Fostering Creative Play

Fostering Creative Play

I worked in a long day care setting for 10 years prior to having my own children. Now I own and run Little Toy Tribe, sharing my knowledge and inspiring parents, carers, grandparents and other educators at home or at work to be more present with children and more engaged in play together. 

Throughout my time at work I loved working with children of all different ages (3 months - 5 years) and it really shaped me to be the Mum I am today. 

I think when you work in a setting with children everyday, you always think about the things you’d do differently when you become a Mum. When I had my own children that’s just what I did!

Toy rotation was always something that I wanted to do with my own kids. I found it hard to do in the centre I worked at as we had no place to put excess resources and every time the centre bought some they would buy the same for every room. I felt that everyday at work was the same. The same cars on the same mat in the same room… I would rearrange the room but that’s about it.

I always tried to implement toy rotation in my rooms at work but despite my efforts it never really happened as much as I would have liked. Montessori was known about but not much of the theory was implemented throughout the centre except for things I could control, such as a self help table with water bottles, wipes, tissues and sunscreen but even a water jug was often too much for others due to the mess.

When I started toy rotation in my own home, my eldest was about 6 months old. It started mainly to mentally stimulate myself. Being at home with one child was very different to a whole classroom of children and it was not an easy adjustment for me.

I found joy through rotating toys and finding new ways to use the same resources in multiple ways. I personally believe the more we enjoy the toys that we provide our children, the more likely we are to sit down and play with our children, which is mutually beneficial for all involved.

Little girl doing sensory play with kinetic sand and wooden bowls


Benefits of Toy Rotation

Toy rotation improves concentration and helps to develop a child’s focus, creating a longer attention span. Less is more and toy rotation helps avoid clutter. You’ll also find that your children will be engaged in more meaningful and focused play.

An example of this is; how many times can you build up a stack of blocks before it gets boring? Children then need to use their imagination to come up with a new way to use them. In our home, blocks turn into food in the kitchen, a road for our cars or fences for animals among many, many more ideas.

It also fosters creativity as they need to find new ways to use the same toys when they start to get bored. Don’t worry - boredom is good for them, it helps build their imagination and creative skills.

No matter how messy it gets in our playspace, it can all be packed away in less than 5 minutes but even better than all those things is the benefits it has on their independent play.

Toy rotation also helps to increase the life of a toy no matter whether it is open ended or not. Taking it away and bringing it back every few weeks or even a month later, over and over again, means it is kept and enjoyed for longer as every time it comes out it feels new to them.

How often you rotate is completely up to you – it depends on your schedule, your family and your play space but there are some key reasons to rotate you can watch out for. If your children are disengaging in play and not playing as independently as they normally do that's a sign you are probably due for a rotation. Also, if your play area is being inundated with extra things that have been brought out or just everything has been pull onto the floor, these can be signs you're ready for a toy rotation. Another reason to rotate is you've noticed an interest in your child you want to support or an area they might need some encouragement with so you can rotate their space to stimulate that.


Creating a Prepared Environment

Now the reason I am talking about the benefits of  toy rotation is because it goes together with creating a prepared environment or a ‘yes’ space for children to play in.

Where are you asking your children to play? Is it set up in an inviting way?

The area that you are expecting your children to play in should be set up to encourage freedom for them to choose their own activities.

When your children are in this space you shouldn’t be telling them ‘no don’t take that out,’ or ‘lets play with that later.’ Whatever is available to them in this space, they can have, so take items away if you feel you might make a response like that.

Play Space

Here is an example of our current rotation.

Top shelf: Cash register, teapot, coffee cups, basket with bags and wallet, Mancala game tray with crystals and bowls

Middle shelf: Montessori Medic doctors bag, Grapat Mandala pieces, screw board

Bottom shelf: Waytoplay roads and cars, dress ups and playsilks

Recently since my youngest turned two, I have found myself leaving a little more out as I find they love to combine many of their open ended toys in play which I love!

I now leave out our most used Grimm’s items including the large rainbow, bridges, building boards, stacking bowls and balls

In the big basket off to the side we keep our Connetix Tiles and next to it we keep the Marble Tree which we use as a calm down activity before bed time or when emotions are heightened.

On the top we also have a small selection of books that are also rotated along with the ones we keep in their bedroom.

My girls also have free access to their art and craft supplies which is in the cupboard next to our main shelf of toys. I know this isn’t for everyone but it works for us and it has always been this way.

Art Cupboard

We rotate the items on the main shelf every 2-4 weeks depending on how the girls are playing.

When we rotate the toys I ask them to take everything off that they don’t want to stay for the next rotation and things they choose to keep out remain on the shelf. I then ask them if there is anything in particular they would like me to get out. They don’t usually help with the next part because they will want everything! I just try to go off what I have noticed they are interested in when stocking the shelves again.

When they were younger I would just do rotations on my own after they were asleep by watching and seeing what they were playing and engaging with still, but given they are now old enough (2.5 and 4 years) it is nice for them to have input in the change.


How do Open Ended toys help?

Open ended play is play that has no set or fixed way that a toy should be used. There is no set outcome and no 'right' or 'wrong' way for the toy to be used. 

For example our daughter used a tea pot and a block to shave my husband’s face like she had seen a few days prior at the hairdresser. We didn't tell her "that's not a razor" or "why don't you use this instead?"

Instead we encouraged her to continue what she was doing and Dion extended on this by asking her to also give him a haircut by saying "my hair is getting a bit long." She proceeded to put a skirt around his neck (as a cape) and used her fingers as scissors.

None of these items were the 'right' ones but they did the job!

When children are offered open ended toys they can use them to follow their imagination and use their creativity so these toys can get a lot of love in a variety of ways and by children of many different ages.

A little girl playing with a Grimm's wooden rainbow. Stacking it while sitting on a balance board.


How can you encourage children to engage in open ended play?

Sometimes children might need some ideas as to how to play with open ended toys (especially if it's new to them)!

The best way to do this is by creating simple invitations to play with their existing resources. You can do these with anything you already own, it doesn’t have to be open ended.

I also often use invitations to play to engage my kids in an activity whilst I step away for a few minutes to cook dinner or do the dishes. 

Simply select a few things that work well together off the shelf of toys you have set up and place them together in an inviting way on the coffee table or floor and the kids play with them however they would like. I don't usually tell them what to do unless they ask for a suggestion.

Here are a few that I set up (left) and what my children created with the items (right).

Waytoplay Invititation to PlayWaytoplay Playing

Waytoplay flexible roads and Grimm’s cars.

Crafting Invitation to PlayCrafting

Paper, pencils, glue scissors.

Mandala Invitation to PlayMandala Playing

Grapat Mandalas - Beginnings of patterns.


I hope this has inspired you to set up a play space for your little ones that offers them a place to be creative, learn and most of all have fun!

As always if you have questions, please reach out I'm happy to help.

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