When my daughter was 4 months old, I was doing FaceTime with my parents when they asked me what she liked playing with now that she was starting to interact a little more. Well, I felt like the worst parent in the history of the universe because she had NO toys. I mean, she was 4 months… what could she need? She spent the day with me in our little farm, enjoying taking walks and interacting with me, or keeping me company in the baby carrier while I did what needed to be done around the house. The were a lot of “conversations” and goo goo-gaga moments, a lot of smiles and giggles, but not really any time we spent playing with toys per se. She simply played with me. But after that conversation with my parents, which clearly scarred me for life, I went on amazon and started looking for some cute baby toys suitable for someone her age. I found a musical cube and some other random stuff that had good reviews… And now my baby had toys! Success! Right?
As time went by we started accumulating toys… I had a vision on what I wanted her to have and play with, but I didn’t really know where to even start. And my vision wasn’t matching what I saw at home. I wanted my daughter to be creative, resourceful, a critical thinker! But what I was seeing was button pushing, frustration, annoying and overwhelming sounds and lights (lets be real…), and toys that sat there not being “played” with. Not my vision.
So I started doing research and looking things up… and we decided to fully switch to a Montessori approach down to the toys and setup of our home! We had started the transition to open ended toys, and wooden toys was our preference.
For her first birthday she got a Waldorf doll, a wooden shape sorter, and a wooden ball toy where you have to hit the balls with a hammer to make them go through the hole. The name escapes me, obviously. Over time we started evaluating every toy purchase we made for her and now our son! One of the things we love the most is that the investment we made in these open ended toys are all paying off because they last (I’m not constantly changing batteries), my son is now using everything we once purchased for my daughter, and they are so much more visually appealing.
So, what is an open ended toy? Maria Montessori said “Play is the work of the child.” Children learn about the world through play. It’s how they first discover the trial and error they’ll be using the rest of their lives; how they learn to be resourceful and creative which is a must in today’s world. Open ended toys are toys that can be used in more than one way. A simple block can be used to build a tower, a stand, a chair or table, it can be used as part of a larger structure or it can stand alone. A small peg figure can be a mom, a child, a fireman, a teacher, or anything else their little minds want to imagine! And that is the point of it all! To offer things that don’t have an instruction manual… toys that don’t tell the child how to play with it, but rather listen to how the child wants to play with it, as cheesy as that may sound! It has been an amazing switch for our family, and honestly for me personally as well. I spend a lot of time playing with my kids, and I would definitely not enjoy it as much if I didn’t absolutely LOVE the toys that they have.
Also, and another plus, when her older cousins were visiting they ALL played with the toys that were out, and they all had so much fun! It was amazing for me to see that, and it reassured me once again that it was the right switch for us and our family!
Looking at my kids now, I can tell you that they are deep thinkers, and they are so, SO resourceful! They are not over stimulated by their toys, and they discover new ways to play with them every day!