The work of the child is to play. To explore and relate to their environment. To develop their abilities through repetition and mastery. To provide a basis for understanding, knowledge and skills to support them throughout their life.

Therefore, the play space is an important environment to consider and what is available within it, even more so.

We’ve all given a gift to a toddler and watched them get more enjoyment from the wrapping paper or box than the actual toy. We’ve seen the wonder and joy that pulling tissues from their box can create. These everyday items provide no less stimulation and opportunity than expensive purpose- built toys. In fact, they often provide more.

When we allow children to use and explore items that they see in their environment every day we provide numerous beneficial experiences:

  • Practicing actions that they see the adults around them doing each day

  • Numerous opportunities to practice and repeat as the items are accessible. Unlike specific toys or therapy devices which are only available in certain spaces.

  • Greater scope for creativity and experimenting in comparison to single purpose toys

  • The development of skills for greater life tasks such as cooking, dressing, etc.

  • Increased motivation for independent and self-driven play experiences due to accessibility

  • Sustainability, cost effective, and space efficiency.

  • Exposure to variable sensory input due to textures, temperatures, smells, colours and shapes.

  • Encourages inside and outside play as opposed to toys that can only be used indoors

Some examples of using every items include:

  • Using kitchen utensils in play – tongs for picking things up, ladle for scooping up balls or water, teapots and jugs in water play, spoons and cups for sorting items, sieves and strainers for threading or water, garlic press for playdough, cups for stacking and nesting

  • Using large items for active play – sitting in the washing basket and having a ride, jumping into cushions and lounges, blankets and rugs for swinging in, crawling over and under furniture like coffee tables and dining chairs.

  • Using items for fine motor – posting sticks into holes in a box, drawing in the dirt with a stick, placing small items into ice cube trays or egg cartons, posting items into a cardboard tube, pulling scarves or material through holes in the washing basket

  • Sensory play with items in the home – water, dirt, sand, shaving cream or soap, dry lentils or pasta, collect leaves, flowers, or sticks, chop soft fruit with a plastic knife, colour some uncooked rice and place in a large tub to hide items or pretend to cook.

  • Matching activities in the home – match lids with containers (size and shape), match socks, match two halves of fruit or vegetable

The opportunities are endless and often best lead by the child and their interest. The greatest benefit of using every day items in play, however, lies in the accessibility of items for the whole family which results in more consistent opportunities for the play and skill development to occur.