By Alison Cupp Relyea
As the weather begins to turn cooler and the days get shorter, we often spend more time indoors. Many of us want to be outside with our children as much as possible, but indoor play does not have to feel limiting or confined. By approaching the play areas in your home to offer the most open-ended play opportunities, you can create a world of imagination that engages and delights your child for hours on end, even on the most brutal winter day. Depending on your child’s age, the specific toys in your play space may vary, but the three categories are consistent: art, building, and imaginary play.
Art materials are an important part of learning and play from the earliest years of your child’s life. Materials can be simple, with crayons, paint, paper and play dough in the early toddler years. Children need only a newspaper, laminated placemat, a child-sized table and some quiet time to have a productive art session at home. As their interests grow, you can incorporate new materials and watch your child’s curiosity unfold. Art sessions are also opportunities to reuse household items, teaching important ecology lessons and growing their minds at the same time.
Building tools can be used as a standalone activity, as your child explores the physical properties of structures as he or she plays, or can become the basis for imaginary play. If you are limited on space, having great building sets and a few sets of figures, such as people, cars, and animals, you can combine building with imaginary play for your toddler. Traditional wooden block sets and Magnatiles both incorporate mathematical relationships and geometric properties into their designs. Children learn about the scientific properties of the various materials through building while also working on their creativity, problem-solving and fine-motor skills. With the right complement of other toys, they can also become fire stations, houses, barns, and skyscrapers; the possibilities are infinite.
Imaginary play may incorporate art and building, but is also a type of play on its own. This play allows children to explore different roles, practice their social skills and build a deeper understanding of the world around them. A play kitchen with toy food, a few costumes and a few dolls or stuffed animals may be all a child needs to create an elaborate world inside a bedroom or playroom. Versatile accessories such as capes, hats and a doctor kit or a tool kit take up less space and are often more useful over time than specific children costumes.
As you select toys and materials, consider purpose, simplicity and open-ended play opportunities. Start with a few things in each category and then add on as you see your child’s interests grow. You will be amazed as you explore the concept of play with your child!