3 Reasons to Encourage Toddlers to Play With Everyday Objects More

When a child is born to a family consumed with love for him or her, it is easy to use that love as a reason to shower the child with toys that will delight. When relatives and friends join in, a child can soon possess an overwhelming array of toys.

When there are no real means to buy child plenty of toys, parents may worry that their child is missing out on good quality play.

Children don't need as many toys as most people think.
Baby on a picnic surrounded by toys

However, this is far from true. Children do not need as many toys as most people think. Everyday objects, bits and pieces around the home, can offer some of the best opportunities to learn through play. We follow the triple P approach and we use environment-friendly recycled materials and have won sustainability awards.

Toys are not inherently bad; far from it. There are many commercially available toys that offer valuable play opportunities and positive stimulation for young children. However, some items found in homes can already serve the same purpose. Furthermore, they can teach toddlers and preschoolers many skills and lessons far better than actual toys can.

Little boy playing inside the big box

Here are three important reasons why toddlers should be encouraged to explore everyday materials found around the house:

1.   Simple items offer opportunities for heuristic play

In heuristic play, children are offered simple objects (not “toys”) to explore, discover, imagine and create with. Heuristic play is spontaneous and experimental. It is led by the child’s own initiative and can go in any direction they choose.

Heuristic play is all about allowing a child to discover and learn for themselves. It is about giving children choices and allowing them to develop their own, unique way of thinking. It creates independent, confident, problem-solving learners. Heuristic play is a key element of Reggio and Montessori nursery classrooms, two popular educational philosophies.

Two cute little girls are playing with blocks.

Everyday objects already found around the home are perfect for heuristic play. Any object that is safe and age-appropriate for a child to play with can be used heuristically. However, in heuristic nursery settings, the objects children might be provided include pebbles and shells, wooden blocks, spoons, and balls, for example.

When children are given objects like these, they will play creatively, and they will explore and experiment. They will stretch their imagination to adopt these objects into their games, either communal or individual.

With many toys, there are only very limited ways a child may play with that item. With simple objects, the possibilities for play are almost unlimited.

2.   They promote sensory exploration

Sensory play is so important for very young children and babies. From birth, a baby learns about the world by exploring through the senses: touch, taste, hearing, seeing and smelling. Therefore, plentiful sensory stimulation is vital for brain development.

Father playing with his baby who is playing with a wooden toy.

When any sense is stimulated, a signal is sent to the brain. In young babies and children, these sensory signals create, open up and strengthen vital neural pathways in the brain. When a child is young and the brain is still forming its neural pathways, it is very flexible. This is one reason why children often seem to learn so much faster than adults. The development of these neural pathways at a young age is so important because, in young adulthood, the pathways begin to solidify and set.

Everyday objects can offer wonderful sensory stimuli, usually better than any one particular toy because there are so many options around the home. Young children love to explore different textures. Different papers and fabrics are perfect examples of items that can be used in play or in creative projects.

For messier tactile play that stimulates early science learning, many children love to explore ice. A mix of cornstarch and water provides great fun, too.

Mama and two daughters cook together in the kitchen.

So many objects can be used for noise-making play. Wooden spoons, rice grains in a plastic bottle, or leaves that can be rustled are good examples.

Edible items and safe plants from the garden can be explored for taste- and smell-related sensory experiences, too. Allowing pre-school children to create their own concoctions is such a fun learning experience for them.

3.   They provide a chance for toddlers to learn to become ethical, responsible citizens

Finally, teaching young children to reuse and upcycle everyday items is very “green.” Items normally considered as potential waste, such as packaging and plastics, are not waste if a child can create something from it. Beautiful arts and crafts can be made from all kinds of materials that may otherwise be thrown out.

Father and son playing with a cardboard toy plane in the park at the day time.

By encouraging children to explore everyday objects, families can take a far more environmentally friendly approach to play compared to providing children with a pile of plastic toys. If young children are asked to reuse and recycle from babyhood, the practice will become ingrained. There is never a wrong age to start encouraging children to help take care of the planet.

Playing with everyday objects offers children fantastic opportunities to discover and explore their world, to imagine and create. This kind of play is so positive for both brain development and character development. By allowing children to play like this, families and educators are helping them become thoughtful, engaged learners with an interest in the world around them. This learning opportunity is something that a plastic toy or tablet screen is far less likely to offer.

AuthorLama Chivi on April 29, 2019

Lama Chivi is the CEO of Blossom by Babilou Education in the UAE. Having lived in Dubai for over 30 years, she combines the best of international practice and local expertise into this leading British Curriculum Nursery, delivering a top-tier and high-quality offering to the MENA region. The mission of Blossom by Babilou Education is to support children in building their own identity, self-discovery and awakening while respecting their own pace and their uniqueness.