Pure Imagination: Encouraging play, and motor skill development with everyday objects

As our son gets older, I notice he gets more and more curious about the world around him. His curiosity can no longer be contained within his play corner in our living room, where we have set up baby mats and a shelf of toys that he cycles through on the regular. And, increasingly, he’s started wanting to play with the same things we use everyday.

In a bid to be resourceful, we’ve decided to not only honor his interests and desires, but nurture them. So here I’d like to profile some of the “everyday household items” we let our little one play with and the benefits he’s reaped so far from each (not even mentioning how much money we save by literally rarely ever refreshing his toy chest).

Disclaimer: I am not a certified early childhood educator, or developmental psychologist, but I do know my son, and I have watched kids play, and I was once a child. The views and observations expressed below are all my own (and my husband’s too, in part), and as parents we are constantly growing, observing, learning, and doing more as we go along. I am very curious about the Montessori method, and if any of you out there have good (short, easy to read) resources I can start with, please share! Thank you! 

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#1: His own cutlerySince we have let him play with his own cutlery and bowl, we find that he is picking up self-feeding more quickly; and is even proactively trying to “feed” and “prep” food for us. Usually, he does this with imaginary play. I give him an empty bowl and clean spoon and fork to play with and he stirs up invisible “food” in the bowl, and tries to feed it to me. Sometimes, he even blows on the spoon beforehand pretending it’s “hot.” Kids learn by watching, and by doing. I notice when we give him room to practice what he sees, he picks up skills more quickly. Now, I’ve begun to put actual food in his bowl during mealtime so we are feeding him together – I feed him the messier, soupier stuff, and he feeds himself (whether with spoon, fork, or fingers) the freeze dried fruit, cheese, peanut butter, and so on.

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#2: Freebie water tumblers we never use: We noticed that Lucas was starting to follow us into the kitchen and try to help us fill our drinking bottles with water from the dispenser. Either he tiptoes and tries with all his might to press the lever himself, or he insists on holding the bottle while we press. Also, when we are drinking, he likes to “drink like a big boy” too. We gave him this water tumbler and he’s started practicing filling it himself, and pretending to sip from it. He doesn’t yet have the motor control to fully drink from a cup or tumbler of this sort on his own, but I can see him getting there more quickly by allowing him to explore. Another plus is that this tumbler has a screw on top, which is great for learning to twist/tighten – nice fine motor skills practice.

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#3: Clear screw on plastic jars: These are awesome and you can literally get them anywhere. This one pictured was a freebie from the hospital when I gave birth to Lucas and has since been used for everything from sterile cotton balls to snacks. We also let him play with other clear containers that we rip labels off of (like Jif peanut butter jars). I love them because they serve several purposes: 1) fine motor skills practice in opening/closing the “jars”, as well as using two fingers to pick things out and put things back in; and 2) visual and spatial learning as he fills and empties the jars with the contents in full view (that’s why it matters that it’s clear).

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#4: Empty water bottles: These serve several purposes as well: 1) fine motor skills with the screw on/off cap; 2) visual and spatial learning when filling it with liquids himself; and 3) auditory stimulation. We have used it to “make music” and beats before by doing everything from “drumming” on it, to banging it harmlessly against things (tables, the floor, other empty bottles), to filling it with something you can shake, and even crumpling it to make sounds.

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#5: Empty lotion/shampoo/etc bottles: I’d like to find more clear versions of these (or else I could always resort to the empty water bottles as with #4); but what we love about this is that when he plays with it in the bath he can push it under water and it creates bubbles, and he can pour the water out onto himself, his toys, etc. It’s a nice way for him to explore different sensations in the tub.

This list is honestly much longer, and stretches across a gamut of other household products: from Ziploc baggies, to the baby-palm-sized snap-open/snap-closed plastic containers that once housed my razor refills; from recycled paper notepads and pens, to tin trash cans that we don’t use and have instead turned into “drums” or “instruments”; but these are the ones we are using most often lately, and find he is liking most. As he gets older, and we get craftier, I’ve already started thinking of other projects to do with household items. One I’m really keen to try is using recycled gift ribbon, tying the ends together to form a long string, and then stuffing the multicolored string into a bottle and letting him pull it out and try to get it back in. But that’s a project for another day. For now, if any of you have suggestions on crafts and things for 15/16 month olds to play with, do let me know in the comments!

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