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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


The Creative Child: A Guide to Encouraging Low-Tech Play

By Jennifer Johnson

[Note: Overwhelmed by gizmos and gadgets for you tot? The richest learning and playing environment for your young child inclines a traditional assortment of low-tech toys and games. Learn what toys and materials create an environment that encourages creativity in your child.]

A trip to the local toy store can overwhelm a parent with the wide expanse of high-tech playthings. What parent hasn't been driven to near madness by the repetitive squeal of some battery-operated toy? Some such trinkets are even marketed for babies and toddlers, ripe with packaging that desperately tries to persuade parents that no baby can be soothed without the singing, flashing, or vibrating of the latest innovations.

You need not break the bank nor blow a fuse to create a fun and nurturing environment for your child's play. On the contrary, some of the best toys and games for your child are low-tech, economical, and can be enjoyed by children of all ages.


Your child doesn't need to know how to read - or even talk - to enjoy a good book. You can even read to an infant, but many children are capable of enjoying books independently from the time they can sit unassisted. For babies and toddlers, keep an abundance of sturdy cloth and board books accessible on a low shelf. Even randomly pulling books off shelves and examining them without opening them is a start. Books with clear pictures of objects and animals can really help foster good language development, and when reading to your young child, choose those with a sing-songy cadence. While books with gimmicks and sounds can be fine in moderation, traditional books are best at building a love of reading. For older children, slowly expand their library to their interests and attention spans, and made reading a special part of the bedtime routine. To build a large collection of quality children's books, visit library book sales and accept plenty of hand-me-downs.

Open-Ended Toys

To help raise a child that is inventive, inquisitive, and curious about the world, build up your toy collection with open-ended items. Open-ended toys are toys that can be played with in multiple ways, and appeal to multiple age groups. You'll also find these are often the most economical toys that can also enjoy the greatest longevity in your home. Building blocks, legoes, simple dolls and figures, basic cars and houses, and dress-up items are all good examples of open-ended toys. Limit toys that rely on batteries or that are themed to a particular movie or TV-show.

Arts, Crafts, and Music

By creating an environment that encourages your child to explore the arts, you are encouraging her to develop her creativity. For independent play, make available plenty of drawing paper and crayons, draw-and-erase toys, toy musical instruments, and make or buy your own play dough. You can further encourage creativity by working on crafts with her. Buy books or read online for ideas for craft projects, and keep plenty of supplies on hand. Always stay well-stocked with construction paper, glue, paint, and fabric. Craft items such as pom-poms and pipe cleaners are also nice, but you can usually make do with the creative recycling of items around the home such as toilet paper tubes and paper plates.

Explore Your World

Any exploration of the natural world is science to a child, answering the 'what' and 'why' questions of the world. Go on nature walks, and collect botanic materials for crafting and studying. Consider a pet, make a home volcano or homemade silly putty for some introductory lessons in chemistry. Even watching a drop of food coloring in water can be a foray into the world of science for a young child. If you need help, books and web sites are rich with ideas for parents looking for kid-friendly experiments.

Creative Movement

Make sure plenty of movement-oriented toys are kept outside, such as jump ropes, hula-hoops, and sidewalk chalk for hop scotch and other outdoor games. Take trips to the park with friends and stay informed of community events and recreation. Many cities offer low-cost classes for children such as gymnastics, swimming, dance, sports, and martial arts. Local botanic gardens, wilderness parks, and zoos are also a great low-tech, low-cost way to get some exercise.

Family Time

Consider making the the dining room a TV-free zone, and use the time to talk, tell stories, and laugh together. Consider having each parent put aside special "alone time" with each child to help reconnect and stay involved. Play plenty of simple board and card games to teach your child about rule-following, human interaction, and good sportsmanship. And on the next road trip, limit your child to one video, and use the rest of the time to enjoy story-telling, song-singing, and car games.

Of course, battery-operated toys, television, and video games are fun, too, but don't let them exclude other kinds of play that are pivotal in the development of your child's sense of curiosity, physical health, and emotional expansiveness. It is easy for a child to become absorbed by these toys, and even easier for a parent to simply enjoy the peace that results, but by approaching your child's play with a sense of awareness and balance, you will assure a more vibrant, creative, and happy home.


Jennifer Johnson is a mother of two children and the primary contributing editor of - a quality site filled with free craft ideas, recipes, and resources for parents.

Child Development

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