Mum, I’m bored!…Toys, creativity and the importance of space

Article featured in this month’s edition of Connected Communication Newsletter.

This photo is of my hall, not exactly one that I would use to promote myself at an Ideal Homes’ Exhibition, or for ‘Housewife of the Year’. No, this is, in case it’s not obvious, a ship. This construction has been the product of my 5 year old son, with assistance from his younger sister, since he came home from school this afternoon.

A ship….obviously!
It started with him walking into the kitchen announcing, “I’m bored,” which generally translates as, “I want TV.” His sister took the more direct route and said, “I want T.V.” They were not particularly surprised when their comments were not entertained, and I sent them off to live with their boredom…And out of the boredom  a ship emerged…So, why am I telling you this? Well, given that the Late Late Toy Show has come and gone, I could deny no longer that Christmas is around the corner, and so I wanted to share some suggestions about toys. As a speech and language therapist, music therapist, and more importantly, parent, I am passionate about the need for children to experience toys which foster their creativity, language, and problem solving….and which have a range of possibilities….but I think that Pete has beaten  me to it.Within this construction, there has been:Sustained attention: He was at this for over an hour.

Goal setting: He had a clear plan of action for how to create this construction.

Team work: He roped his sister in, getting her to move toys from the playroom, and they worked together on the project.

Problem solving: He figured things out, “I put the heavier vehicles down low as it made it more steady.”

Physical dexterity: He carefully placed furniture and toys on top of each other. (This doesn’t seem to have generalised to picking up clothing yet!)

Vocabulary: The theme of ship building generated a range of words relating to ship construction, stability and safety, including the word ‘obstruction,’ introduced by the hassled mother trying to reach the front door!

Categorisation: The main category here was transport, as while the main construction was a ship, the table beside it became an aeroplane.

Concepts: The ship building incorporated a range of concepts relating to size, shape and position of objects.

Story-telling: we captured the construction on camera so that it could be a source of future discussion.

…And a lot of creativity.
And my involvement?…I left them to it…I gave them space…
Is that so important? Am I just trying to justify the fact that I got to sit down and have a cuppa?
What do I mean by space and why is it so important? Well, for me, space means:Allowing physical space: there was an open space (unfortunately my hall!) where the play was able to happen.  This was not the biggest space available to them, but clearly was most suited to their plan.Allowing time: during this play time there was no hurrying to go anywhere, to do homework, eat dinner, tidy up.

Play materials: Note I didn’t just say toys, as in an imaginative world, whether something is a ‘toy’ or not is arbitrary.

Being open minded: This is about me being open minded to what was being made, and resisting the initial inclination to say, “Stop spreading the toys everywhere….” (obviously I never say this!)

Being curious: When I was eventually invited into the play space, I stepped out of the world of trying to have an ordered house, and into the much more exciting world of my children, as they showed me the different parts of the ship, and the different passengers, who appeared to be a selection of cars and other vehicles.

With Christmas, there can be a lot of busyness, a lot of I wants, “I’m bo-oooored”, and wanting a quick fix. Sometimes children need to have some time to sit in that space of boredom, from which can emerge their own creativity. OK, so maybe this won’t happen every time, but it’s definitely worth giving it a shot.

Getting back to the original aim of the article, when it comes to toys, I consider the following to be important aspects to consider:

Toys that don’t do anything
The toy just comes to life when the child picks it up, not from a battery but from the child’s imagination.

Toys which open up a range of possibilities
Toys which are open ended, that don’t just do one thing.

Less is more
It’s better to invest in a small amount of good quality toys, and not feel under pressure to get ‘enough’ presents. Ultimately, (and while this would never be admitted), children play better when they have less available to them.

Toys which get kids moving
Be it ride on toys, play tunnels and tents, getting active is well proven to have so many benefits.

But, no matter what the toys are, starting with an open, creative space, is the play mat from which it all begins.

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