Childhood Should Not Be Defined By Limitation: The Powerful Play Experience

Media has a strong influence on us and these days media is everywhere. Media helps craft our norms, leverages our opinions, inspires our wants and desires.

“Media” sounds powerful, doesn’t it? It is. For children, toys are a form of media. Toys can confine children, imposing gender stereotypes and finite versions of play. Childhood was never meant to be defined by limitation.

Toys can be playtime companions, imagination igniting objects, teaching tools, and concept creators for something bigger and better than what originally came out of the box. There are no better experts in the world on creativity than children.

Lightbulb IdeaOpen-ended play means the child does the creating, not the toy. This usually means no batteries. The toy is character free and gender stereotype free, the toy does not tell a story to the child. The only thing that brings that object to life is the creativity swirling inside the child’s mind.

There are no ‘boy toys’. There are no ‘girl toys’. Toys are for the imagination, which by definition should have no restrictions.

Sidewalk chalkOutside Toys:

bubbles, sidewalk chalk,hula hoops, sporting/biking/scooters, water station (cups, buckets, paint brushes, spoons, etc), sprinklers, squirt guns or water shooters, materials to build a fort or tent hideaway, bug collectors/binoculars/magnifying glass, picnic blanket and play dishes

Rainbow of toysInside Toys:

cars, trains and wooden tracks, people figures and dollhouse, dolls and stuffed animals, dress up box, blocks, puzzles, magnets, dominoes, art supplies, science experiments, materials to build a fort or tent hideaway, Play Doh and clay,  board games, area to set up a play school/restaurant/bank/hotel/business/hospital

Some other play ideas we love:

Idea Factory:  The power of “tinkering” = have boxes of various sizes, washed out food containers, art scraps, fasteners, tape, crayons and markers so kids can build anything they want. (The Maker Movement is the tech side of this idea.)

Turn a laundry basket or large cardboard box in anything.

Self Portrait: Have kiddo trace their hands and feet, and then fill in this unique style of self portrait, adding in special interesting or word clouds of things important to them.

Lemonade Stand: This is a busy project more than play, excellent for bigger kids and offers so many opportunities for learning business skills. There is planning, organization, money management, promotion, and customer service skills that will be gained from the experience. (Not to mention the art of upselling, as in charging your neighbors an extra fifty cents to play hop scotch after they finish their lemonade.)

What are some creative ways that your children play and discover? 



MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can read her blog at: or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

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