Instant Homemade Toy for Toddlers and Babies
Toys are great. We love toys in my house and I'll freely admit we spend far too much time and money buying far too many toys for our kids. That said, when it comes to inspiring engaging play, I've found the tried and tested simple play opportunities provided by everyday household objects will keep our youngest sproglet absorbed just as long as any toy, and often even longer.
One of our favourites is, as we like to call it, the Hoop Tree. This is just a mug tree, loaded up with hoops that our curious toddler can take off... and put back on... and take off... and swap around... offering a seemingly endless source of fascination! Curtain rings work fabulously for this as they are just the right size for her little hands to manipulate easily, and we can mix up some metal and some wooden rings for contrasting textures. Anything hoopish will do the job - I've improvised with bangles, hair bands, scrunchies and elastic bands, which all create different sensory experiences.
This type of play is commonly referred to as heuristic play, a term that simply means finding out through play. Babies and toddlers learn through all of their senses and by being given the opportunity to handle an object, they are learning about texture, weight, colour, size, smell, sound and taste.
As she has developed, T-bird has begun to do even more with the objects she is exploring - playing with a hoop tree, for example, is a challenging test of balance and precision hand/eye co-ordination. She has had to learn to get the hoops onto the tree 'branches', and in the process discovered how many can fit on a branch, and what happens when she tries to add too many. She's explored the noise the hoops make, and the feel of metal rings verses wooden. Our little T-bird will rearrange the hoops very precisely to some kind of internal logic that makes complete sense to her, even if we can't see it. Woe betide mummy if she tries to help by putting any rings on... they will be removed and rearranged, and I'll be told, gently but firmly, "no".
Any sort of absorbing play like this is also an opportunity to practice and extend vocabulary. While T-bird arranges the hoops, I'll give a running commentary of phrases such as "put it on" and "take it off" (repeating the key words such as "on" and "off" separately as well). We'll talk about the object's properties "wood", "metal", "smooth" "cold", "round". We'll also practice numbers and counting as she takes the hoops on and off. It hasn't taken long for her to pick up on these and use them for her own commentary as she plays. For us, what has worked has been using a few words or phrases at a time, repeating over and over and over again, then adding more as she has mastered them.
Have you put a hoop tree together for your baby? If so, you might like to check out Hoop Tree - All Washi'd Up! To see how we revamped our tree for new play and development opportunities.
A note about safety. Play with everyday non-toy objects has widely recognised benefits for babies and young children, however these kinds of activities should always be closely supervised. Use common sense to decide what you are comfortable letting your child handle, and decide for yourself what could be a hazard.
If you've enjoyed reading this, why not check out these other entries?
Or take a look at some of our kids' play Pinterest boards for even more inspiration.