Today I decided to rattle a bit of a controversial subject. I understand that you may not agree with me and I totally respect that. It is my personal opinion, however I backed it up with a research that I recently found, which was done by a group of scientists. (please check the links at the bottom of the post).
Right after I became a mom I could not wait to take my children to the playgrounds and buy them all those popular toys they would play with for hours and hours.
I used to see all moms did it, so I assumed it was the best for my children and their healthy development.
But was it?
What's wrong with conventional playgrounds?
When I started taking my kids to the parks with playgrounds in them I could not stop thinking how robotic they were. Yes, that was the word. ROBOTIC PLAYGROUNDS.
To me, it seemed that all the activities kids could do there didn't encourage AND allow any creativity, imagination, problem solving or even social skills.
Climb the stairs, sit down, slide, climb the wall, swing and go down the tunnel (and do all this 100 times all over again) were pretty much the most popular activities kids can do in the traditional playground. It's all laid out there for them. They don't need to figure out anything.
There were no space for free play that would encourage to create a new game or even a toy. It was designed by adults who didn't take child's play habits into consideration.
What's wrong with traditional toys?
The toys you buy in the store are the same. All of them already have mostly 1 way to play with and that's it. Yes, they occupy our kids and provide fun and some of them supposed to even be educational. But is that enough? Could they get more?
Don't get me wrong, there are some toys in the market that are really brilliantly created which encourage the creativity and imagination.
What is good for kids?
I can hear you saying: "So if playgrounds and traditional toys are bad for kids and we already know that TV, Ipads and other electronical devices are not good for kids either. What to do then? "
Actually, it's right in front of your eyes. The toys are in the kitchen, garage, bedroom and all over your house. If you have outdoor space, there are no limits there for play ideas.
The study that I am referring below in the article states that kids who play with cheap items like crates, buckets, pots and pans encourage children to be more active and creative than expensive play equipment.
Here are some examples of toys and activities to do with your kids around your house.
- build with toilet paper rolls or stack cards
- make life size dolls and puppets,
- make a new toy from already broken toys
- Play hours this Photography game or record your own Youtube show
- craft with watermelon, pencil shavings
- make a cardboard train that you can actually sit in it or ski with homemade skis
My personal experience
I am really passionate about this subject because I did go through both: the traditional playgrounds, the store bought toys and the natural play which didn't involve playgrounds or store bought toys.
I saw significant difference in my children's behavior. I actually think they became happier. HAPPIER KIDS!!! What else would you want... They also are more creative and became much more independent in terms of coming up with an activity and proceeding with it.
For example, my 5 year old daughter gets so excited when there is an empty plastic soda bottle finally available in the house. That means a lot to her: it could be a bracelet made, a pool for her doll house or maybe even a car for little brother. And then I hear: "Mom, we need more bottles!".
In fact, just the other day she almost argued with me and begged me not to throw away the watermelon rind. Because she just wanted to make something out of it... And look what she (together with my help of course) created!
Actually I feel embarrassed (but mostly proud) when we are at the store and she often would say: "don't buy this, we could easily make that."
Creative thinking and problem solving has become daily life in our house naturally.
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It's not only me
I was kinda excited to learn that my inner voice and mother intuition was not lying when I found out that there is actually a study done about this subject. For 2 years a group of researchers in Australia studied the behavior and affect on children who were playing in the traditional school playgrounds. They also compared kids who played with everyday household objects placed in the playground.
The result were surprising. The researchers had found that "Introducing simple, everyday objects during recess and lunchtime can cut sedentary behavior by half, improve creativity and boost social and problem-solving skills".
The study also found that: "Students who played with everyday household objects took 13 more steps per minute and played more intensively and vigorously compared to those using the traditional playground.
"These results could be applied to anywhere that children play and shift the debate on the best way to keep our children healthy."
The article about the research
Let's clear things up
- I still take my kids to the playgrounds occasionally. It definitely won't hurt your children if they take a slide or swing or climb the wall once in awhile. It's a good physical activity and a fun way to change things up a little in your daily routine. Moderation is the key.
- But I don't buy them toys anymore. We make them ourselves, because there is nothing better than homemade toys that you create together with your children.
- And if you are trying to cover up your guilt buy taking kids to playgrounds and buying them toys so the they won't have "boring childhood", stop right there and read What Happens when kids get bored (you will be surprised).
How about you?
I would love to hear your opinion about traditional playgrounds and toys for kids? Tell me the good and the bad (but please be gentle).
Bronwyn Joy says
We did a kids' party recently where we basically got people to bring cereal boxes and then we went and asked for old packing boxes and cardboard rolls and the kids had a ball. I do think they need a bit of a suggestion, too (some kids maybe moreso than others) - traditionally, of course, the older kids would show the younger ones how to play to get them started and the younger ones would learn and expand from there. But it's amazing what they can come up with.
And of course they can also re-purpose their toys in some amazing ways if they don't get the "that's not what it's for!" style of feedback.
