Friday, January 28, 2011


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We’ve been snow- and fever-bound for the past couple of days, so I’ve been trying to find at least one novel thing to do with the girls each day to avoid the “stir-crazies.” Yesterday, I brought a wooden Noah’s Ark up from the basement that my mother-in-law got me for Christmas two years ago. After such a long time, I finally put it together. I’m not much of a handywoman, so I felt triumphant once I had the 16 screws in, and it looked like an ark. The toy was a hit, especially with Bayla, who loves all the wooden animals (two of each, of course).

The popularity of this toy with the girls made me start thinking about the battery-free toys that fill the girls’ days. They love a noisy, light-flashing, song-playing, beep-beeping toy as much as the next kid, but once I started making a list, I realized that the majority of their toys are actually battery-free. Lucky for me, I guess! Now, I don’t happen to believe (as some people do) that battery-operated toys immediately kill the imagination, and kid-powered toys immediately bring it to life again; I’ve seen too much fabulously creative play go on with battery-powered doll houses, pirate ships, and airplanes to believe that. But the toys listed here definitely give the girls’ imaginations and creativity a workout, which I always appreciate. If you’re looking for ideas for “kid-powered pastimes”, here are some of Katy’s and Bayla’s favorites:

1. Books: Hands-down, the most favored battery-free “toy” for the girls is a good book! I love nothing more than Bayla coming up to me with a book, saying, “You read this?” How can I resist? Both girls will sit on the sofa, turning the pages of books, intently looking at the pictures. Sometimes they will “tell the story” in their own words, using what they remember from the last time I read it and what they see in the illustrations. Literacy development at its best!

2. Puzzles: The girls have graduated to more complex puzzles with interlocking pieces, but they still enjoy playing with the “beginner” peg-puzzles with pieces shaped like animals or emergency vehicles. The more complex puzzles are a little rough at the start—they just want to sit and watch me putting them together until they get comfortable with the final picture; then they’ll give it a try themselves. Did I mention that I’m not a big fan of puzzles? So, I find this process a little irritating. But once they are willing to put them together on their own, I love watching their little expressions of concentration and then triumph.

3. Stuffed animals: Stuffed animals give the girls comfort and a chance for creativity. They each have four “lovies” they take to bed for naps and nighttime every day, and Bayla always “takes roll” to make sure she has everyone before falling asleep (“Where my friends? Roar, Bunny Rabbit, Monkey, Bear! Der it is!”) During the day, their animals dance, read, sing, and talk as part of their imaginative play.

4. Toy figures: Similarly, the girls play endlessly with little plastic figures they have accumulated with various toys over the years. They have Leap and Lily, Grandma and Grandpa, Kitty Cat, pirates, pilots, Pooh, Mickey…the list goes on and on. Some are used in conjunction with battery-powered toy houses; some take rides in Lightning McQueen slippers; some are lined up in front of kitchen toys for picnics and snacks.

5. Kitchen toys: That brings me to another battery-free, imagination-rich toy: kitchen items. The girls have their own toy kitchen in the living room, and I found a big bag of foods, plates, bowls, cups, and spoons at a tag sale to use with it. They also love using oven mitts, washcloths, and dishtowels as part of their play, much of which happens around the coffee table, and not in the kitchen at all!

6. Bean bags: My mother made three little bean bags for the girls, and I put a masking tape “target” on the floor for bean bag toss games. The girls also balance the bean bags on their heads, shoulders, feet, and hands. Their favorite is crawling around with the bean bags on their backs, making sure the bags don’t fall off.

7. Chalk boards: The girls love to “chalk,” as they call it. It’s a dusty pastime, but it keeps them occupied and helps develop their drawing and writing.

8. Musical instruments: Admittedly, these are used in conjunction with CDs (which technically violates the “kid-powered” aspect of this list), but often the girls will march or run around the kitchen island with a maraca or a drum, singing songs or making up chants.

9. Blankets and pillows: The girls love to pull all the pillows off all of the sofas, and make a “pillow nest,” as Katy calls it. The blankets are great for endless games of peek-a-boo (still popular at age 3), which almost always leads into hide-and-seek, a new favorite.

10. Mommy and Daddy’s shoes: The girls are able to walk around the house with amazing balance in our giant-sized shoes. Bayla is forever bringing shoes into the family room to put on, never mind if they are covered in salt and snow from Daddy’s shoveling!

11. Hammers and other toy tools: No surface is safe! I am still trying to convince the girls that it is just as fun to hammer pillows and sofa cushions as it is to hammer wooden door frames. Michael found a spare square of wood in the basement to give them the satisfaction of a hard surface to hammer without damaging the walls!

12. Boxes and tubs: Kids love climbing into enclosed places. No laundry basket is safe from becoming a pirate ship and no box is safe from becoming a place for a quick play “nap”. I can’t tell you how many activity books I’ve read that say, “Save large appliance boxes for your kids to turn into forts and play houses.” Since I do not EVER find myself with a large appliance box lying around, I always discounted the idea. But then I brought up a box from the basement that had been storing old books, and that was enough to make a special place for the girls to play:

So that’s twelve ideas. And it’s only the beginning of the list I came up with! There’s also magnets, binoculars, doll clothes, balloons, Mr. Potato Head, blocks, pen and paper, play dough, Daddy's hats, tape measures, bubbles, balls, leaves, pinecones, snow….


Anne said...

Bayla with her books and Katy "napping" in her box -- what could be cuter. You got it exactly right; it's not that battery toys are good or bad, just that there are so many alternatives. And the imagination used for simpler toys opens up so many new options for the programmed toys. A fun post. I enjoyed it.

Andria said...

Thanks! It's fun to see how they can take just the littlest seed of an idea I might give them and turn it into something so much more imaginative that they can play based on it for days!