Children love to imagine: to create make-believe worlds, stories, and adventures. It’s a wonderful way for children to foster their own creativity, language, emotional regulation, problem-solving and social skills. Imagination can be thought of as a muscle: we can develop and build our imagination through regular practice. So, its for that reason that many parents of babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers are keen to promote imaginative play in their offspring, offering the best possible chance to develop creativity and imagination.
Reading and singing fairy tales and nursery rhymes, engaging in play with our children and offering toys to stimulate imagination are all tried and tested methods for developing imaginative play, setting kids up for a creative future. And experts agree creative and imaginative play are essential for children’s development. Child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children emphasizes how crucial imaginative play is to babies, toddlers and children. “This kind of play allows children to tap into their creativity and really run with it, without any boundaries, in a way that’s very freeing,” she says. Research has shown that children who engage in pretend play are likely to be more cognitively and socially competent.
Understanding the importance of imaginative play is one of the reasons for a surge in interest in more traditional, classic wooden toys. Rattles, shape sorters, blocks and simple wooden figures and mini worlds. These open-ended types of wooden toys may seem simplistic when compared to plastic toys that involve pressing buttons to trigger lights and sounds. However, wooden toys offer endless possibilities. That collection of wooden blocks and shapes can be a farmyard, space rocket or series of steppingstones for teddy to cross an (imaginary!) river. The simple wooden figure can be Mummy, Daddy, nurse, scientist, firefighter or deep-sea diver; or even all of these across a given day’s play! For infants and babies, even a simple wooden rattle can be held in different ways, can be hidden under a blanket or cushion, can be (safely) explored via the mouth as well as the hands.
In other words, simple wooden toys offer endless possibilities for exploration, imagination and creativity. Their simplicity provides just enough stimulation to fuel imagination. A direct challenge to plastic electronic toys which have a very focused goal or specific purpose to their repertoire. Once a child has mastered pressing a certain button on an electronic or battery powered toy to produce a certain sound, the toy becomes somewhat redundant. The wooden tea set, doctors kit or portable toolbox, however, offer timeless quality and durability as well as open-ended creative play that continues long after the child first receives the toy.
This focus upon imaginative play is something Dr. Maria Montessori promoted through her world-famous Montessori method to child development and learning. Fostering imagination through play was a concept she believed came by offering children a simple and natural environment to allow children up to be able to learn things on their own through their own explorations. Developing minds absorb that which surrounds them, so offering a few well-chosen, quality toys provide rich and open-ended learning and development. It’s for that reason that Montessori nurseries and schools worldwide provide a selection of well-chosen elegant and classic wooden toys with simple moving parts so that children learn new skills and explore the world in a spirit of adventure whilst also developing an appreciation for quality, beauty and elegance. As children read and listen to stories, wooden toys can be integrated into their learning, promoting language and emotional expressivity as well as imagination.
So, whilst wooden toys may not seem, at first glance, to be utilising the latest technology, its true to say they offer a rich, creative, enriching and imaginative start for young minds. It’s for that reason that wooden toys are becoming top of parents and grandparents wish lists as gifts that keep on giving. And, of course, as you play alongside your child, you can benefit from the creative and Imaginative potential of wooden toys! A wonderful antidote to the stresses of modern life. A great reason to make wooden toys the choice to provide that sustainable and lasting option for creative, imaginative and educational play.