Wonder Years: Keeping toys simple encourages creativity

Think beyond the rubber ducky when it comes to encouraging your child's imagination with water play.

The holiday season is here. It seems nearly every store contains displays full of all the items you "need" to buy to make your loved ones happy. I encourage you, when it comes to the children in your life, to keep gifts simple and open-ended. I am amazed when I walk through the toy area at the number of premade toy sets. Although these sets may spark your child's interest, think about maybe including some toys which encourage open-ended, imaginative play as well this season. Less is always best. If your child is interested in pirates, you can create a treasure box out of a discarded box. Add some dress-up clothes, some pirate books, a paper towel roll telescope, and a small boat. Children have wonderful imaginations if you just tap into them.

A simple toy we often play with in my home is water. We have our outdoor sand table in our kitchen now. It is the center of hours of open-ended play. You can change the play scheme by simply adding food coloring, soap, or ice. Some things we have done in the past include washing babies or cars, "cooking" using measuring cups, baking with bubbles and whisks, or adding small toys to swim.

We have also used colored rice, packing peanuts, shaving cream, dried beans, cooked and uncooked pasta, wrapping paper with small boxes and ribbons, cotton balls, shredded paper, leaves and small animals, small blocks with cars and paint stirs, fabric scraps, large buttons, colored spoils, shells with foam animals, foam shapes and small shape books, foam fish, boats, and nets. This is perhaps one of our most used toys and you can create your own very simply and inexpensively at home.

The bathtub is always an option, but read on for a water table you can use in any room with a hard floor.


Plastic under bed storage container with lid or plastic shoe box

2 old towels


Leftover plastic food containers, kitchen tools, and underused toys


Lay down towels

Place container on towels in case of spills

Put water in container (young children can help with this task with proper supervision)

Add toys

Talk to your child about your sensory table. Explain your rules; water stays in table, this water is for playing only, etc.

Enjoy. The possibilities are endless!

Laura Elson is a Westerly-based preschool teacher, mom and artist. Her column, "Wonder Years," appears monthly on Grace online.


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