Children do not need toys but most parents like to offer them to their children with the intention to support the skills of their children. Modern toys can be even the opposite because they lower the tolerance of frustration and change the intrinsic motivation (child naturally wants to learn) to an extrinsic motivation (child behaves in a certain way to get a specific feedback).
Encouraging toys* are inspiring, mind opening and/or motivating and therefore an invitation. They work through our child’s motivation instead of being the motivation itself.
Materials are more abstract and are given a meaning by using them. That means a little block can be a tomato today, pasta tomorrow and a brick of a wall another day. Two more and a traffic light for the car is built. Build a bridge with another 10 or 15. Or a farm can be built for all the animals and if it survive the night, maybe it’s a circus tomorrow. What about the basket the blocks were in? Maybe it becomes a house or hill on the way. Encouraging toys can inspire.
If you buy your child a police car it will always be a police car, it can’t be a fire truck, racing car, ambulance or tractor anymore! Encouraging toys are different, they are more like materials that can be used. The child(ren) that plays is owning the game.
We would like to inspire you by giving some inspiration what you can offer children to play with and what these materials could be used for.
Soft, light and beautiful are silk clothes. Combine small and big ones and they give nearly endless possibilities to play.
Babies just enjoy to grab them, watch the color, put them in the mouth, breath through them and feel the softness. Later they can be used to dress up themselves or a doll as princess, pirate, police man, ferry or what ever your kids can imagine. Silk clothes can be a meadow, a river, the wild sea or mountains, for example when they build a landscape out of blocks. Also silk clothes can make little (finger) dolls, worry dolls or colorful ghosts. If your kids are looking for more activity, may knot them together and make a silk steamer out of it.
Instead of buying a lot of toys, a few different sized and colored silk clothes can do the job and you can enjoy your child’s imagination.
As a baby a wooden block can be a good teether and the little ones enjoy to put thinks in their mouth anyway. Later it will be interesting to stack them higher and higher (it takes months). Than they can fall, can be put in a row, in an order, they can be sorted (in size, shape or color). Finally they can make buildings, castles, ovens to cook on, marble runs, fences, streets...
As you may realized, they don’t need many blocks at the beginning and this means it’s great to add more as some birthday or Christmas gifts. May a good start is a shape and sequenze leading board. Use a few blocks and save the board for later. Add more and more of the game until your child is ready to use it in purpose.
If you’re thinking about LEGO, you can easily skip Duplo with wooden blocks. But a lot of children enjoy the classic LEGO ( 4+ ) and if you want to go for it, we would recommend to use the creative boxes. May it doesn’t feel that WOW to you compared to a big picture of a castle but they give more flexibility and therefore last longer.
The name may gives an indication about what they are used for but they can do more than being a bridge. Take one of those and but it next to a 3ish month old baby and every swing they do when the baby touch’s them will let them laugh (because they have just reached the stage to realize the movement). Later they can hold them, feel the texture, staple them, you can use them as a garage or they are great hanger for an airplane. They can be a hammock for a doll, a doll house too or a ramp. And of course they can be a bridge.
If I would need to decide to go for a bridge set or a wooden rainbow again, I would go for the wooden bridges! They are softer shaped and give more possibilities in my opinion and experience.
Actually it is exactly this combination we believe in and here is why: the triangle is great to climb on, build a fork or crawl through (tunnel). Together with the slide it’s not just more activity (sliding, walk up, do all backwards, crawl underneath..), it’s also the most perfect slope to roll thinks down, let them go up (with different energy levels), or whatever their imagination can create. Our older boy loved to run to a specific point against something that rolls or slides down. It was his way to measure how fast it goes and it was always specially interesting if it got stuck.
To be fair it’s not a toy or listed as one but as we already realized children love to play and learn with us and nothing can make them more proud than doing something that we do as a parent. A learning tower gives a toddler exactly this possibility.
That means to help while backing, washing the dishes or vegetables or cutting the mushrooms (they are soft enough for a child knife).** This gives more room and time to you as a parent to do things you need to do and to grow self confident little people. You will be impressed how much little hands are able to do if they can try things out (important for the motivation is that they don’t have to help and can stop when they feel their limit). Build a learning tower DIY and have the perfect size for your kitchen bench.
If you don’t have a garden, a learning tower is a great opportunity to give them access to experience the magic of water (either kitchen or bath is fine). May give them two or three different sized or shaped container, bowls, bottles or whatever you have and a funnel. And have a cup of tea ready, you will have some free time.
** It’s obvious you need to stay there to make sure they don’t take the sharp knife (which they better shouldn’t reach) or the pot with boiling water. Smaller injuries are allowed, they help them to learn and to find their limit. It may sounds hard but is meant with a lot of love. We can’t protect them against everything and they better try things when I can help instead of learning they better do it without me.
Children and especially girls love to play the things they know and later they love to pretend to be somebody they know (mostly mum) and do things they are used to do. What they know best is the daily life and therefore a dolly offere to play what they are used to. The doll is I and I am mum (or another caregiver).
If you go for a fabric one, the faces are often handmade and just slightly indicated and more neutral. That means a more open play and room for imagination. It’s hard to let a smiley doll cry, being angry or shamed but these feelings are also part of a child life and worth to processed. Play is a great option to do so.
Animals are loved by boys and girls and part of every play area. It’s great if they give possibilities for interpretation (like the doll face), so they can have all kinds of characters and moods. It’s also a great option to grow the animal ‘farm‘ slowly within a couple of birthdays and christmases.
