by Kerin McDonald
Fennies Day Nurseries Ltd
Our five favourite toys for under fives come from a form of play that we use in everyday life at Fennies Nurseries called ‘Loose Parts Theory.’ It is not a newly invented form of play nor are the ‘must have toys’ anything new, but they are all magical and treasured by children and therefore loved by us and by parents. The ‘toys’ don’t have instructions and can be played with on their own or in combination. Better still, they inspire creativity and inventiveness and can be found all around us, in nature and around the home.
1. A stick
What is it about little boys and sticks, or little girls and sticks for that matter? The stick is our number one for good reason. Sticks can become anything from swords to pirate flags to wands, pens and markers. They can be used in high action adventures or to build dens or they can be used for drawing in the dirt or sand, or to practise writing and numbers. A stick can be a boat or a raft and raced under bridges or they can be bridges themselves. Children play with sticks on their own or combine them with other sticks or toys (or with other children). Sticks can be any shape, size and colour and are also super in a great big pile of sticks. Bigger seems to be better although there are no limits to the size of a stick, (other than what can be held, at which point a stick becomes a log.) We have an assortment of smaller sticks adorning our nursery hallways and these are regularly updated for newer and ‘better’ sticks. Best yet, sticks are cost-effective toys and, in this case, they do actually grow on trees.
2. A box
A toy nearly as versatile and valuable as a stick. Boxes come in many different sizes, shapes and colours and can be used indoors and outdoors. Boxes transform into ships, cars, trains or any mode of transport. A box can be a chair, a den or a cave. If a large box is squished on one side it becomes a slide. Boxes can be used on their own or combined to become building blocks, treasure chests or beds and they can become houses and resting places for teddies or dolls. It is no surprise that more often than not, new expensive toys are discarded in favour of the box and wrapping they came in. Boxes come in all shapes and sizes, very large and very small boxes are favoured and boxes with lids stimulate even more imaginative play. You might have to buy something to get a box or you can get boxes free of charge from supermarkets or shops.
3. A cardboard tube
Hours of fun once the paper towels, toilet roll or wrapping paper are used. A cardboard tube brings delight and wonder to children of all ages but especially those under five. Tubes come in a variety of sizes and children adapt their use accordingly. A cardboard tube is most commonly transformed into a telescope or a megaphone, however, it can be as versatile as a stick. Cardboard tubes are not as robust as sticks but they are a more practical choice if being used indoors. Tubes can become tunnels, funnels or slides for other toys. Cardboard tubes are not free, however, you will find that many items around the home have a cardboard tube inside them and once they have been played with over and over and over, a cardboard tube can be recycled.
We are not sure if water can really be classified as a toy as it needs a receptacle, however, it is marvellous to play with. Ironically, children don’t always love being in water but they do adore playing with water. Water, requires close supervision but there doesn’t need to be a large amount to excite or inspire. Water can be swished, swirled, splashed, bubbled, spilt or poured. It is a wonderful texture and makes great sounds and movements. Water can also be magically transformed into ice or snow which has infinite possibilities for never ending play.
Finally, a controversial toy or play thing, yet one with endless play opportunities and with probably the highest success rate with children under five. Dirt is fun and children absolutely love to get messy. Dirt can be dug, spread, piled, heaped and used in all manner of ways that only children understand. Dirt can be found in many different places and if you add water, dirt gets even more exciting as it miraculously changes into mud! Although children love to bring dirt inside, it is really an outside toy especially when combined with other toys or water. Dirt is by its very nature, dirty, but it is easily washed away and it is worth the clean-up for such a wonderful toy.
Kerin McDonald is a mummy of two boys under five and is Head of Marketing for Fennies Day Nurseries Ltd, a group of ten, family run nurseries across Surrey and South London.
Established 25 years ago, Fennies offers wonderful childcare and learning for children aged three months to five years. www.fennies.com