I have already written a post about our favourite store-bought toys, so here I will concentrate on the ones that don't come from stores.
In no particular order, here are the top favourites:
- Graduated plastic measuring cups for use in the sandbox, lentil table and bathtub/kitchen sink. Also for use in the water: a turkey baster, which can shoot water surprisingly and delightfully far.
- A sandbox, as big as possible, with a protective cover to keep out nasties when not in use. Supply lots of different containers to scoop and mould the sand, including yogurt, cottage cheese etc. containers of various sizes and shapes, old cookie cutters etc. and be sure to keep a source of water nearby so the wand can be wet down with rivers and also to keep it moist for moulding. Use only sand labeled "beach sand" since many other kinds contain fine dust that can be toxic to breathe.
- A sensory table. We used a shallow plastic bin and filled it half0way full with rice or lentils (we alternated). Providing lots of different containers, scoops etc. is a must.
- A patch of back yard space that is ruled by kids--this can be used for digging, making mud puddles, planting things, etc. It is the kids' domain, and is one area in which you will not complain about aesthetics. One year our kids let nature take over the spot where we took out a pool. A virtual forest of 7 foot-high weeds took over, and they built mazes, construction-toy projects and a waterway through it. We had read Weslandia around that time, and they were truly inspired. At the end of the summer, the weeds turned out to have very shallow roots and we simply pulled them out. It provided many hours of creative play that my teens still talk about.
- Free, regular access to a natural area in which little adult supervision is needed (keep it safe, but let them play and problem solve--if it isn't life-threatening, destructive or emotionally debilitating, let it be).
- Cardboard boxes--the bigger, the better. Many appliances no longer come packed this way, but if you are resourceful and call enough furniture and appliance stores, you will likely still find some. Smaller boxes make great building blocks as well.
- Kid concoctions, including slime, play dough, finger paints, and kid-led experiments. Some recipes can be found here.
- Rocks, stones, sticks, shells, pine cones, trees, boulders, bushes, streams and ponds. Nature provides an abundance of toys. Bring along a bucket and a net to help look closer at water creatures.
- Imagination. Don't discount imaginary play with children; not only does it foster creativity, it also helps them develop problem-solving skills, communication and interpersonal skills, and reflective thought. It's also lots of fun.
- Old clothes for dress-up. You can buy "dress-up" clothing at toy stores now, but the sturdiest and most fun ones are the ones you'll find in the back of your closet or at the local Thrift Shop.
I'm sure I'll want to add more to this list, but these are the ones that come to mind first. I hope you enjoy sharing these with a special child in your life.