It’s the same with cars. If the cars are just shaped, they can be a police car today and an ambulance tomorrow. It can be the car if a super hero now and the oldest car on earth in an hour.
It’s a great idea to add a wooden digger and a crane or damp truck to their collection as soon as they gets older. It helps them to develop fine motor skills and they (especially boys) love to built their world with the help of these big machines.
Arno Stern found out that all children in the world show the same forms and develop through the same steps with painting, as long as they can paint without interruption and judgement. It’s inspiring and a great way to help children to come into a flow.
The miracle of a ball seams to be endless for children. The Luftmatz is a covered balloon, which makes it safe, light (great for babies) and a good option to explore the possibilities of a ball without needing to much power.
A soft leather ball is an awesome option to give something that is light enough to not hurt, safe enough to put in the mouth and to provide a uncommon texture.
Toddlers will put them together or staple them, build a first tower or put them in a row (later in a logical order). They can be used to carry or to order things. They can be a pot or the bucket for the supermarket. The options are endless.
Add some wooden balls to the nestling bowls and it’s a great game to order the right colors. Maybe take a tong to do it.
If you buy a few toys it’s probably not necessary to buy little balls but they shouldn’t be missed.
They are suitable for 6month+ but you can roll them next to your baby beforehand too. As soon as they realize the movements (around 3months) they will laugh about it. Also it’s nice to listen how the little ball inside makes some noises. Later they can easily hold them because of the holes which are also great to look through. They can roll them of course or use them for a big self made ball run. You can put some silk clothes through and explore how the behavior change. And does the noise gets louder on a wooden floor than in the garden? With a couple of month they will enjoy if it rolls faster from a little hill or ramp. This wooden Kükelhaus ball will last for a couple of years.
It’s another toy that will last and is touching a big topic for a child. The idea that something is there, away and finally the understanding that something (or somebody) is still there if not seen. With two and a half to three, most children are able to realize that somebody who isn’t here can come back (mostly mum and dad).
That’s why some scientist are critical about kindergarten/ preschool and recommend to wait until a child reach the age of three (of course not everybody has the possibility to stay at home for three years). And this process is connected with this toy. But as all the other materials/ toys in this list, it can be included or connect with other thinks. Together with building blocks it’s a great opener or finish for a ball run, it can be a ferry house (maybe with some decoration), maybe a secret cave or what about a letter box.
Materials like paper (different colors and strength), scissors, glue, finished toilette or paper towel rolls, wood, leafs, stones, pearls, fabrics or whatever comes into your hands (e.g. during your next exploration walk through the forest). They can help to create landscapes, decorations or a photo book. Use them for all kinds of handicrafts or window arts. Or maybe just find out what is falling faster or blown away easier. There is endless fun in it!
Use thinks you already have at home. Blankets over a table for a folk, a baby wrap can be a great hammock, a funnel is great fun (for marbles, sand and of course water), ‘paint’ with cutleries, or paint the tub with the shampoo before the water goes in, take a beater with some foil paper for little ones like older babies or young toddler. Also the bucket or bowl were you offer the toys in are materials and can be used to create a nest for a bird or as a salad bowl (did you know little blocks can make a great salad?)
A mirror is great for toddler and young children, they love to see themselves and it’s great for their development too.
What about making music with all kinds of items you find in your household?
Making music is important for children and their brain development. Especially for boys seems to be music incredible helpful to improve the connection/ communication between the left and right cerebral hemisphere.
One of my favorite instruments for babies, toddlers and very young children is the xylophone. With a couple of month babies enjoy the experience to do something and get feedback (cause and effect relationship) and one of the most common toys people buy for that stage are hammer peg bench’s. Instead of these hammer a peg toys I hardly recommend to buy a xylophone!
It last much (!) longer, it has more variety of feedback and doesn’t teach a child to hammer on something with no reason. A xylophone makes nice and different sounds and the game never stops. After months of joy they may start to play a first simple melody but even if not, it’s good for their (mental) development. To play music let people feel happier and works even if you don’t like it, so feel invited to join your baby. It’s always a good idea to play some instruments.
Already newborns enjoy the sound of a marble tree. Of course it’s important to wait until your children are 3+ years old to give them marbles (or later if they haven’t stoped to enjoy and explore everything with the mouth) but if you go for a large version, you could buy some balls that are small enough to go down the tree but big enough to be suitable for little ones too. Obviously it’s another option to wait and have a great birthday gift when your little one turnes three.
A marble tree does extremely enjoyable sounds and gives a lot of possibilities to explore music without knowing chords like
o one ball going down
o two three many going down
o all at ones
o quick after each other or with various distance
o do different sized behave differently
o what about different materials
o What else go down the tree or how far does it get
Your child will explore these and more things over months and it’s great fun to see how they develop new and other possibilities to work with the marble tree.
It’s not an encouraging toy itself but one that gives our toddlers and children the possibility to play their music independently. It is also flexible because light and small but wooden, which is nice and a good think for sound too. For those who regulate the music with their phones, it’s an easy way to keep the toddler and young children away from that too.
Hörbert of course is just one of a number of available kids MP3 player but this is our favorite!
You want to know more about how to encourage instead of teach as a parent? Get some inspiration about joined activities like yoga, baking or exploring books including some inspiring examples.
*Some toys are partly connected with product, which could be voted as advertising. It’s important to us to let you know that we haven’t get paid for any recommendations and are talking regarding experience and knowledge/believes.