01 Oct

Tools VS. Toys. 

Imagine the contents of a toolbox. There might be a hammer and nails, a wrench, a screwdriver, a drill, tape measure, super glue, etc. Each tool serves a purpose, the solution to a specific problem. Some are multi-use, and some have one singular purpose. Some tools you may use on a regular basis, some only get used for special, big projects. 

Imagine the contents of a playroom. A few stuffed animals, dress up clothes, blocks, toy cars, and a play kitchen. Each toy serves a purpose. Some are multi-use and some have a single function. 

But, can toys be tools? YES! 

Jean Piaget said, “Play is the work of childhood”. So why shouldn’t toys be seen as the tools that can support that work?! Often kids use toys to do the work they need without any adult interference (they explore emotions with dolls, test the limits of their intellect and spatial awareness with blocks, etc).  

But sometimes they may need a little nudge in a new direction. 

As parents, caregivers, and educators we may have an idea of what areas of need exist for our children. We can give them access to toys, activities, books, play themes, and art projects that may offer a bridge to the work that needs to done. Ex. Toys to combat anxiety. Stuffed Animals to process big feelings. Books that teach kindness. Art projects to cope with grief. 

Toys CAN be tools. But it is important to keep in mind that not all tools are needed for all children. Meaning, you might find a tool that you feel will be perfect for  ____, but the child doesn’t use it as planned. You imagined this beautiful, life-changing, emotional moment-but the child is uninterested. That is OK! 

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Your child might not be ready at this time. They could have other things on their mind, other work they need to do. Just go with it. You can try again in a few days/weeks/months. Or you can make it part of the routine, so it is available when they are ready. 

  2. Play is still work, even if it isn’t how you had planned. A few of the “tools” I have brought into our house have never been used how I originally intended. Instead, LJ has found ways to use them to support equally necessary play. I hope that maybe someday we will use them the way I had envisioned, but if not they are still beloved toys!. 

  3. It may not be the right tool for that child. Each child is unique, with special strengths, struggles, and interests. Therefore, not all tools are a perfect fit for all children. When choosing which tools to try, consider what makes your child “tick” to help you determine if it will be a good fit. Ex. if your child is afraid of animals, then a stuffed dog might not be ideal.

I have a vision of the space being like a hardware store where you can come explore tools that might be worth adding to your own parenting toolbox! I am always on the lookout for new tools or new ways to use things that we already have. If you have a book, toy, activity, or idea to suggest- please reach out! I would love to open this space up to other parents and educators to share their knowledge and experiences. Send me an email if you want to talk :) 



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