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Playing with real things

One of the interesting things about running a family day care is being able to observe the various children in my care and see the different ways they play and engage.

When I first started out, I always set out as many toys as I could fit into the play area. I thought that more toys would equal more engagement in play. I was so wrong. On the contrary, it resulted in chaos, mess and poor focus and engagement during play.

Since then, I’ve now scaled back the number of toys I put out in the play area and I rotate them regularly to spark new interests with the children’s play.

Here are a few things I’ve observed about the objects and toys that seem to captivate children the most…

#1. Children really LOVE boxes
Large, medium, small and even teeny tiny boxes. I always have a few large cardboard boxes that get turned into trucks, trains and tunnels. They also adore shoeboxes and teeny tiny boxes which they just love putting things into, taking them out and putting them in again and again and again.

The Mothers’ Day chocolates that came in these boxes have long since disappeared…
but these boxes still remain and have spent many long hours in play

#2. Children frequently like to play with items that are not even ‘toys’ in the strict sense
I always keep a tub of odds and ends such as empty milk cartons, containers, boxes and other such ‘junk’. I often worry about not having enough fancy toys and equipment for the kids. But after many hours of observation, I notice that the ‘junk’ often seems to occupy the kids for much longer periods compared to many of the typical ‘standard’ toys.

#3. Children like exploring all sorts of thingamajigs and doohickies
I keep a box of random bits and bobs for this express purpose. The little ones just love pawing through the various items inside. Often they end up selecting a particular item as their chosen treasure of the day which they will hide in their pocket/bag/box and take it out again and again to look at throughout the course of the day.

I always keep a hodge podge box of thingamajigs and doohickies
for the children to paw through and hunt for treasure

#4. Children love teeny tiny stuff
I don’t know exactly why, but children seem to gravitate to the teeny tiny books, the teeny tiny box or the teeny tiny soft toy. Perhaps it’s because it fits so perfectly in their teeny tiny hands. The only problem is that these teeny tiny stuff ends up being hidden away in all sorts of nooks and crannies around the house.

#5. Children seem to naturally gravitate to the shabby and scruffy cuddlies
Among the dolls and plush toys in our collection, we have nice, neat looking store-bought dolls and plushies, and also well-worn and homemade ones like these. Guess which ones gets played with more often?

On the left: a nice, neat looking store-bought doll VERSUS on the right: shabby homemade dolls
Guess which one gets played with by the children more often?

I found this last fact a little puzzling at first. And then I remembered the well-loved classic tale of The Velveteen Rabbit. And it all made sense. Children want to play with REAL things.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit


Have you ever wondered why babies seems so attracted to shoes, spoons, pegs, or even your phone? Because these objects are REAL stuff. Not just mere play things. And they know the difference between the plastic counterfeit ‘toy’ versus the real thing. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. Kids are often smarter than we realise.

What quirky objects and thingamajigs do your little ones enjoy playing with around your house?

P.S. This is not a box.

Blogging with Jess @ IBOT


  1. Now we know why Nathan just love to play with our pots and pans and the wooden spoon.

  2. It's so true. My girls would love playing with different textured items and empty boxes!! The money we could have saved had we realised this sooner!! :)

  3. Yes you are so right, my kids LOVE boxes, small things that they find AND things that aren't toys! Less is more when it comes to children I reckon! x

  4. I remember I would give the kids random household items to play with in the high chair whilst I made dinner. That always kept them much more satisfied than actual toys.


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