Tuesday 23 September 2014


As part of the online play course I will be starting next week, we have been encouraged to share a selfie of our favourite toy from our childhood.

This has got me thinking more about toys... I shared water, and an image of myself splashing in water.... well at least my boots... and some others have shared images of the beach... and others have shared images of cuddly toys and shared that felt-tips were their favourite...

but TOY... what is that, really? Because quite often I feel there is a heirarchy when it comes to toys and learning - and there are those that say that in a preschool setting there should not be the same toys as there are in the children's home, (and/or) that we should have open ended toys, (and/or) that we should avoid gender-stereotyped toys etc etc etc

So what is a toy... is everything a child plays with a toy... or is it something much more specific? If children play only with sticks, stones. blocks and water - does that child have toys? Is the word "toy" reserved only for purpose-made play things? THEN, are blocks toys or tools, are pens toys or tools... what about paintbrushes... all designed to be played with by children, but not necessarily in the traditional idea of play... or...? Then of course there are barbies, lego (is that a construction material or a toy???), cuddly toys (comforter or toy?), cars, etc etc etc

In Swedish the word for toy is "leksaker" which translates as play-things... when looking at the meaning of TOY in the dictionary it is referred to as something a child plays with... but also

 Something of little importance; a trifle.
 An amusement; a pastime: thought of the business as a toy.
 A small ornament; a bauble.
A diminutive thing or person.
 A dog of a very small breed or of a variety smaller than the standard variety of its breed.
 Scots A loose covering for the head, formerly worn by women.
 Chiefly Southern U.S. A shooter marble.
intr.v. toyed, toy·ing, toys
 To amuse oneself idly; trifle: a cat toying with a mouse.
 To treat something casually or without seriousness: toyed with the idea of writing a play. See Synonyms  flirt

Which got me thinking even more... this "trifling" business seems to connect with how "play" does not seem to have the learning status it so rightly deserves... maybe we also, as teachers, call play-things toys to those things we think as lower status... and the rest gets called loose-parts, or tools or whatever... they are all being played with, being toyed with, being explored...

Then I also wonder about the word open-ended toys... because maybe we are being too quick to condemn some toys to being closed because our own adult minds are not open enough...

I have seen children transform blocks into cars with their imaginations, but I have also seen children transform cars into people and monster and other characters, even airplanes sometimes - cars are not always cars... and maybe should be given the same open-ended status as blocks from a child's perspective?

I have been part of dialogues where some teachers have taken away cars and other toys with the argument that they have those things at home... but I wonder whether this is enough to justify its removal? Afterall children are a part of a family, often have their own personal toys that they do not need to share in the same way as they do at an ECE setting... ate preschool the dynamics of play change... the same number of cars (or whatever) suddenly has to be shared with many children... there are many different wills trying to influence the play and how the toys should/could be used... children have the opportunity to learn about social interactions thriugh familiar toys... they also have the opportunity to learn new ways of playing with things - learning perspectives they might not discover if they only had the opportunity to play with certain toys in their own homes...

I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way... I am just exploring... trying to uncover more thought... maybe to get you thinking and reflecting about the word toy, and what it means to you... and what toys you have in your home/setting. What do you label as toy, what do you lable as learning materials, as loose parts, as tools.... how many of these items are more than one lable? Does giving it the label toy make it less worthy than learning material? or loose part? or tool?

Maybe if we are to improve the status of PLAY - as something meaningful; as deep, wonderful learning - then maybe we also have to imporve the status of the words we connect with play... like TOY.

Sure, I am not saying that there are not toys out there that can make you cringe, and wonder why they were ever made... but maybe in the end it is not so much the what the toy is but the how the toy is being played with.
without a shadow of a doubt, my camera is my tool but also my toy... I play and experiment with it all the time... but not in a trifling way

these three little pig toys are used as part of telling a story... are they tools?

is play doh a toy? It most certainly is something that is played with. And those ice-cream spoons - do they become toys when they are played with? or are they just loose parts?

outdoor toys - buckets and spades are most certainly tools in the adult world...

small figures of rpincesses and rpinces became fairies last year... and as you can see they are not stereotyped gender specific... it is not the WHAT but the HOW... we presented them as something meaningful for ALL the children, we did not give these toys some kind of status

what about animals with they become things that are play with? (Now I am really stretching it, I know)

construction tools, loose-parts or toy?

do light sources become toys if being played with... especially if they are designed to be played with by children? Do the specifically designed toy light sources have a different value from "real" light sources? Why?

animals buying food from a kiosk... these animals are open ended despite the fact that in real life they all have rather specific lives and habitats... why can we not believe in the competence in children's creativity when it comes to other toys that are deemed "closed"? Have we really explored this fully? Maybe there is research out there... I have not looked into this more... but I feel interested in fidning out more

again dinsoaurs did not behave like disnosaurs but were given their own personalities that are closer to people than animals... here the children were exploring death...