Birute Efe says
Bronwyn Joy, you know, that's a very good idea for the party. I have been brainstorming different ideas for couple of years how to create that perfect birthday party but without much toys and traditional entertainment. I really love that cereal box idea. And yes, some kids would need more suggestion than others and yes, some would be more free and creative if the feedback would be more open minded. Thanks for stopping by, by the way 😉
I get what you're saying, but I don't agree that playgrounds are "bad" for kids, or robotic! We go to the playground every day in the summer. It become a pirate ship, a rocket ship, a haunted house, a jail, a planet in outer space, a deserted island, a fire truck. Underneath has been a cave, a school, a store, a secret hideout and a restaurant. My son and his friends have races up the slides, and around the structure. They play follow the leader. We read books underneath it when the sun is hot. We bounce on the bridge when there aren't many kids. We bring buckets and pretend bones and toy dinosaur. We bring cars and super heros "guys". We bring balls and frisbees. We bring chalk for the sidewalk. Bug nets for the creatures in the grass. We love the playground!
Birute Efe says
Jemma, what a great and creative child you have. He sure comes up with a lot of activities to do on the playground. I love that you guys bring stuff and incorporate it in the playground play. When I said robotic playgrounds I was referring to our own personal experience. I am not sure if it was the particular playgrounds we were going to, but I didn't see my kids having best play potential in them. While they did play some of the things you mentioned, I noticed that there is better play going on when they are not in the playground. Maybe it really depends on the child. Thank you so much for your comment, Jemma. I really appreciate it you taking time to read it and leave you input.
My children LOVE to the playground into a pirate ship and sale the ocean waters or became secret agents searching for the stolen treasure, etc. plenty of imagination there! There are many ways a creative child can play on a playground. The gross motor skills developed by climbing, swinging, jumping etc are also very beneficial, much of our foster children's physical therapy was on typical playground equipment.
Household objects are as great way to help boost imagination, when we lived in Korea and my son only had a few toys he would play for hours with a couple of highlighters. It was amazing! To me that doesn't mean household items are the only way... I've also seen him play very imaginatively with traditional toys... There just needs to be a good balance. I found your article thought provoking but was confused by your 3rd point at the end... I can't quite tell if you're saying everyone who takes their children to playgrounds and buys them traditional toys is covering up guilt? I don't mean that snarky at all, but it could read that way...
Birute Efe says
Tracee, I am happy you guys are loving playgrounds and finding them very useful. I truly am. Also I totally agree with you that there should be a balance with everything kids do.
What I really meant with my 3rd point at the end of the article was for parents not to feel guilty when kids are bored and rush to provide them with new toys and playgrounds, because it's healthy for kids to get bored. (And there is a link to the article about kids and boredom). And again, it's a balance.
Thank you so much, Tracee, for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. And I am sorry if you found the article thought provoking. I didn't mean it. It's just I am very passionate about this subject and was talking from my personal perspective and backing it up with the research I found.
We do not buy toys anymore. They usually frustrate my kids very easily. Instead they play with whatever they find in the garage, kitchen and outside. I always keep available to them all kind of recyclables and craft tools, they love it! You should see the playgrounds up here in AK, built with woods and recycled material, full of ways to explore and play.
Birute Efe says
Lara, so cool that your kids are playing with household items. I totally believe you that they would get frustrated with store bought toys. My kids are similar. I have also seen few playgrounds that are really really creatively made and are very different from standard ones. I have seen some in Europe that are made from wood, cob and have some loose all kinds of recycled materials to play with. Just how you said it.
Emma @ P is for Preschooler says
The other day we went to a new playground with a list of rules longer than most of the kids who were there - ride the slide only feet first, don't climb up the slide, no running(?!). What? Well, according to these rules I do everything wrong because I let my daughter play with the equipment the way she wants to, even when it's "riskier" than the "no-running" camp would like. She'll fall down, she might get hurt, she'll be more careful next time. I agree with you about homemade toys - but even better are the memories your kids will have of making the toys with you instead of just buying them! 🙂
Birute Efe says
Emma, what a great point. I actually totally forgot about it. But it's so true! I let my kids play on the playgrounds as they wish, but I do see a lot of kids being stopped to do what they are doing just because of the 'rules'. And I see after a few no climb there, don't run, don't slide here they just loose motivation and the whole fun is gone. Thanks, Emma, for coming over 🙂
Katelyn F says
This is really interesting to me! I love taking my kids to the playground, but at the same time, I know they tend to get bored. That's why I often have told them to step away from the equipment and play in the grassy field next to it. Sometimes we even bring balls or a kite or something else to do together as a family. I will have to look at this study, because I'm very curious in this. We don't have a lot of toys (honestly, we don't) and have like no outdoor toys. But do you know what my kids like to do everyday? Play outside in our apartment's "backyard" where there are no toys or slides or jungle gyms. They love it. They play pretend. They lie out on beach towels, move around our patio chair, climb on the A/C unit ("Get off!"), pick flowers, check out ant hills, and play hide n go seek, among other games.
Thanks for writing this!
Birute Efe says
Thanks Katelyn F for your comment. I totally believe you about kids playing and having their best time in the empty backyard. And that's so cool.
