I would like to say that I am an occupational therapist who is fully prepared for anything 1000% of the time … but that was not the case one day. On this morning, I had left the house in a rush, forgetting my toy filled back pack that I usually bring when treating a client at a local day care. I showed up to the day care with the only toy I had randomly in my car (thank you pediatric OT life), a set of snap lock beads. I was about to have to entertain a two year old for an hour long therapy session with only one toy. Challenge accepted.
My goals for this client included improving range of motion, fine motor coordination and play skills. Hitting all of these areas while keeping a two year old interested in a single toy was a challenge that was going to require all of my creativity. Luckily for the both of us, play is my specialty. I ended that hour with a fully engaged child begging for more, completely exceeding my own limiting expectations of what I could do with only one toy.
This experience made me think about how often people take for granted the simple, open ended toy. At first glance, these toys are less “exciting” than the complex, high tech toys most kids have on their Christmas lists. All there is to do with wooden blocks is stack them, right? Wrong! Simple toys overflow with educational potential and have such an important role in development. From addressing fine motor skills, to fostering imaginative play, to teaching spatial awareness, toys like blocks, cups, and beads have endless opportunity to teach your child valuable concepts. With a little creativity during play time, a simple toy can become your child’s favorite.
I decided to take my success that day and challenge myself to write down at least 10 ways I play with toys that I use often. As I discussed in my article Learning to Play, getting on the floor and engaging with children is of utmost importance for their development. Parents, why reinvent the wheel?! Here are some great ideas on how to play and engage with your child by expanding the use of these seemingly one step toys. These ideas can be made easier or more complex, depending on your child’s level of development.
- Pretend that you made a boat and move through the water
- Connect the beads and pretend your chain is a snake, moving through the grass
- Place a bead on your head and say “oooooooohhh!!!” to build anticipation as you let it roll off your head and onto the floor
- Hide the beads in sensory bins such as dry beans or dry rice, find them in order to connect them
- Connect the beads to make necklaces for each other
- Use your beads to roll and spin on the ground
- Pretend your beads are cars that are in a race
- Connect the beads to make hats for each other
- Sort the beads by color and count them
- Make patterns when connecting the beads
- Stack the cups and knock down the tower
- Pretend to cook and mix pretend batter in the cups
- Fill the cups with sand, dump it out, or pack the sand to make sand castles
- Pretend that you are having a picnic with imaginary food in the cups
- Sort the cups by color, and find other toys that are the same color to put in them
- Figure out how to put all the cups inside the biggest cup
- Make pretend castles out of your cups by stacking them in various ways
- Pretend that your cup is a hat
- Play with your cups in water to learn about volume
- Roll your cups to see how far they can go
- Stack the blocks and pretend it’s a rocket ship ready for take off, with “blast off” initiating flying through the air
- Make a bridge out of the blocks that toy cars can go under
- Take turns imitating different block designs that the other person builds
- Make a giant wall out of blocks
- Build pretend block houses
- Build as tall of a block tower as you can, and knock it down (classic)
- Make pyramids out of blocks
- Play Jenga and try to remove blocks from the structure without the others falling
- Make a train by lining up three blocks with a “smoke stack” on the top, and move along a pretend train track
- Make structures to balance other toys on top of
The possibilities are endless! Try expanding the ways you play with a simple toy in your home. You’d be surprised how far you can take it with a little imagination.
Have a question or a topic you’d like to see me write about? Comment below and I’ll be sure to cover it in future content!