The there are board games - where do they fit in the scheme of things... they are also things that are played with by children - but not open ended, they have very clear rules and very decided outcome...

I have hardly touched the play/TOYS that goes on in the role-play area, the atelier etc etc etc...

So how do YOU define toy?


  1. Prior to this course, I always thought of a toy as a specific thing that a child can play with, be it a construction toy, like Lego or wooden blocks, or a doll, or a car, but as a parent, who hasn't said 'my child plays more with the box than the £40 doll (substitute toy of choice) that came with it.'? That surely brings into question the role of the toy and the factors that dictate to the child, rather than the adult, what constitutes a toy.

    As a parent, I fully embraced toys from the cuddly bears and rattles of baby-hood to the gadgets and gizmos of the teenage years. We've done educational toys, like wooden, jigsaw clocks, and V-Tech electronic toys; we've done Barbie dolls (very briefly) and Lego; we've done most toys, but not much was done to encourage playing with dolls as I have an abhorrence of them. (that's another story :))

    Anecdotally, I have seen parents who have banned Barbies, because of their inherent pinkness and sexual politics; I've known mums who deplore the 'plastic tat with lights and bells' in favour of wooden, traditional toys. I personally have allowed my child to dictate her toy requests and have been shocked to see how quickly she has 'grown out' of things when allowed to indulge them, as opposed to friends' children who have been denied toys and have yearned for pretty, pink things with flashing lights into their later life, but I digress.

    What I find interesting is how technology is affecting play and how this impacts on the definition of toys . Is a games console a toy? Are Ipads playthings and therefore toys? If we can stretch the definition of toys to include mud and trees and water at one end of the scale, do we include electronic equipment at the other end? If fancy dress outfits encourage imaginative play, are they toys?

    As the definition of childhood changes, surely the definition of a toy must change? We are looking at objects which have changed beyond recognition from the first toys made. Hoops and wooden cups and balls have transformed into all singing, all dancing, electronic toys. Children are now statistically more likely to be supervised than not. Children are more likely to be brought up indoors. There have been many socio-economic changes which have impacted on how children play and how they are parented. Surely all of this must affect how we view toys and how we see play??

  2. My girls had barbies, but that was not by choice... they started off with other (MUCH more expensive) dolls that had child like bodies and clothing that was more "real" - but they never were really interested in them in the same way that barbies interested them (they got their first one when they were four from my aunt) - then it was a barbie adventure, collecting different types, loads of different clothes etc etc... the whole fantasy and reality mixing... they did not seem to want to play reality with real things, it appeared that they wanted to explore real life through the safety of fantasy and imagination... by the age of 7-8 barbie had become forgotten and other areas of play were explored.

    My children have always been exposed to a great deal of nature, and to non-gender specific toys as well as having access to both kinds of gender specific toys... my girls had cars and lego etc and my son had dolls and dancing dresses.... and even though they all played with all things they still played with those things you associate mostly with their gender... my girls it was dress-up and dolls and my son it was cars (anything wth wheels really) and lego...

    they have been united in their interest of the outdoors and nature/wildlife, also in art and being creative with materials... one of my kitchen cupboards is full of art materials they can freely access (and always have been able to) - music, dance and song has been another commmon interest.

    As for i-pads etc... yes it has to be considered a toy/tool/resource... just like many of the other "toys" it is played with...

    for me though my concern with the i-pad gaming etc is that it has been much more addictive than the other play/toys the children have had.... although these days my girls are pretty addicted to reading... and that is not getting their bodies moving either...

    I see value in screen play... but it is like everything in life... moderation and being a part of life rather than taking control of it...

    Thank you so much for your response, I look forward, Sue, to "meet" you online and explore play together.

  3. I both worry about and wonder about the future of Ipad play.

    I know that for my daughter we weren't great at all at the outdoor play and I do feel she missed out as a result of that. I think socio-economic factors come into play. My background wasn't great and though my daughter was never reared with the TV as a babysitter, I certainly didn't shy away from the screen as a method of teaching and development.

    I can't regret it too much as I have a daughter who, at 13, shies away from reality tv, unlike many of her friends, and doesn't really watch much tv at all nowl. She hates Facebook and social media, which surprises me, but is obsessed with Youtube (watching, not uploading). She's obsessed with music and reading, so is an indoor child predominantly. I worry about that, but I guess not all children are outdoor kids.

    Play and academic development has always fascinated me. What makes a child develop and learn effectively? And like, with adults, we all learn so differently. I'm hoping the course will help me to look at interpersonal skills with children, as that's something that seems to hamper so many of the children I work with, ie those with special educational needs.

    It feels 'too late' for my 13 year old. She's so rigid in her ways and trying to push her outside now would never work. For my charges at school, however, I do feel that more knowledge of play, more opinions and a wider range of choices for me to pick from can only help them to develop as young people in the school environment.

    I'm looking forward to joining in with the course. If I talk too much, just let me know. I'm a bit verbose sometimes :)