I recently visited a friend of mine whose son and his family are relocating to this area. The son, his wife and two very young daughters are staying with his parents while they sell their house and get re-established. Another of my friends accompanied me on this visit; and as any good early education folks would do, we took along a few goodies for the children. One of the things I took was a large cardboard box. I admit that I wasn’t sure of the reception I would receive from the adults, bringing in a very large, empty cardboard box, but I was sure the children would love it, and they did. The nearly one year old immediately took up residence inside and didn’t want to come out. Even more gratifying was the reaction of the mom, who immediately said, “Did you know that Wired Magazine names a box as one of the 5 best toys for children?”
Well, I didn’t know that, but I couldn’t have agreed more. The mom went on to comment on how interesting it was for that particular magazine, which deals primarily with technology, to favor such a low-tech approach. I was intrigued, and went home and looked it up. (This low-tech grandmother does appreciate that computers have their uses.)
What I found was an article by Geek Dad (who else?), listing the five best toys for children as:
- Cardboard tube
I would also add water to his list of basically free playthings. I am providing a link below so that you can read this delightful, entertaining article for yourself.
The reason these everyday, readily available objects have such value as toys is that they are so versatile and open-ended. A box can be a train engine, a time machine, a television or a treasure chest. A cardboard tube can be a sword, a magic wand, a trumpet or a telescope. The reason that they probably appeal to Geek Dad is that he understands that playing with this kind of toy builds brain connections, because they require that children think, plan, solve problems and use their imaginations. Those processes actually have a profound effect on brain growth! Many of them also encourage physical exercise and going outdoors, activities which are becoming less common in these increasingly screen dominated times.
There are a few “bought” toys that encourage the same kind of imaginative play; blocks and balls being the ones that come immediately to mind, but most commercial toys are designed to only be used in one way. They are limited to being one thing, which cannot easily become other things. Many of them actually operate themselves – walking, talking, etc., demanding little engagement from the child, who therefore soon loses interest.
Of course, we will all still continue to buy some of the popular toys that our children and grandchildren crave, and we will be grateful for them to occasionally plug into media when we need a few minutes of peace and quiet, but when they tire of their toys, or when they have been staring at a screen with that glazed-over- tractor-beam gaze for way too long, why not drag out a big box or a cardboard tube? If they seem uncertain how to begin, you might read them one of the books by Antoinette Portis that I discovered from Geek Dad, Not a Box and Not a Stick, for a little jumpstart; but I’m betting they will know exactly what to do, in which case you can just stand back and prepare to be amazed by the magic and the genius of authentic childhood play.
You can read the article by Geek Dad, Jonathan Liu, for yourself at here