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Friday, April 22, 2011

Need new toys?

Every child likes new toys. Children learn through exploring their world, and toys provide a good medium for their learning and enjoyment.

However it is not necessary to keep buying new toys for them. Instead there are many "playthings" around us that can entertain them as well as provide learning opportunities. I like giving my kids "useless" things to play with. For example, plastic bottles, plastic tags removed from bread loaves, ice cream sticks, used parking coupons etc.

To illustrate further, for young babies we could use small plastic bottles as a "music instrument" by filling it with some beans then sealing it tight. I remember my baby usually stopped crying when I distracted her with such a shaker. Some plastic bottles could be used for water play during bath time. The kids love learning how to scoop up and pour out water. When babies grow into toddlers, they can practise motor skills of opening or closing the caps. 

Bigger plastic containers (for example those which contained festive goodies) can be used to sort and contain their different types of smaller toys. This gives them the concept of similarities (a basic maths skill), encourages them to organise, and is easier for them to put their toys away after playing.

Another example is the plastic tag that comes with the bread we buy. It secures the opening and usually has some information, for example expiry date or price on it. I usually collect a lot then recycle. But I found that they can be entertaining toys too. When my daughter was around 2 years old, I gave her a spoon, two bowls and those plastic tags. Then taught her to scoop out the tags from one bowl to another. At that age she was trying to feed herself. This gives her the opportunity to practise her skills while at the same time it's not so messy compared to "practising" with her food at meal times.

I also let her try slotting the tags into a coin bank. This helps her to concentrate on an interesting task while practising her motor skills. She loves slotting them in, then removing them from the opening at the bottom of the coin bank, then repeating the process again and again. I've a short video of her playing with those tags on YouTube.

Another example of "useless" stuff turned into playthings is the parking coupons we use in Singapore. When parking our vehicles, we tear out the relevant tabs for year, month, day, hour, minute, and display them on our dashboard. After that it's useless. I usually recycle them. When my son was younger, he liked to tear out all the other tabs. Then we would play a game of searching for the number each other called out. Example of variations could be giving addition questions and finding the answers.

Other recycled materials like ice cream sticks, disposable spoons etc, could be used for handicraft projects.

There are many possibilities in using discarded items as "toys". The best part is they cost no extra money, are easily replaceable, and teaches our kids to recycle. 

However I do recommend playing together with the children. Choking hazard aside, it's a good bonding time. Toys are "useless" and children quickly grow tired of them. But your children will always enjoy your company.

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