family? Do you often go to museums together or can you most often be found spending quality family time at a local sporting event? It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re struggling to get kids to switch their playing habits, it helps immensely that they’re presented with toys that tie back into their hobbies and interest. Psst.. if you’ve got sports fans running around, we have it on good authority that they’ll love a set of sports action figures.