With the holidays in full swing, toys are top of mind of children everywhere, but parents and caregivers don’t have to spend a lot of money, or even any money, for kids to have fun playing. Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Trying Together, shows Kristine Sorensen all kinds of ways to encourage creative, unstructured play with your kids.
Kristine Sorensen: Cara, please give us some ideas of where to start with ideas for encouraging kids to play.
Cara Ciminillo: One of the things we always emphasize is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money. I know our kids like us to spend a lot of money, but we really don’t need to. One of the best ways to start is to think about open-ended materials. That means the toys have limitless possibilities for play.
We really like blocks for so many reasons. With blocks, kids can do things like sorting and counting and building. A child might sort by color or group by size or build something like a house. Then if a child has little figurines, the figurines can enter the house the child has made.
Kristine Sorensen: There are so many kinds of blocks. There are the old-fashioned woodblocks, LEGOs are a linking block, and even cardboard boxes can be used like blocks.
Cara Ciminillo: Yes. When you think about toys to play with, go to your recycling and pull out things. Kids will find a way to play with the items. Sometimes we feel like we have to have an “end.” It’s really important to just say to our child, “Here you go. I’m going to give you a whole menu of options, and you decide how you want to play with it.”
Kristine Sorensen: We have all these play materials here that look fun, but what if your kid is looking at you like, “Okay, now what?”
Cara Ciminillo: You can encourage play by asking different questions. For example, “What can we build with these materials?” Then you’re just giving them ideas.
Or you could say, “I can glue this together or use pipe cleaners. I can tie this around that.” And then you can say, “Well, what else could this be used for?” A child will begin to explore how else he or she could use the materials. Giving them opportunities to just explore with different objects is really important.
Kristine Sorensen: Creative play is important at school too, right?
Cara Ciminillo: It is. One of the things that we really advocate for is unstructured play, and we really encourage parents to ask their schools, “How much time is there for recess?” Having brain breaks throughout the day is really important to children’s development. You can check out Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative to find materials to support parents’ engagement with that conversation at their schools.