Oh so many things to play with!

_DSD0885In our last post we talked about open-ended toys. About what they (don’t) do and what they facilitate. Many of you have then asked what exactly those toys could be for certain age groups. A while back we had a post about what our boys loved to play with when they were babies. So we thought we’d now share a short list of toys for kids from 6 months up, mainly focusing on the fact that the children are mobile, crawling and walking, and therefore able to follow the toys around.

The age span is huge, so first and foremost make sure that the toy is safe for the age you are interested in – for example, if it’s a child just over 6 months they are still learning the world by putting objects in their mouth, so anything made of paper or too small might not be a good idea.

The main thing is that once they are safe to use, they stay with the child for… well, we’re not sure for how long. For ever perhaps? We still have all the stuff our boys used when they were tiny – except now they are getting a new life in pretend and fantasy play!

Since we look at play as ‘the highest form of research’ (Einstein) as well as an innate urge, we give ideas what schemas a child might be working on using these objects. You will surely notice how many areas of development they engage, and that these ‘toys’ tend to provide play experience for all senses. The list here is intended as a collection of ideas ☺ and it is not exhaustive – so if you have more please share with us!

All the stuff you probably have lying around 

triple frame_Anto & kocyk

Pieces of fabric, scarves etc.
Make sure that the size is safe, and these can provide a long list of fun things to do – carrying them around, carrying things in them, covering your face, or something else (enveloping schema). Later on they are very flexible in pretend play – in our house they have become lakes, rivers, parking lots…

Boxes / Containers/ Tupperware/ Baskets
Cardboard boxes rule the world in this department, but there are others as well – any container that is safe is good for it. Surely you have them lying around, after all so much food these days comes in containers of some kind. It doesn’t matter big or small. If only a small bottle cap fits in it or if the child itself can hide inside. This is about sensory processing “What fits in where”(containing schema). Big and small. Filling and emptying. But most importantly: endless fun.

Can be carried around like Mom and Dad do when they go to work or shopping. They can be filled with exciting stuff. Then emptied. They can be worn (on your head?) (transporting schema; containing schema). They can… BE A LOT !

Things you might be inclined to throw away… but don’t!

_DSD0857Bottle caps; Lids…
… can be little people. Boats. Cars. Money. Food. Tiny cups. Or imaginary objects our adult imagination wouldn’t ever think about. The can be lined up, counted, used to build towers…With safe plastic bottles you can leave the caps on and the children can screw and unscrew. Open and close. Fill and empty. Drink and serve. (containing schema; rotating schema)

Toilet paper/ kitchen roll tubes
Don’t throw these out ☺ You can collect them and have a box ready for pretend play, for building, for artsy activities. For looking through. For taping on the wall and weaving ribbons through them, or dropping beads or chestnuts and checking how loudly they fall out onto the floor.

Odd socks, old hats
Pretend play. Fantasy play. Clothes for teddies and dolls. Good for putting other things into.

Empty tissue boxes
Ahh, again the joy of putting into and taing out of can be explored endlessly with these.

Oh the stuff your kitchen is full of:

Wooden spoons;



Pots and pans, of course!

What nature provides us with:

Chestnuts, acorns
For collecting, piling, counting, lining up. For cooking and throwing. To give them names and play house.

Where do we begin? If your kid is a stick-person, I don’t think we need to say anything more here…

You can have your very own sandbox in a small box! Ute Strub, a physiotherapist who collaborates closely with the Pikler Institute in Budapest uses sand for incredibly creative sensory play. She provides all kinds of kitchen utensils (spoons, sieves, colanders etc.) and sand in boxes and baskets – not only kids have fun, believe us!

A lovely post about nature’s toys can be found here.


IMG_3169Balls of all sizes. Many of those. In fact – at this stage you might want to have A LOT of everything. We humans are collectors by nature. We like to gather a nice amount of things around us. So children do that too.
We gave our son a basket of 144 ping pong balls for his birthday. Can you imagine the sound they make when being emptied onto a wooden or stone floor? Ping ping ping… He loved the feeling of digging into the basked with his whole arms. Then from the very bottom shoveling them all out. Throwing them around. And even putting them into his mouth and trying to spit them as far as possible. Oh the fun! (Nadine)

(Stacking) Cups
They make towers. The fit into each other. They can be filled with other toys. They can be _DSD1049hats. They can be…

Well we had a whole post about cars and what they allow. Our boys are now 3,5 years old. Cars are still the favourites.

