We need a paradigm shift. Think of a toy as a tool. A tool to develop creativity, problem solving, risk management, social skills, cooperation, to stretch existing skills, and to generalize skills to new things or in different ways.
“Mom, Mom, Mom! I’m so bored.” “This is no fun.” “Can I watch tv?” “Can we go to Target?” If you’re a parent of a toddler or young child, I’m sure you’ve heard these phrases more than your fair share of times. I’m sure you’ve even stared at the pile of toys in your living room and wondered, “How could you possibly be bored?” I’m sure you’ve even skowered Amazon for the hottest new toy to add to that bottomless toy heap only to hear two days later the proverbial “I’m bored” all over again.
Can you relate?
Well I have some hard news for ya, mama. You or your little one aren’t going to find the solution to the cycle at the bottom of that noisy, light up toy pile. The solution here isn’t in another toy! You have to create an environment that supports purposeful play rather than an environment that entertains.
Playing versus Entertained
When your child is playing with a “one and done” toy, the toy is doing all of the work for them. The toy is lighting up, making noise, talking, asking questions, even answering it’s own questions! Your child is taken out of the driver’s seat and is playing a passive role in their playtime.
We want to encourage PURPOSEFUL play with open ended toys. Open ended toys allow your child to direct play. Magna tiles, blocks, animal figurines, babies, vehicles, doll houses, etc. all require your child to think and engage in self-directed, purposeful play.
Play is hard work. It requires creativity, internal dialogue, problem solving, planning, movement. Real authentic purposeful play is tough!
But Why Isn't My Child Playing?
At the end of the day when your kids have finally fallen asleep and you’re crawling around on the living room floor cleaning up what looks like the single child day care, how do you feel? How do you feel seeing 1,593 toys, pieces of toys, puzzle pieces scattered all around you? How do you feel hearing sirens, animal sounds, music coming from who knows where? I’ll tell you how I’m already feeling. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Scattered. You know what mom? Your child feels the exact same way. Have you ever noticed your child taking a toy from the toy room and bringing it into a room away from their other toys? They are trying to find a space free from the distraction! Not only does your child have to figure out how to sort the toys into baskets at the end of the day, but they’re expected to sort through all of the ambient sounds, lights and clutter and find a toy and its corresponding pieces and actually sit among the chaos and focus on playing.
So What's the Fix?
I challenge you mom and dad...
Don’t do the hard work for them. Sure you could give them a quick fix and put a new toy in front of them, but no growth is occurring in that space! It’s during these “boring” times when our kids are really pushed and these play skills develop. Remember, play is hard. But that’s where the magic happens!
Avoid one and done toys. Introduce open ended toys that will grow with your child and support purposeful play.
Encourage their play by reinforcing and praising them! Tell them how great an idea was! Avoid criticizing, giving commands, or asking questions. These responses make your child self conscious about their play decisions rather than supported and empowered.
Play with them. While playing, imitate what they’re doing and narrate what they’re doing. This increases confidence and connection between you and your child, and fosters a warm and loving relationship!
Model play. Show them different ways you could play with the toy to trigger new ideas.
Create a stress-free environment. Remember, more stuff does not equal more play!
We need a paradigm shift. Think of a toy as a tool. A tool to develop their creativity, problem solving, risk management, social skills, cooperation, to stretch their skills, and to generalize the skills they have to new things or in different ways. Learning to play is where growth takes place! In a society bombarded by more stuff equals more love, quick fixes, and nearly constant engagement from outside sources, when your child is allowed the opportunity, they begin to learn to be content with themselves in a quiet space. So, the next time you feel your child is “bored,” take a second before you reach for your phone and add to your Amazon cart. Are you encouraging purposeful play? Creativity? Exploration? Growth? Rather, try getting on the floor to PLAY rather than trying to entertain.