Open-ended toys: Why your little one prefers a cardboard box over flashy toys

“Helping children thrive doesn’t mean providing the best toys or the most expensive gadgets. Quite the opposite; learning happens when children create their own play worlds” (Deruy, 2016).

Ever wonder why your child prefers a cardboard box over the flashy toy found inside?

Flashy and fancy toys, albeit very attractive, don’t offer the endless possibilities that the box offers. Your baby likes to use all his senses during play. With the box your little one can make use of his developing motor and cognitive skills to grab, toss, and put things inside! If big enough, your child might even explore its interior.

Cardboard boxes and other simple objects allow your child to play freely. This, in turn, helps him continue to develop cognitive, motor and even social and emotional skills. Then, as your little one continues to grow he will be able to engage in symbolic play, where these same simple objects not only allow for manipulation, but they can become a house, a fort, a spaceship – you name it, anything is possible!

According to Piaget, babies ages 0-24 months belong to the sensorimotor stage of development, a stage characterized by exploration of the environment. Newborns begin exploring objects with their developing vision. Then as they grow they continue learning about objects by grabbing them and placing them in their mouth.

By 4-6 months of age, little one’s can transfer objects from one hand to the other. At around 7-9 months of age, they can manipulate objects by shaking, banging, and even throwing them to the floor, thus learning about cause and effect. By 10-12 months, fine motor skills begin to refine and they start practicing using the pincer grasp. From 13-18 months of age toddlers manipulate objects, mold clay or even stack objects. Then at around 18-24 months of age, they begin to engage in symbolic play, using objects in representation of other objects.

Cardboard boxes offer your little scientist the opportunity to practice many of the above milestones, including object permanence, manipulation, and even pretend play. This is the reason why your little one prefers the box and noisy wrapping paper to the fancy toy inside. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should stop buying toys for your baby. There are lots of simple toys that offer your child hours of fun while promoting the achievement of developmental milestones.

When choosing a toy for your kiddo, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this toy offer open-ended play possibilities? Choose toys such as stacking blocks, interlocking blocks or nesting cups/cubes.
  • Will the toy allow my child to practice new skills and solve problems? Choose puzzles with big pieces, sorters, paint, clay.
  • Will the toy be relevant at different stages of my little one’s development? Choose plastic figures, stuffed toys, doll houses, toy vehicles.
  • Will the toy teach life skills? Choose plastic plates and knives, toy phones, child-size cleaning supplies, age appropriate musical instruments.
  • Will the toy stimulate my toddler’s imagination? Choose dress up clothes, recycled fabrics or even make use of the famous cardboard box.

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