This past few months the boys have really improved their approach to open ended play. In the lead up to Christmas they cleared out toys that they wanted to donate. Most of their Christmas presents were open ended toys. Some of their favourites being:
- Grimm’s rainbow
- Grimm’s large stepped pyramid
- Rainbow pebbles
- Some wooden dolls I painted
There is a belief now that everything has to be wooden or inanimate to encourage open ended play. I don’t think that is true. Some of these toys are wooden, some are not. Yes, a piece of wood can represent anything in play. But so can other many other open ended toys. In many cases I find the material is irrelevant.
Having said that, we love our Grimm’s wooden toys and they have been instrumental in changing Ioan’s approach to playing. Not only have they provided hours of entertainment, they have been played with in so many different ways. Yes, they look pretty on a shelf and for that reason are more likely to be picked up and played with. But an aesthetically pleasing toy, that isn’t fun and functional won’t keep his attention for long.
Before introducing Grimm’s, Ioan was more inclined to play with a toy or object in the way it was intended. He was always nagging Finn, “That’s not what you use it for. Play properly!” Part of that is the age difference. At 5, Ioan is less inclined to pick up a plastic banana (yes, we have plastic food!) and use it as a telephone. However a wooden brick, he seems happy to use in a variety of ways. Through playing with the inanimate wooden objects, he has accepted Finn’s way of playing, where all household items are used for different purposes and the only limits are your imagination.
Imaginary play comes more easily to Finn. Aged 3, he lives in an imaginary world. The biggest part of which is a development of houses he is building in North Wales. The site is called ‘Worthington’. Ask him a house number and he will tell you where the plot of land is, what the house looks like (they are all the colours of the rainbow), how many windows and doors it has. He’s consistent with his facts too, I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to catch him out. He is currently in the middle of building an imaginary orange footbridge, which goes from his grandparent’s garden, over the Conwy River, to his orange castle in Conwy. His castle is adjacent to, but not to be confused with the real Conwy Castle.
Some children have an imaginary friend. Finn has an imaginary family. He has three sets of triplet boys, each set named Ioan, Finn and Cian. The names confuse me, as I don’t know which of his imaginary sons (or sometimes a real life brother) he is talking about, but he can tell you the difference between them all. Alongside his boys, he has lots of babies, the most demanding being his baby Gruffalo and Squirrel Nutkin. He loves playing at being their Daddy. His pets include three cats, one orange, one turquoise and a red and blue striped cat, that regularly go on their holidays to ‘Catty London’. He has a friendly red and green dog too.
Regardless of how literal or imaginative your child is naturally, I think there is value in having a variety of toys, including, but not exclusively, wooden. It is important to also have realistic and preferably ‘real’ where possible, things to play with too. If you allow children to play without adult (or big brother) intervention and use their imaginations to the full, then anything can become anything else. It is the freedom children need to think that should be the resource, not the item.