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Encourage Preschoolers to Use Their Imagination

Encourage preschoolers to use their imagination. Although  naturally imaginative, curious, and creative, they might be stuck in a rut with their play, grasping for the same toy or game repeatedly. Energize their imagination and inspire some creativity with engaging games that allow your child to create, learn, and explore. These fun activities don’t require any pricey toys or elaborate setups. All they need are some prompts from Mom and Dad and some creativity, and they’ll be engaged in some imaginative fun in no time.

1. Build With Boxes

Tuck away those extra boxes in the garage until you have a nice stack of them that can become a creative opportunity for your preschooler. A stack of cardboard boxes can serve as the inspiration behind some seriously creative pretend play for your child. Help them connect the boxes with duct tape to create a structure, whether you are building a castle, a rocket ship, or a boat. Then, leave the rest to them. Your child can decorate the box structure, play in it, fill it with stuffed animals or dolls, and so much more. Their imagination will come to life as they build, create, and play––all while reusing those extra boxes.

2. Cook With Play Dough

Encourage your preschooler to develop some life skills early––with lots of fun, too. Make some homemade play dough or pick up your favorite dough from the store. Then, give kids a plastic plate and plastic utensils like a pizza cutter or rolling pin to allow them to play cook. You can even give them some prompts, asking them to decorate a birthday cake or make a pizza. Glitter in a salt shaker can add some sparkle to their creation, and beads, gems or pipe cleaners are fun to add to their faux food creation.

3. Host a Special Event

Let your little one get creative in planning the perfect party. All they need is the prompt, and your preschool party planner can take care of the rest. Tell your child that their favorite doll or stuffed animal is having a birthday, and they need to plan the party. You’ll be delighted as you watch your preschooler’s mind at work as they decorate the space, design invitations, plan activities, and prepare for the special event. Then, invite the family––and some toy guests too––to watch the event unfold.

4. Create an Engaging Outdoor Space

Being outdoors can certainly inspire some creativity, so you want to ensure your preschooler has access to an outdoor space where they can use their imagination. Add a few outdoor toys to that space to further engage their creativity. An outdoor playhouse, for example, encourages a classic pretend play game of family. Together with siblings, friends, or even favorite toys, your child can cook, clean, and care in their kid-sized house. Likewise, consider a play set or sandbox, which serves as another outlet for creativity. A sandbox stocked with shovels, rakes, sieves, buckets, and plastic toys allows your child to build castles, create engaging setups, and transport their mind to a new place, all from the comfort of their backyard.

5. Butcher Paper Art

A roll of butcher paper goes a long way in engaging your preschooler’s imagination. Have your youngster lie down and trace their body. Then, give them craft supplies to draw themselves and decorate them however they so choose. Or, tape a long piece of paper to your floor using painter’s tape. Ask your child to draw your city as they see it. They can draw and color buildings, cars, animals, nature elements, and so much more. Butcher paper is also great for outdoor art because it offers a large surface for kids to create. Give them some waterproof paints and paint brushes and sponges and let them create on this blank canvas, which you can tape to your fence, patio or driveway and then display indoors when their masterpiece is complete.

Imaginative play gets your preschooler’s mind working by encouraging them to approach playtime from a new perspective. When they do, they’ll be more engaged and more inspired by the play, which means you’ll have a happy kid who dives right into creative time day after day.

The social isolation resulting from the current Covid-19 pandemic frequently challenges parents to come up with engaging activities for their preschoolers. Cristin Howard who runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase. 

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Why Toys Are Important for Child Development

Play and toys support child development. Playing  is what children do. Toys are their tools. When adults shop for tools, quality counts. We want safe ones that work well and enable us to do our best. We look for thoughtfully designed, well-made, sturdy, built-to-last products that we’ll enjoy using over and over again. All this, and more, holds true for toys.

Here’s what I have learned. Play is essential. Quality developmental toys support skill- building and, thereby, enhance play. Consequently children flourish. So what does that mean?

Safety Matters

Safety matters. Sound construction is a must. But that’s not the whole picture. The developmental age of the child matters too. Safety is a collaborative effort. Even the safest toys require adult supervision.

Manufacturers are required to label products that pose a chocking hazard. The most common reads  WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD – Small parts. Not for children under 3 years old. That’s one of six. The others apply to a toy that is or contains a small ball or a marble or, likely the most serious hazard, contains magnets.

Yet another warns that children under 8 years of age can choke or suffocate on un-inflated or broken balloons. That Children with balloons require adult supervision. Safety warnings alert us to hazards. Beyond that we must take into account where our children are developmentally. We do well to remember that some need more time to grow out of the habit of putting everything in the mouth. No blame, no shame. Every child develops at his or her own pace. 

Thoughtful Design and Careful Construction

Thoughtful design and careful construction are hallmarks of the best tools for  play. First and foremost these attributes reflect an understanding of child development and an appreciation of how children acquire skills while playing.

When a toy is well-made, it is not only safe, but also satisfying. It works as intended. That’s important. Just as we want our tools to perform well, children want their toys to meet their expectations. Otherwise play becomes frustrating, and the toy is cast aside.

Building Beakers

ten graduated cups for nesting and stacking

Let’s look at two toys that exemplify top-notch design and construction. These are Building Beakers and Lock a Block. Made by Ambi, both are classic early childhood toys that engage infants and toddlers in skill-building play. Moreover both are toys that support child development.

The manufacturer recommends Building Beakers beginning at 10 months old. A true developmental toy, these cups offer new ways to play as the child develops new skills. At first, I suggest offering only the smallest and the largest cups. That invites putting one inside the other, turning the larger cup upside down and watching the smaller one fall out. That’s filling and spilling, an activity the toddler will repeat over and over again.

What’s happening here? The child is experimenting. Observing when-I-do-this-that-happens. Confirming the cause and effect through repetition. Developing fine motor skills: grasp and release  while filling and wrist rotation as the child spills. When we offer words to describe such attributes as color and size of the cups, we’re encouraging language development.

Features  Make A Difference

Rolled Rims

Rolled rims are an important feature of Ambi Building Beakers. On the one hand, they make separating nested cups easier. On the other, stacking becomes more successful. When a toddler is learning to stack, eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and dexterity are only beginning to develop. Obviously stacking is challenging. Quite often the adjacent block slides off as the child attempts to place another on top of it. The rim helps hold the beakers together and makes the stack more stable.

Raised Patterns

Each cup also features a unique raised pattern on its base. These invite both visual and tactile exploration. Pressing the cups into sand, play dough or clay creates patterns and encourages creative expression. Furthermore recognizing patterns is a pre-reading skill.


Sand and water provide further opportunities for play. In the sand, the cups become molds. Two pinholes in the bottom of each beaker add another dimension to water play. The graduated sizes allow young children to explore how the cups are alike and different. All the beakers are round, but each is a different size. Small or large or big or little, short or tall. These are important math concepts learned through play. 

Lock a Block

shape sorter toy with lock and key

Lock a Block – an inclusive toy, if ever there was one – is my favorite shape sorting toy. Because all children like saying, “I did it.”  Note the high contrast between the bright white top and the color matched raised rims outlining each opening. That makes “hitting the target” easier. Dropping a shape into its slot not only requires shape discrimination. It also takes eye-hand coordination and the ability to grasp and release the shape. Developing fine motor skills takes practice. Success motivates.  Lock a Block is a must for the blind and visually impaired. As well as for those with fine motor challenges.

Furthermore, three dimensional shapes drop more easily into place than shaped dowel pieces that require precise fitting. Again motivating the repetition that leads to skill-building. This shape sorter toy includes two each of three shapes, a plus that encourages one to one matching games. Furthermore naming the colors and shapes encourages cognitive and language development.

In First, Then Out

Retrieve shapes through a door on the front of the box. Permanently attached key fits smoothly in the lock and turns easily. As the key turns, the lock clicks. Following the sequence of steps required to get the shapes out involves problem solving, memory, and concentration. Eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and wrist rotation  increase with each repetition.

Thoughtful design makes toys adaptable and versatile. More inclusive and engaging. Children naturally enjoy playing with toys that  work well. A delighted “I did it!” not only announces success but also shares the joy of achieving a goal. As they play, children build competence and confidence. Through play, children acquire the skills they need to reach their fullest potential. Toys support child development by enhancing play.

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Strike Up the Band! Celebrate July 4th with a Playful Parade


The Fourth of July finds many families gathering in parks or at home with family and friends, hanging out and enjoying being together. What better opportunity to provide kids with rhythm instruments and invite them to celebrate with music and movement? Suggest forming an impromptu band. Making four-corner hats is an easy way to keep the kiddos entertained and add pizzazz to a performance or parade. As daylight fades, bringing out spinning light globes creates a festive atmosphere and keeps the kids engaged.

Everyone, from infants to elders, can join in by choosing a favorite instrument to play. Singing a favorite song. Or movin’ and groovin’. No previous experience required. Only a desire to play.


PlayopolisToys offers an array of rhythm instruments for children from three months of age onward. Lightweight and easy to grasp, Petite Shaker, makes an ideal first musical toy. Egg Shakers and Mini Maracas, designed to fit small hands, are beautifully weighted to create quality shimmering sounds.

Drums and Castanets

No parade would be complete without drums, and Lollipop Drum, a contemporary adaptation of ancient drums found in Africa and Japan, is an easy-to-hold “drum on a stick”. Its mellow tone is reminiscent of a tom-tom, steady and rhythmic.

No parade would be complete without drums, and Lollipop Drum, a contemporary adaptation of ancient drums found in Africa and Japan, is an easy-to-hold “drum on a stick”. Its mellow tone is reminiscent of a tom-tom, steady and rhythmic. Castanets make a soft clacking sound, giving music its pulse.

Thunder Tube

My favorite percussion instrument is Thunder Tube. Holding the tube in one hand, the player shakes it to mimic the sounds of thunder. Movement is all in the wrist. Experiencing the full range of sounds means experimenting. Figuring out how to create the sound of rolling thunder takes playing around. Likely Thunder Tube will be the musical hit-of-the-party. Its wacky sounds “draw a crowd”.

Bells and Jingles

Bells, jingles, and whistles add punctuation to melodies, delighting listeners with their lively clear tones. Jingle Band invites creative ways to make music. While one person secures the velcro ends, loops the webbing over a hand and shakes, another figures out that the jingle band can be wrapped around a wrist or an ankle, for hands free music making. Yet another attaches two bands together to create a jingle crown, allowing its wearer to move freely, making music by simply moving his head.

And who doesn’t enjoy shaking a tambourine? The jingling of a tambourine make us want to move our bodies. Some people prefer an open tambourine; others like one with a cowhide drum head to thumping with fingers or an open palm. Tying ribbon streamers to a tambourine adds a festive touch.

Light Up Toys

Add “safe and sane” light up toys for fun after dark. Invite adults and kids alike to light up the night with Lazer Fingers and Meteor Storm. Assemble an assortment of rhythm instruments and light ups. The more variety, the better so that everyone can join in the fun.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play


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Why Buy Toys at


PlayopolisToys aims to save our customers both time and money. We price our toys competitively and offer periodic specials, thus saving you money. The toys at PlayopolisToys appeal to children and invite the open-ended, self-directed play that builds skills. Safe and durable, the toys have proven value.

Our website provides extensive information about the toys we sell and how each supports child development and provides healthy play experiences. Further information on choosing toys and the benefits of play is available through our blog posts. This saves you time when you’re looking for appealing toys for the children in your life. Have questions about a toy? Call 877.579.9300 toll-free or email We’re here to help.

We know all children learn differently and offer toys with universal design to maximize sensory awareness as well as gross and fine motor, cognitive, language, and social skills development among children with diverse abilities. These toys also offer distraction and multi-sensory stimulation, particularly beneficial to children with special needs.

PlayopolisToys sells toys that encourage children to play, discover what happens as a result of their actions, and build skills. Finding toys that appeal to the sense of touch is as easy as entering “tactile toys” in the search box. Or pull down the By Type menu and click on Tactile.

Play is essential to the well-being of all children. It’s how they learn. Toys build bridges among differently-abled children. Inclusive play reduces social isolation among children with special needs and increases awareness and acceptance of diverse needs. Whatever your toy needs, PlayopolisToys likely has something to offer.


 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Why is Quality Play So Important?

Play is essential to early learning; children need to be actively involved in their play in order to develop basic learning skills. Doctors and teachers say it’s how your young child learns about herself and her world.

Quality play promotes close relationships:
The most important part of your child’s healthy development is safe, trusting relationships with your and the other caregivers in her life. Interacting with your child through positive, supportive play experiences will help her gain the confidence she needs to build loving and healthy relationships.

Quality play promotes language:
One of the greatest achievements in the first three years of life is the development of language. Talking with your baby and toddler about what is happening around him while playing and responding to his sounds, words, and gestures lays the foundation for healthy brain development, as well as future success learning how to read and write at school.

Quality play promotes creativity:
Creative play experiences come from your child’s interests and abilities. It’s the process that’s important in creative play – when they do, not the product they make in the end. Current brain research shows that children learn best when they experiment and discover for themselves rather than being shown by adults.

Quality play promotes physical development:
It’s important that you provide time for active play in a safe, open space with materials that allow children to move their bodies and use their senses. Limit time spent in car seats, swings, and other restricted spaces.

Quality play promotes thinking skills:
The kind of play described in this guide, gives your child the opportunity to learn concepts and problem solving strategies which are critical for future academic learning in science, math and literacy.

Quality play promotes social skills:
Through play, your child will learn how to get along with others. Although your young child may not be developmentally ready to “play” with other children, interactive experiences will help set the foundation for future friendships.

With permission from the Child Life Council, PlayopolisToys is pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section.  TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media

Soon after posting Throw Away the Script and Play, I received the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin. Imagine my absolute delight when I opened the publication and found a series of articles on play, toys, and media in Child Life Focus. One article, reprinted with permission from TRUCE, Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment, validated and expanded upon the points I had made in my blog. That was an awesome experience.

With permission from the Child Life Council, I am sharing this most informative and thought provoking article, TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with you, section by section. I am eager to know what you think and invite your comments.

Let’s start a dialogue on play. What is quality play? Why is it essential to a child’s development? Let us hear from you, and if we post your comments, we’ll send you a coupon for $5.00 off any order of $50.00 or more.

And now for the article:

You want to provide your little one with experiences that will enhance healthy play and development. This guide will help you understand why quality play is vital for your child’s growth and what you can do to support it.

What is different about play today?
Creative play is being challenged because:
– Infants and toddlers are spending many hours in front of a screen.
– Many toys are marketed as educational when in fact there is no evidence to prove it.
– The increasing number of electronic toys, games and DVD’s often turns our infants and toddlers into passive players whose main activity becomes pushing a button.
– Toys are often linked to popular media characters. Branding toys for the very young means that when they are older they often want an item simply because it is linked to a familiar character, not because of the quality of the toy.

to be continued next week…

With permission from the Child Life Council, we at PlayopolisToys are pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section.  TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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More Made in the USA @ Uncle Goose

So, what else from Uncle Goose gets me excited? Alphabet blocks for languages worldwide. You should see all the exquisite block sets. I counted 26. Each  combines letters with decorative elements representative of its culture. The world’s most widely spoken languages are available, from Arabic to Ukrainian. And if that’s not enough to delight the most passionate linguist, Cherokee and Maori blocks provide further intrigue. Were you thinking alphabet blocks were only for pre-schoolers? Think again.

Uncle Goose Blocks invite children and adults alike to play and learn. Their educational value is undisputed. They are also treasures that families pass down from generation to generation.

And the production practices at Uncle Goose insure quality, safety, and sustainability. The basswood, also known as lindenwood, used in their blocks comes from managed land in Michigan and is kiln dried for stability. The blocks are CPSIA compliant. The company re-purposes scrap and virtually every speck of dust at their factory. Horses bed down on wood curls, and wood salvage heats homes.

Yes, I like wooden toys, and I appreciate those who bring their talents to crafting these heirlooms for our families to enjoy generation after generation. I also appreciate the commitment to our environment that seems to run through all these companies.

As we “travel” across the country discovering who’s making what, where, and how, we’ll also take time to consider play itself and how classic toys, such as we’ve discovered at Maple Landmark, Holgate, TAG, and Uncle Goose, enhance playing and learning for our children. We’ll detour from time to time to do that. I invite you, our reader, to share your ideas too. Let’s share and learn together.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Making Way for Change

Remember the adage variety is the spice of life? I agree, and henceforth, we will be spicing up our blog with parent/child play ideas, recipes for exploring science and art: bubbles, finger paints and sparkle drip paint, doughs and putty, easy arts and craft projects.

We’ll also continue our series on Made in the USA, take a look at innovative products and the companies that create them, and share information about non-profits whose missions benefit children. As always, we invite your participation. Let us know if you have play ideas, recipes, or projects you’d be willing to share. We’ll welcome you as a guest contributor.

Along the way, we’ll devise a plan for a special occasion and “tell all” so that you and the children in your life can join in the fun. Afterwards we’ll post pictures and share comments from those readers who accepted our invitation to celebrate.

The ideas could be adapted to the young at heart too. I recall clearly my son’s “horror” at the age of 13 to learn that I had invited a “bunch of old ladies” to join me in blowing bubbles on the front lawn in celebration of my 40th birthday. Obviously he survived the embarrassment of that bubble party, even, as I recall, joined in. Same son delighted, at age 31, in the blanket of no-pop bubbles that greeted him and his bride as they emerged from the church after their wedding. Certainly we need not abandon all childhood fun as we transition into adulthood.

Stay tuned…and remember to pause and play everyday.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Opportunity for Success

Fit Together Blocks
Stack & Play 

When a child becomes frustrated because he cannot successfully accomplish a set goal, play ends. Remember, play is, by definition, fun. Working hard and being unsuccessful is not fun, and the more the child fails, the less likely he is to want to try again. Why bother, he reasons, and moves on to something else.

In choosing toys, think open-ended play, and select ones that invite play and encourage children to explore and discover what works well and what does not. Wood blocks are a prime example of an open-ended toy. Children can line them up, stack them high, and let their imaginations soar as they build whatever comes to mind. Deciding what to build, planning how the project will unfold, executing the plan, and solving problems encountered along the way all are important skill building activities that children can enjoy alone and in the company of others, both adults and children.

Asking the child to describe the process and writing down and reading back what he says enhances language development and re-enforces the sequential thinking necessary to transform ideas into a concrete form. Taking pictures validates and celebrates his accomplishment. Working together to create a book about his project provides all important one-on-one time as well as opportunities to incorporate art activities.

Wood blocks come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, shapes, and colors. Stack & Play makes a perfect first set of blocks.. Thirteen maple blocks with nontoxic finish and large connectors for easy interlocking reduce frustration as beginning builders practice stacking and unstacking. Bright clear colors and the weight and feel of wood offer a pleasing alternative to lighter weight plastic blocks that are more apt to be knocked off when a beginning builder places one block atop another.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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The Benefits of Cooperation – by Alfie Kohn

When the dog days of summer are upon us …

what  better way to spend our time than playing a game with your family and friends? We at PlayopolisToys value cooperative games that people of different ages and abilities can play together, each making his or her best contribution. We recognize the inherent value of collaboration, cooperation, and inclusion. When we “play well with others” we demonstrate emotional and social maturity.

In No Contest, the Case Against Competition, Alfie Kohn offers compelling arguments for laying aside our competitive spirits and embracing cooperation. He counters the fact that “we are encouraged to pit ourselves against one another and taught that competition is a prod to productivity, a builder of character, and an unavoidable part of human nature,” with the observation that “any win/lose structure is psychologically destructive and poisonous to our relationships.”

Embrace the benefits of acceptance, inclusion, and participation, of mutual respect and  of working together toward a mutual goal. Imagine giving encouragement, receiving support, and feeling safe and trusted in an open, honest environment. Everyone contributes, building confidence and a sense of self-worth. Everyone relaxes, increasing out enjoyment of the game. After all, if what we’re doing isn’t fun, we’re not playing. Joy in the process is a keystone of play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play