I understand what you are saying but at the same time it frustrated me. I know that there are many kids that the only place they have to play is on the playground. They don't have the choice of playing outside in a yard. Now, I am blessed that we found an apartment with a yard but I have friends who don't have that choice and so they go to the playground. I think that is what is more important. The fact that the parents are making a point of getting their kids outside. 'Normal' toys just get on my nerves. I totally agree with you and my kids find so much more to do when they dig through my 'trash'. My kids love to make and create and many times that creation is on a conventional playground. I also tend to 'break' the rules on playgrounds...
I am very excited to found your blog and to know you are lithuanian! I love your ideas about playing and creating. I am proud to say, that most of the toys and furnitures of our 15 months old are made by our family - toy making is the wonderful way to spend the evenings, when the little one sleeps, it´s so meditational.
When I was pregnant I also dreamed to buy for my baby all those wonderful toys which I had in my imagination, but then I visited our toys shops (I live in Spain) I was shocked! I don´t know how other countries, but here the market is crazy about advertising some of the popular cartoons. So in toys shop you can choose the toys only from Spongebob, Spiderman, Violetta and Peppa Pig departmens, It´s a hard task even to buy the bucket for the sand box without any of these characters! Spain has the old traditions of carnivals and it has to be the real fun to make the original costumes every year, I was shocked, what all the girls simply wear Violetta costumes and all the boys are acting Spidermans! Even the first communions days party was in Violetta´s theme! That was the moment, when i´ve decided to make my own toys and I think my little one is happy about it!
About traditional playgrounds - the best playground for our 15 months old is the beach - it´s wonderful to see him running and picking the rocks and playing with the sand for hours. And in traditional playgrounds we spend about 10 minutes...
Birute Efe says
Simona, LABAS! YOU MADE MY DAY! Thank you for coming and leaving a comment. I am also very excited to find lithuanian reader of my blog. I would love to see what you guys making. I will be emailing you 🙂
Here is the small album of our home made toys
All the wood we used was found either on the beach either near the trash containers, so it´s also eco friendly toys!
Jessica Hiner says
Birute, I LOVE your ideas!! No kids yet, but when/if we do, I'll be putting into effect so many of your ideas!! Sofia is so beautiful and growing so fast!! Love and miss you guys, the doggies say hi!! Congrats on all the books and this path you're on 🙂
Birute Efe says
Jessica, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I miss you too, so much. Can't wait to see those little Hiner babies when/if you have them.
Our family has a tradition that you receive clothes on your birthday and toys for Christmas, when we reach the age of 12, we start receiving gifts we could use in our future house, it helps with clutter and as a mom I love the help with buying clothes for a growing boy, I will consider adding the other tradition when he reaches 12, as it was a HUGE help to me when I moved into my own place and I only had to buy the bare necessities.
Really interesting to me While outdoor play and recess are often treated as optional, studies confirm that they are key to the development of such important soft skills as self-control, decision making, and planning, in addition to the obvious benefit of physical health.
Margot Robbie says
Really nice blog.! choosing right playground equipment help to development kids social Skill. Though game they can interact with other children. In this way they can lean many think.
Thank you for your valuable information. Outdoor playing is very important for children to strong mentally and physically. we have so many stores to provide outdoor toys for kids. for those Kidszee is the best and better option for mostly here we have branded products with offers that will be available.
I think kids should have "real toys" like adults, only adapted for their use; I mean for example like musical instruments: how about a real ukulele or harmonica, rather than an electronic guitar toy that just plays pre-made noises when you hit buttons on it? I don't know how this would be adapted for the playground obstacles, there are some adult obstacle courses for physical fitness so maybe some of the designs could be adapted.
Nadia Mallit says
I love this article! It's hard to find people who agree with this line of thinking. I babysat a lot of kids when I was a teenager and saw that they almost never played with their backyard playgrounds. Unfortunately, we inherited a big playset with our new house and my two toddlers (ages 3 and 1) are too young to make full use of it. It is actually a hazard, as my one year old has fallen off the ladder and my three year old does not like going down the steep slide. They cannot interact with the play equipment without my constant supervision. I'm trying to convince my husband to get rid of it, as it's quite the headache for me. I definitely see more creativity and independent play when they are digging in the dirt, finding pine cones, picking the blackberries, and looking for worms. I love seeing the connection to nature. Even a small grassy mound/hill gives them so much entertainment. I also felt the constant pressure to buy my kids toys to prevent them from getting bored. I ended up accumulating so many toys that they never played with. They just dumped them in big piles all around the house. It was a nightmare. I've put most of their toys away in storage now or donated them. They prefer everyday household items to play with anyway (ie. keys, measuring tapes, screwdrivers, tape, cardboard boxes, etc). We have actually stopped celebrating Christmas - the commercialism and materialism are not in line with our current values, not to mention the stress of visiting both sets of grandparents on the same day, etc. We are creating new traditions with our families, where we each take turns hosting a meal on a different day throughout the festive season.
Thank you for writing about this important topic!