Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Over the weekend I read with interest a blog post raising concerns about the rise of nurseries that are increasingly academic and structured in their approach. The premise of the post was that we are, as parents, becoming too obsessed with numeracy and literacy skills of our little ones, too early, at the expense of developing essential social, physical and sensory skills through unstructured free play.
This academic focus I experience frequently through my shop in Hove and the conversations I have with parents and grandparents. We all value and want to invest in toys that we can clearly see will enable our children to develop and learn. So toys that promote numeracy and literacy, puzzles and toys that seem to have some complexity and challenge are popular. Whilst more simple open-ended toys, are then overlooked and disregarded. It's not uncommon to hear a parent say "that's too baby-ish for you", when I would beg to differ.
Open-ended toys, that don’t have an obvious single use, instructions or rules, give children the ability to be in control of how they play, keeping their minds clear as they think through different scenarios and solve problems. By encouraging open-ended play, wooden toys can help develop a child’s reasoning skills, problem solving, social interactions, improve their hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and aid speech development. It is the child who can make it as complex or as simple as they require for their own learning.
A solid little space rocket by Le Toy Van is one of my son's best loved toys. It is also the toy that I get asked about the most in store. It's simplicity questioned by both adults and even some children,
"What does it do?
What do they do with it?
Does it do anything?"
To my four year old, this humble simple rocket has him running around the house with super-powers in his arm which he can fire like a wand. Yesterday, it was a fire-hose putting out extensive fires, at other times it's in a race with his vehicles to be the fastest or fly the furthest. It has him exploring new worlds when the rocket lands and has initiated an interest in space, and with all his vehicles taking on personas, his rocket finds itself in scenarios, friendships and disagreements with others. It's also our most drawn toy and inspired many a colouring session, practising his mark making and fine-motor skills.
When searching for new toys to stimulate your little ones, it's important to not dismiss the depth of play that simplicity in a toy can bring through unstructured open play and to not underestimate toys that in their simplicity, don't command the child but let the child command it. In doing so, it will ensure that they are developing those all important social, physical and sensory skills that increasingly seem overlooked.