Toys That Encourage Thinking

I consider art mediums, materials, and toys to be resources for play. They are the props and tools that children can use to transform their ideas into something they can hold onto. In this tangible state, children can suppose, test, and re-evaluate their ideas.


Children do not need loads of toys for play, but open-ended ones can serve many purposes and are great for making ideas a reality.


Why I Offer Several Types of Open-ended Materials and Art Mediums

Our collection of open-ended materials and art mediums is varied because . . .

  1. Children’s skills are ever developing. Toys that can be used to represent something else (e.g., blocks, pine cones, rocks) as-is may be easier to use than toys that need transformation to represent something (such as dough, paper, and paint).
  2. Children have individual strengths and preferences. Regardless of age, a child may be more competent in one material than others, or simply prefer one to others.
  3. Some toys represent an idea better than others. Making a rainbow with pipe cleaners and Styrofoam may better represent a child’s idea of a rainbow  than a two-dimensional drawing.
  4. Different materials bring about different aspects of an idea. The following photographs depict just that. All the pictures are of Greysen’s image of our family. How she spoke of our family was influenced by the art medium, or toy, that she used to recreate us.


Greysen’s play is most frequently inspired by our family and the roles of its members. She plays out our everyday life, and sometimes things that are occurring in our lives, that she may not fully understand.


While drawing often brings her frustration, she has developed confidence in her ability to build.



Cones and cardboard tubes. This is my family.  Greysen describes us, “This is my dad. He is TALLEST tall.” Tubes and cones inspired play about where we walk, and our family was identified by our height relative to the height of the cone structures.



Dough. This is my family. Greysen describes us, “This is the mom and the dad, the kid and the sister.”  The dough representation of us was used laying flat and inspired play around our family sleeping.



Pine Cones. This is my family. The intricate peaks of a pine cone family were connected simply because they could be.



Dry Erase. This is my family. We are the lines. She is less than happy with this representation of us, and the play is abandoned.




Felt and scissors. This is my family. Also dissatisfied with our family in felt, Greysen leaves her play scene relatively soon after she created it.


Stacking cones or molding play dough into people gives her confidence in her ideas that she may not have had if she only had drawing tools at her disposal.


I expect that, eventually, as my children grow, that the materials they have experience with will become a reference library of sorts. That way,  when they have an idea they can choose the right tool/material to make it come alive.


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