Pull along toys
No matter if it is a duck or a truck – when before a child can walk he will be busy pushing everything that isn’t screwed to the floor, he will then be happy to have something to drag along once he can walk freely.

None of these examples have a label like “fine motor skills“, “hand-eye-coordination“, “language developments“ etc. Because they all encourage those skills without being made for one or the other. They simply are. And with every child they become something new. They open a whole new world every day.

What are your child’s favourite open-ended toys? How does he play with them? Tell us your play story, or maybe send us a photo of your child playing with his favourites!

Our thoughts on open-ended toys…

open ended1Once again the topic of play and play objects has been coming up a lot in our conversations. Both of us have little boys around 3, and little girls, who are in their first year of this big adventure called life (and in case you want to ask – no, we did not plan this!). Once again we are reliving the first moments and observing the first discoveries our little girls make daily. As our daughters are slowly becoming more and more interested in the world around them (and inevitably also their brothers’ cars!!!), we are again wondering about toys, or rather as Magda Gerber called them ‘play objects’, that are suitable for our little people.

We believe in Free Play. Observing our kids every day, we have grown to believe that self-initiated, self-paced and child-led activities is what children ‘need to do, to learn and to grow’. So how do we make sure their environment encourages this kind of play?

More and more research hints at simple, open-ended objects as ones that are most likely to be used continuously, over and over, and stimulate the imagination of children regardless of the age. Since we repeatedly have conversations about play and toys with friends and strangers (believe it or not), we noticed this question comes up a lot: But what exactly are open-ended toys?

That’s one of those seemingly easy questions, which when asked generate this kind of answer (in us at least): ‘Oh, well, you know’. So we have been thinking. How do you define open-ended toys? Here are our thoughts:

Open-ended toys:

  • Don’t play by themselves
  • Can be used in 101 different ways
  • Are not age-specific

“Active toys make passive babies”

Open-ended toys don’t do anything.  They don’t ring; they don’t light up when a button is pressed. In other words, they don’t play for the child – the child is free to do all the playing by himself! Even though they might seem ‘boring’ to some, to us they contain endless play possibilities – the more passive the toy, the more active the playing. How empowering for a child to know that what happens in his play is entirely up to him :)

“This is not a box…” 

Open-ended toys don’t come with a set of instructions, so they don’t have a ‘right’ way in which they ‘should’ be used. This way they not only stimulate the imagination, but also allow self-initiated play, simply because children don’t need any help or explanation to use them. And while they engage all the senses, and stimulate development in all possible areas, their use in imaginative play can also have positive impact on the development of executive functions, specifically self-regulation skills.

Open-ended toys are suitable for any age

open ended3With safety considerations in mind, of course, these kinds of objects can be used by any child, at any age or any stage of development. Why? Because they do not need to be used in a specific way, that requires a specific stage of development. And why else? Because these kinds of toys get a new life every time a child picks them up – they start out as perfect mouthing objects, move on to being something that is fun to bang on the floor, and end up being… coffee grinders (have a look at the photos – that face that A is making, he is actually making  ‘coffee-grinder noise’).


So, what are some examples?

Blocks, Sticks, Balls, Scarves, Boxes, Rings, Bowls. We have talked about those in one of our previous posts (“Age appropriate toys“)

So when thinking about toys for your baby, maybe you don’t need to head into the overstuffed and jammed toy stores. Just look around. Most of them you can find in nature or in your house anyway. When looking through kitchen drawers you might find tons of things you could consider toys – well, your children will!

Have you ever wondered why babies are so attracted to shoes or toes, to the pegs you use when doing laundry or the sock you just dropped? Because our children are not asking for anything fancy. They  can have fun with EVERYTHING in reach. And even better: they naturally know how to do so. We don’t need to teach them. But that again is a whole other topic.

What are your children’s favourite open-ended toys? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine