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Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination

PlayopolisToys sells open-ended toys that engage children in self-directed play. Children use their imaginations and create their own play scenarios. They draw on their knowledge and experiences, and this includes books that have been read to them as well as movies and television shows they’ve watched. Although children may incorporate characters and story lines from these experiences, the toys do not dictate their play.

Licensed products, on the other hand, come with an implied script which suggests how the child will play.

Think about how a child plays with a classic wooden rail play set. Starting with the basics the child learns to connect and disconnect individual pieces and lay out track, thus refining fine motor skills and exploring spatial relationships. The train is kid-powered with the child using his imagination to create a scenario. Perhaps the child has ridden a train or visited a train museum. Those experiences inform his play.

As the child gains experience, he’ll likely want to create more complex lay-outs. This enhances problem-solving skills as he moves from visualizing to creating the “perfect” lay-out. He may want to add trains, perhaps different kinds, from the classic steam engine to diesel locomotives and bullet trains. He may want freight trains and passenger trains.

Often children incorporate other toys to bring a whole new dimension to rail play, adding an airport or a harbor where the train takes on freight or a zoo awaiting delivery of new animals. With blocks children can “develop the land” along the tracks, laying out a farm teeming with animals or a city complete with towering skyscrapers. The possibilities are limited only by their imaginations and available materials.

The point is: the classic toy grows with the child and the child with the toy. On the other hand, a licensed rail play set comes with a script that limits the imagination. Who needs to “reinvent the wheel”? The kid knows what’s what about this train and its adventures. He may embellish or otherwise alter the script, but the essence remains a given.

Of course, a child familiar with the stories behind the licensed product may choose to act out some of that character’s adventures with a classic wooden train set. That’s an option, but only one among the many that come into the child’s mind.

Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge.” We agree. What do you think? Let us know. We’d be delighted to hear and share your observations on children and the importance of open-ended imaginative play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Sending Comfort to the Children of Haiti

In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, people have responded generously to relief efforts. Search and rescue teams from around the world worked tirelessly to find and lift survivors from the rubble while others undertook the grim task of burying the dead and caring for the injured. Much remains to be accomplished; restoring basic services will take months, rebuilding years. That’s the reality of such devastation.

Our hearts go out to all the survivors as they struggle to make their way through this disaster, to hold on to hope and believe that “this too shall pass” and what lies ahead will be better. When we see the photographs of the children, many now orphans, our hearts ache. What can we do? What can anyone do ? How can we comfort these children?

Among those with a concrete answer is Project Linus. Recently a friend invited me to participate in a Project Linus Make A Blanket Day for the children of Haiti. Heart to Heart International, a relief and development organization specializing in volunteer action and worldwide humanitarian assistance, had asked Project Linus for 10,000 blankets. The turn around time for making and shipping was short, only a couple of weeks, but that did not deter the blanket makers at Project Linus.

The coordinator of the local chapter of this national organization e-mailed members to gather up volunteers and show up with the tools of their trade and at least enough material, defined as 1 1/2 yards each of two coordinating cotton fabrics, to make a blanket. The goal for the day was 200 blankets, but as always with these energetic and dedicated blanket makers, the more, the better.

Volunteers ironed, cut fabric, pinned, stitched, turned, ironed again, and top stitched decorative stitches around the perimeters of the blankets before carefully folding and packing each one. Donations of fabric for blankets and money for shipping meant more blankets to comfort the children of Haiti. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. By the end of the day, 403 blankets awaited shipping.

But that was not the final count.  Project Linus blanket makers continued on their own and in smaller groups until the day came to ship off their “handmade  hugs.”   That’s when 1,028 blankets began their journey to the children of Haiti.

Imagine that. By coming together, members of one chapter and their friends provided 1,028 gifts of love and comfort, proving the power of people to find ways to make a positive difference, to reach out with compassion to those struggling in the aftermath of massive devastation.

