Our five favourite toys for under 5’s come from a form of play that we use in everyday life at Fennies Nurseries called ‘Loose Parts Theory.’ It is not a newly invented form of play nor are the ‘must have toys’ anything new but they are all magical and treasured by children and therefore loved by us and by parents. The ‘toys’ don’t have instructions and can be played with on their own or in combination. Better still, they inspire creativity and inventiveness and can be found all around us, in nature and around the home.
1. A Stick
What is it about little boys and sticks, or little girls and sticks for that matter? The stick is our number one and favourite for good reason. Sticks can become anything from swords to pirate flags to wands, pens and bridges. They can be used in high action adventures or to build dens or they can be used for drawing in the dirt or sand or to practice writing and numbers. A stick can become a boat or a raft and raced under bridges or sticks can become bridges themselves. Children play with sticks on their own or combine them with other sticks or toys (or with other children). Sticks can be any shape, size and colour and are also super in a great big pile of sticks. Bigger seems to be better although there are no limits to the size of a stick, other than what can be held, at which point a stick becomes a log. We have an assortment of smaller sticks adorning our nursery hallways and these are regular updated for newer and ‘better’ sticks. As with all loose play items, sticks are cost effective toys and in this case they do actually grow on trees.
2. A Box
A toy nearly as versatile and valuable as a stick. Boxes come in many different sizes, shapes and colours and can be used indoors and outdoors. Boxes transform into ships, cars, trains or any mode of transport. A box can be a chair, a den or a cave. If a large box is squished on one side it becomes a slide. Boxes can be used on their own or combined to become building blocks, treasure chests or beds and they can become houses and resting places for teddies or dolls. It is no surprise that more often than not, new expensive toys are discarded in favour of the box and wrapping they came in. There doesn’t seem to be a size preference with boxes although very large and very small are favoured and boxes with lids stimulate even more imaginative play. You might have to buy something to get a box or you can get boxes free of charge from supermarkets or shops.
3. A Cardboard Tube
Hours of fun once the paper towels, toilet roll and wrapping paper are finally used. A cardboard tube brings no end of delight and wonder to children of all ages but especially those under five. Tubes come in a variety of sizes and children adapt their use according to size. A cardboard tube is most commonly transformed into a telescope or a megaphone however it can be as versatile as a stick if you have a larger size. Cardboard tubes are not as robust as sticks but they are a more practical choice if being used indoors. Tubes can become tunnels, funnels or slides for other toys. Cardboard tubes are not free however you will find that many items you have around the home do have a cardboard tube inside them and once they have been played with over and over and over, a cardboard tube can be recycled.
We are not sure if water can be really be classified as a toy as it needs a receptacle however it is marvelous to play with. Ironically, children don’t always love being in water and but they do adore playing with water. Water, requires close supervision but there doesn’t need to be a large amount of water to excite or inspire. Water can be swished, swirled, splashed, bubbled, spilt or poured. It is a wonderful texture and makes great sounds and movements. Water can also be magically transformed into ice or snow which has infinite possibilities for never ending play.
Finally, a controversial toy or play thing, yet one with endless play opportunities and with probably the highest success rate with children under five. Dirt is fun and children absolutely love to get messy. Dirt can be dug, spread, piled, heaped and used in all manner of ways that only children understand. Dirt can be found in many different places and if you add water, dirt gets even more exciting as it miraculously changes in to mud! Although children love to bring dirt inside, it is really an outside toy especially when combined with other toys or water. Dirt is by its very nature, dirty, but it is easily washed away and it is worth the clean-up for such a wonderful toy.
Written by Kerin McDonald, a mummy of two boys under 5 and is Head of Marketing for Fennies Day Nurseries