Natural Toys for Creative Play
Toys. Kids play with them for hours and
use them to learn more about the world
around. Since they are so much a part of
childhood doesn't it make sense that you
would want your child's toys to be healthy
for them....physically and mentally? Well,
there are many toy options today that are
more natural while still allowing for
stimulation, fun, and creative play. Instead
of toys with lights, sounds, and movement
give your children some basic toys that they
can use to build and create. Legos and
wooden blocks are usually very popular among
kids as they can spend hours creating
virtually anything they can come up with.
Take some pictures of their creations and
help them create a photo journal to record
all of their inventions and accomplishments
as mini architects.
Even an item as basic as a playsilk can be
used as a flag, as part of a costume, as a
sail on a boat, or a doll sling or hammock.
Give them the raw materials and watch them
Think back for a moment to your childhood. What was your
favorite thing to play? What did you pretend for hours on end?
When parents are asked this question, almost without exception
we discover that our favorite play scenarios were those we
created out of our imaginations. We were mommies feeding babies,
superheroes with a towel-turned-cape, explorers of our
backyards. Grandparents often say they played with what little
play materials they had. A simple cloth was a baby blanket, a
parachute flyer, and a costume all in one.
Today’s children have toys far more detailed and sophisticated.
However, a growing number of psychologists and child development
specialists are advocating for a return to the “natural” play of
yesteryear. Why? Because it requires imagination.
In this age of high-tech toys, children frequently push a button
and are entertained by watching play happen, not by actively
creating it themselves. The toys construction determines how it
will be played with. The natural play that is thought to be more
appropriate encourages children to create a play scenario out of
their own imagination. Play materials are unstructured so the
child must creatively “complete” the toy. Play materials are
also multi-purpose, meaning that one toy can be turned into lots
of different things. For example, blocks made of tree branches
can be used to create unique structures not possible with
traditional square blocks. Cloths and silks can be turned into
capes, aprons, and rivers. Dolls with simple features allow the
child to decide if the baby is laughing, crying or sleeping.
Recent research is supporting this more natural approach to
play. There is some evidence that children who play with
open-ended toys are better at solving divergent problems
(problems where there is more than one answer). These children
were shown to think beyond the objects in what we call
Many parents who practice natural or holistic parenting are
taking the lead in bringing back this type of play to childhood.
More and more parents are seeing the value of and true
developmental need for free creative play. Many parents are now
choosing unstructured toys made of natural materials over
battery-operated plastic toys. And with new books such as
Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, many parents are questioning
the push for early academics and are enrolling their children in
So, again, think about your favorite memories of playing as a
child. Who were you? What did you become? The imagination that
transformed you into someone else or into another place has
proven again to truly be a cornerstone of childhood. It seems
that although we have the technology to create high-tech toys,
it’s the natural play with natural play things that truly
inspires the magic that is childhood.
1Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD & Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD,
Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. (Rodale, 2003)
Dana Johnson, MSW is a former children’s mental health
therapist. She owns Three Sisters Toys specializing in natural,
open-ended and Waldorf-inspired toys for children. You may view
her website at
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