I wanted to create a playspace that inspires creativity and imagination and nurtures growth and development. I invested in a few key pieces that are open-ended and will grow with a child, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to create an inspired playspace. Many items can be made by hand, found around the house, thrifted or upcycled.
After our oldest turned one around the holidays, we received more toys than we knew what to do with! More toys mean more clutter and too many choices can overwhelm a child. Too many toys can also take away the “specialness” from individual toys and lessen the chance to fully explore any one toy. To keep things simple, we rotate toys to keep them fresh but are also careful not to take anything away that he is taken with. We also choose to invest in a fewer amount of heirloom quality toys that are natural and non-toxic. Extra toys and clothes have been donated to a wonderful local organization Baby2Baby that distributes new and gently used toys to underprivileged children.
Because the environment is so important to a young child, I wanted to create a space that is welcoming and comforting. Toys have been arranged on low shelves and in shallow baskets so that they are inviting and accessible which encourages self-motivating play. I chose a warm neutral shade for the walls using a low VOC paint and covered the windows in an airy fabric, allowing soft natural light to filter in. I found these two beautiful wall hangings on Etsy made of soft wool that have been hand painted and wet and needle felted.
Toys for imaginative play
We have a limited amount of plastic and battery operated toys. As an adult, I get overwhelmed when surrounded by noisy toys with flashing lights so I can’t imagine what it must be like for a small child who can only process so much information at a time. These toys also tend to “think” for a child. Open-ended toys inspire creative play, foster development and grow with a child which makes many of these items a good investment.
- Play kitchen. A Simple Hearth by Camden Rose is a truly beautiful hand crafted heirloom quality play kitchen. There is plenty of space for “cutting up” veggies, a faucet and stainless steel sink for “rinsing” dishes and a four-burner stove top. There are shelves and a cabinet for storage and an oven with baking rack. Accessories are limitless – pots and pans, bowls, utensils, towels and play food. My little guy loves making me soup and feeding it to me!
- Playstand. Playstands with canopy arches and shelves are very versatile and can be used to create a cozy “space within a space” where a child can find refuge. This is another great item that will grow with your child. They can be transformed into spaces for household play, puppetry, caves, storefronts and more… the possibilities are endless. I added a market shelf add-on with paper pulp baskets and filled them with Under the Nile play fruits and veggies.
- Playsilks. These are a staple for creative play. They can be used for playing peek-a-boo, making forts and puppet theatre curtains, used as capes, walls and roofs of houses, hammocks, rivers, ropes, blankets, table cloths… there is no end to what they can become. Scarves and pieces of fabric work just as well. I bought plant-dyed silks from a small family owned company called Finns and Flowers on Etsy.
- Dolls. A little blanket doll is the perfect doll to introduce to a baby. It usually has a formed head with a simple face and soft flannel body with small knots at the corners. I soaked the knots in chamomile tea to soothe my little guy’s swollen gums. For toddlers, handmade dolls with arms and legs and clothes that can come off and on are warm to the touch and feel more real than synthetic and plastic materials used in commercially produced dolls. I like that the facial features are intentionally made simple which allows a child to imagine the doll experiencing different emotions. There are many benefits to doll playing for both boys and girls. It allows children to develop love and care for other people.
- Musical Instruments. Most kids have a natural love of music. Our playspace has lots of instruments such a floor tom, djembe drum, xylophone, tone block, rain sticks, ukelele and more. Green Tones makes wonderful hand made, eco-friendly musical toys.
- Felted wool balls. These make great toys. The plain simple ones I use to dry our clothes do the trick but I found some gorgeous artisan ones with intricate designs. Our son loves to play catch and cart them around in his wooden push wagon.
- Wooden toys. We have some wooden toys that have become fast favorites. Plan Toys makes organic recycled rubber wood fruits and vegetables that are a lot of fun to play with. Wooden puzzles, pull toys, cars, stacking and sorting toys are staples as well.
- Push wagon. We got a play wagon because our son was obsessed with pushing the stroller around the house. Now he loves pushing around some toys… and occasionally the dogs.
- Books. Elsa Beskow’s beautifully illustrated books and Gerda Muller’s seasonal books are some of our favorites.
- Nesting/sorting/stacking bowls. These are lots of fun and can be used in many ways. The possibilities are endless!
- Wooden Blocks. Stack, knock down, repeat! Tree blocks are fun for older children and can be made by hand.
- Nature objects. Baskets of natural objects like gnarled pieces of bark, sticks, rocks, shells, branches, pinecones and acorns are great because they can mostly be found while out on a nature walk. Just be careful to supervise small children with these items and avoid anything that can be a choking hazard.
- Costumes. A few simple costumes can greatly enhance a child’s play. Children love to dress up and transform into characters who can act out roles in imaginative play – especially with other children. Having a few special hooks for capes and a shelf for hats can make costumes easily accessible and suggestive of imaginative play. Our little guy loves putting on “silly hats.”
- Finger puppets - Puppetry is an old, traditional art, which provides a focus for role play, encouraging a child’s imagination. Young children can believe and relate to them, they can enter and explore the fascinating inventive world that puppets create. I found these adorable ones at IKEA.
Here are some of my favorite places to find beautiful and imaginative toys:
Photo credit: Palumba