There are hoards of “educational” toys on the market, from pens that promise to teach your child to read, to robots that introduce simple coding to brightly coloured wooden puzzles meant to boost the IQ of every baby who encounters them. While some of these toys might be rather useful, some of them not so much and most of them cost a ridiculous amount.
Looking for a few ideas to rev up the learning potential in your playroom without taking out a second mortgage? Here you go:
Well, don’t actually throw them away - just take them away and stick them in that drawer where you keep the instruction manuals for your slow cooker and DVD player (When was the last time you used that thing?). Allow for some creativity by encouraging kids to play with things their own way. Take away the blue print for a Lego set, and just let your kids create. Lose the rules for a board game and urge kids to make up their own. Try mixing up the pieces and cards from a few board games and see what they can come up with. There’s nothing wrong with following the conventional way to play a game or make Playdoh cupcakes, but creativity flows best when your kids step off the typical path.
This is especially effective for kids eight and under. Old toys look new again once they’ve enjoyed a hiatus. Take a big box and hide some toys, games and books in the basement. In a month or two, bring them back out and fill the box with more current playthings. Obviously, you don’t want to take your child’s favourites, but those tired puzzles that seldom seem to make it out of the toy box? You’ll be amazed the new life they take on after a toy vacation. In my house, there are a dozen or so books that get put away with the Christmas decorations and then come out every other day of the advent calendar the following December. My girls are always excited to their old favourites once again and read them as if they are new.
Seriously, I can’t say enough about empty cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes and even outdated electronics. Little ones love them! Since I order diapers and other bulky items online, I get these lovely big boxes my daughter goes nuts for. The boxes have been turned into houses, castles, vehicles and more. Here's a space suit we made with two simple paint colours.
Paper tubes are always a hit and get turned into fairy wands, drumsticks and telescopes. Older kids may enjoy making sculptures out of discarded wood or using using an old camera phone to take pictures of nature. Even let them take apart an old vcr or radio and inspect the parts. Let your kids explore the cleanest, most interesting parts of your trash before it goes curbside.
Ever notice how toddlers love cell phones, remote controls and mixing bowls? And your preschooler likes to use the broom and always tries to pick up the baby? Kids like to copy adults. It’s imprinted in their brains and it’s a great teaching tool - whether you like it or not, they learn a ton from watching and imitating you. So, while this could mean dropping loads of cash on replica kids toys that mimic adult tools, why not just let them experiment with the real things (safely and with supervision, of course). Teach your kids how to use knives in the kitchen. Show them how to handle the blender. If you are a crafty sort, let them learn your hobby. Teach them how to use sports equipment, vacuums and screwdrivers. Whatever you are into, that’s an educational tool for your kids. Now, I’m not suggesting you stock the playroom with hammers and cheese graters. I’m saying cut the kids in on your everyday chores and hobbies. Not only are they learning and feeling responsible, but also you may find they are willing to help out with less exciting chores. You’ll be surprised by how much kids can do.
Sometimes, boredom can be the ultimate teaching tool. Kids are born with excellent imaginations and their brains busily create stories to be acted out. Who hasn’t seen a young child making up a dramatic play scene populated by sugar packets and cutlery on the restaurant table? Maybe boredom is the true mother of invention. Turn off the screens, direct the kids as little as possible and notice what kind of play they come up with. Make sure there are a few creative materials that the kids can easily access and let them fill their own time. Once in awhile, let your kids stare out their window on a car ride and just see where their mind takes them. Allow them learn how to entertain themselves from time to time, without relying on your intervention.
Childhood is a magical time. My advice is don’t overstuff it with stuff. Keep things simple and creativity, problem solving and learning are all sure to follow. Sure, sometimes it’s good to encourage your kids to colour in the lines and follow the rules - just be sure to once in give them a blank canvas and some glitter glue and see what happens. Keep their imagination alive!