This time of year gets children and families thinking a lot about toys. All are in search of that elusive item that will guarantee joy and hours and hours of fun. In a recent edition of the ExchangeEveryDay, they summarized an article from (how is that for a convoluted intro?) that provides an interesting perspective on this topic. In this article, the author recommends five toys that should be part of every child’s early experiences.

What do you think they are? The five essential elements to fun and adventure are;

  • Stick
  • Box
  • String
  • Cardboard Tube
  • Dirt

While at first glance, this list may seem surprising, when you think about these items from the point of view of a child, they make a lot of sense. So much sense, in fact, two of the five items listed are in the Toy Hall of Fame. Can you guess which two?

We know that children are active learners and explorers, and these devices all hit the sweet spot when measured by the HOMES scale of Active Learning (detailed in my book).

They are hands-on: all of these items compel children to dig their hands in and manipulate them to create and experience adventures of their own making.

These materials are open-ended: a stick can be a sword, a box can be a boat, and a dirt can be the fine base for the finest mud pie ever concocted. Each of the items can be used in myriad ways; only limited by a child’s imagination.

The listed items are meaningful: no one needs to teach children how to use these materials. They will connect them to their own experiences and use them differently depending on their understanding and their developmental level.

They are engaging: children use their brains to figure out how to use the materials in new and interesting ways.

And, they are sensory-oriented: all of children’s senses are stimulated as they explore these toys.

In case you are not keeping score at home, that is five for five. Along with having the preceding points in common, there are two other powerful commonalities in the five toys listed; they do not cost a thing and they are timeless. Children since the dawn of time have enjoyed poking thigs with sticks, finding safe spaces in containers, creating with string, looking at the world through a carboard tube, and digging in the dirt. No worries about the items being thrown in a closet; forgotten two weeks after being gifted.

What were the most memorable playthings from your childhood? I would bet that at least a few of them were free or very low-cost. And, probably all of them rate at least a three on the HOMES scale. The same is true for most of the toys that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame – check them out and see if your favorite made the list.

Toy Hall of Fame –

Too often, we think that we need to spend a bunch of money to make children happy; or to give them a strong educational foundation. What this list tells us is that those beliefs are not necessarily true. Children are natural learners, and they will construct knowledge about the world when we give them the space and time to do so. And, instead of filling those spaces and minutes with expensive toys or intricate devices, consider filling it with the items from this list. And, the best part – no assembly required.

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What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:

Facebook: Teacher as Gardener

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My book, Uncover The Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing or Amazon

Interested in hearing more? Consider bringing me in as a speaker for your next Professional Development event (you won’t regret it).

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