“Slow Toys” and the Power of Free Play

The "Slow Toys" movement is a new way of thinking about playthings and play. A toy that is carefully made and inspiring to a child has more value than several cheap throw aways. It’s so important to carefully choose the playthings that feed children’s imaginations. Parents are also coming to understand that limiting, or even eliminating, screen time may be a healthy approach.

Fred Rogers asserted that play truly is the work of childhood, so while overtly educational items  that reinforce classroom lessons have their place, toys that encourage open-ended, imaginative play are just as important to a child's development. Creating stories, creating art, creating early memories that are the basis of a happy life are what "slow toys" are all about.

Many children live very structured lives, with their adults anxious that the children will be bored. As a result, unstructured "free play" has become lost in the mix. It’s so important that children be given the opportunity to experience free play. Free play fosters higher cognitive development by allowing children to innovate and problem solve. It truly is the "work" of childhood because it leads children to develop skills and qualities that will be important to them as they mature into adults.

Free play has many forms. For infants and toddlers particularly, physical exploration of the world is important. Constructive play begins in preschool when children assemble and sort and begin to build with blocks and create with art materials. Building play often leads to pretend play, which is very important to developing social skills. Pretend play can be children representing  adult activities with kitchen toys or play tools, or it can be creating stories and scenarios that are wholly fanciful. Adults can provide small figures, dolls, puppets and costumes which are favorite props for pretend play.

Adults should understand the importance of free play. Let children continue with an activity until it reaches a natural conclusion whenever possible. Help children begin free play if necessary by demonstrating or asking questions but then get out of the way. Offer an attractive array of "tools" whether toys or art materials that will be enticing. If possible allow constructions created during free play to stand overnight for the play to resume another time.  There are times to clean up and there are times to put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on a creation.

Nan demonstrates some of the best toys for free play on Pittsburgh’s KDKA.

Nan demonstrates some of the best toys for free play on Pittsburgh’s KDKA.