For more information on Project Linus, visit With 378 chapters spread throughout 50 states and the District of Columbia, there’s likely one near you.

In what other ways are we Americans reaching out to the people of Haiti? Let us know. The more opportunities, the more likely everyone is to find one that matches each of our interests and talents.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Multisensory Appeal

Previously we offered Tips for Choosing Toys for Children with Disabilities. Before expanding on each tip, we urge you to keep in mind that children with disabilities are first and foremost children. The guidelines for choosing toys for children with disabilities applies to all children. Quality toys with multi sensory appeal are universally appealing, and that is essential so that children with different abilities can interact and play together successfully.

Now let’s explore the senses engaged when children play by looking at three specific toys, from the simplest to the most challenging. Sight, sound, and touch are the senses primarily involved in play. Taste is less common, except, of course, with the youngest who are apt to put everything in their mouths. Smell usually does not get involved until a particular material, often a petroleum-based plastic, gives off an unpleasant scent. Even the slightest foul odor can be offensive and cause a child to reject a toy.

Play is, by definition, fun, and anything that assaults the senses will spoil the fun. Some children are reluctant to try new experiences, some dislike strong light, loud noises, or anything that feels, tastes, or smells in ways they dislike. Accommodating differences and helping a child overcome defensiveness can be challenging. Doing so has its rewards.

Baby Paper 

Baby Paper, a simple toy that engages multiple senses. Available in an array of  solids and prints and made of a soft fabric that feels good against the skin, Baby Paper responds to being touched with the sound of paper being gently rumpled. Baby rumples Baby Paper and hears the sound. Baby stops playing, and the sound stops. With further exploration, he discovers the relationship between what he does and what he hears. That’s the beginning of learning about cause and effect.

Playing with this simple first toy engages three senses: sight, sound, and touch. Knowing how babies like to put everything in their mouths, we can safely assume most will also use their sense of taste. Luckily, Baby Paper is washable.

When an adult identifies and names the different colors of Baby Paper, she is enriching the play experience, demonstrating cognitive and language skills that the baby will develop over time.

Sound Puzzle Box

Shape sorting is a classic childhood pastime, one that requires a child to identify differences among shapes and match a shape to its outline. Generally a sighted child depends primarily on sight to make the matches. Certainly, the child feels the shapes, but that’s a secondary clue. For the blind and visually impaired, tactile discrimination, feeling the differences and aligning the shapes to the openings, is the primary sense engaged. Sound Puzzle Box rewards success with an auditory response, making this toy a favorite among children who are blind and generally motivating and delighting all children. 

Sound Peg Puzzles
Puzzles offer a more complex shape sorting experience, and again generally sighted children depend primarily upon sight to decide what piece goes where. Blind and visually impaired children use tactile discrimination to match pieces to the cut-outs on the puzzle board. Auditory feedback rewards proper placement and motivates children to stick with what can be a challenging task.

Usually peg puzzles are thematic, and Sound Peg Puzzles allow children to more fully explore those themes. Available in Vehicles and Farm. By placing a puzzle piece in its proper place, the child hears the sound the object pictured on the piece makes. Children learn to distinguish among farm animals and vehicles by their distinctive sounds and draw connections they otherwise could not.

An adult interacting with the child and supplying names of the animals and vehicles enhances development of cognitive and language skills. The adult and child can make a game of naming the vehicle or animal that made its particular sound when the child successfully placed the puzzle piece in its outline.

Think up stories to tell and songs to sing together that relate to the theme of the puzzle. An obvious choice for the Farm Sound Peg Puzzle would be Old McDonald Had A Farm. Tell the story, read the book and ask the child to point out animals appearing in the story that he remembers from the puzzle, sing the song and laugh out loud. This is the most enjoyable way to learn and builds positive experiences and cherished memories.

Children ready to learn the alphabet and numbers can use sound puzzles that say the names of letters and numerals. Once again, auditory response re-enforces learning and motivates the child to continue playing and learning.

Next, we’ll explore Method of Activation.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play