As the owner of a toy store, play group, and mother of four small people, there are few things I love in life more than buying toys. It’s not the actual transaction itself, but the other worlds that toys can open up, and the gift of these worlds, that I am giving my children.
I felt a similar excitement and satisfaction when browsing second-hand bookstores as a child, discovering classics and novels which I would devour and treasure. I’d discover new worlds, ideals, mysteries, heroes, villains, the same feeling emerging now when I’m teaching my children to read, knowing an entire universe is at their fingertips.
I have a similar emotion when I invest in toys for them. While some of the larger all singing, all dancing sets from my own childhood were enjoyed; the smaller, simpler things, like a set of Russian dolls are those that caught my imagination. I remember my most loved toys, (Polly Pocket Dream World and Magic Man) and the most disappointing toys (I’m looking at you Barbie Campervan). My childhood bedroom was constantly a ‘mess’ as I created Dino-Land, Cindy World and Pet Corner – worlds running simultaneously, stories intertwining.
I love to see the games my own kids invent with the toys and objects that most appeal to them, but there are so many toys in the world today that it can sometimes be overwhelming. I try my best to follow some simple rules, both when I curate my product range and when choosing my own children’s toy selection and supporting their play. How much fun they are is the top of my list, followed by how fair the price is, how durable they are supposed to be, and what a child can learn from this experience. For me, toys shouldn’t dictate how a child plays but encourage discovery and learning through playtime.
When our triplets were younger we decided to encourage toy rotation. The kids had a fixed toy box of randomly assorted goodies (Jack in a Box, Jacob’s Ladder, a tape measure, balls, stacking cups, cars, and baskets) and then we would give them a few afternoons of a wooden train set and then swap that for Duplo, puzzles, farm animals and dolls. Not only did it help keep things tidy (ish) and the kids entertained but it also stopped us all becoming overwhelmed by the need to have enough of each toy to go around all our kids at once.
As our children have grown older, rotation has become something for long winters or rainy days and we’ve swapped most toys with the exception of Paw Patrol, cars, Lego and dolls for open-ended wooden toys. We now find they spend hours creating new set-ups each day; tracks for their cars to race down, or islands for the Paw Patrol Pups to perform a rescue – and then a house to sit and play feed their babies. The possibilities truly are endless and the other side-benefit is our house is less cluttered and storage is no longer an issue. We don’t need every kind of toy in existence, we can use open ended pieces to build a play kitchen, and then use the Melissa and Doug Sandwich Set to run a café, or build a farm with our gluckskafer sets, using lanka kade as the animals in the field.
Open ended toys now provide the play rotation we sought but as dictated by our children’s imagination. Their creativity has flourished as they build camp sites, circus and whatever else they can imagine and it doesn’t hurt that they look beautiful in our home when in use or on display too.
I’ve found the rule for fostering imaginative play is to sit and watch my children – allowing play to be child led where I can then add value to whatever stories they tell and environments they create, encouraging each of them in taking turns to lead the adventure and tell the story. By observing and playing alongside them it’s easy to see where each child wants to go, how their play styles and objectives differ, how they overcome challenges and what they each need to take it to the next stage and where I can then add resources to enhance and extend their play.
As a family and small business, we are passionate about play and our children are hands-on in testing and trialling new ideas. Over the coming weeks we hope to share with you a few of our tried and tested activities – perfect for summer holiday play.
Holly Herring is a guest blogger for yololifestyle, owner of Adamontise Toyshop, creator of Imagination Station Playgroups and busy mum to 5 year old triplets, and their 4 year old sister. To find out more about different styles of play, for activity suggestions and other special offers, join their Facebook group.
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