I had always thought that children do not need excessive toys and that they often enjoy the packaging more than the material itself. But being a mother has made me delve into this simple statement, reflect on what materials I offer Terrícola, why, and what game possibilities she will develop with each thing that comes her way.

The reality is that many of the toys that the little one has received have ended up in oblivion from the second day. Some have had worse luck and did not arouse any interest even at the time of receiving it. And a lucky few have given up hours of play time and time again.

What is the secret of success? Surely the most important thing is that this toy has some relationship with its recipient, both with their interests and with the evolutionary stage in which they are . Wow, we wouldn’t give a crawling baby a bicycle or a 10-year-old child we wouldn’t give a ride-on, right?

But apart from observing what the child’s interest is, I think it is important that at least several of the materials that the child has at their fingertips are unstructured “toys” . That is, materials that have no specific purpose. By this I mean wooden blocks, stones, sticks, cardboard boxes, etc. As you can see, they don’t even have to be toys. On the other hand, structured toys are those that have a specific purpose, in which the material itself already indicates what it is for (a puzzle, for example) or they are games in which there are clear instructions and rules (team sports, games table, etc.).

But why is it important to offer unstructured materials? Well, because when we give children toys with a very specific design (work tools, toy cups and plates, cars with lights and sounds, etc.) “symbolic play” is not really emerging, but rather “literal or imitative ” : Children use these materials by imitating what adults do with them and using them literally for what they are good for. But the truly symbolic game is born when children recreate something different about a “material, toy or gadget”, that is, when they play cars with stones or those same stones become coins, when some pieces of wood are given the value of one iron, or a telephone … If you are interested in the subject, you can read more about it inAlaya Spreading Infancy or in this other very interesting article as well.

By supplying them with all kinds of toys, one for each thing and function (we buy them the coffee maker, we give them the cups, or all kinds of cars, bridges, etc. etc.) we are making it difficult for a creation game to be born and they only stay in imitation .

Not long ago my friend Noe told me an anecdote that made me reflect and I think it is related to this issue. She told me that when she observed her daughter playing non-stop with some unstructured material (for example, she played ironing clothes using a wood as an iron) if she bought her the toy iron the girl would stop playing that. And I think that it is precisely because the recreation she did, the symbolic game she played, disappeared when she had an iron in her hands. It was too real and there was less room for imagination.

Of course I am not arguing that toys are not useful, necessary or fun. Because it is not about choosing between “structured toys” and “unstructured toys” . It would be like saying… Do you buy her underwear or street clothes? or do you offer your child fruit or vegetables? Well surely everything is good and adequate, right? That is why I think that, along with the classic toys of a lifetime that we all have in mind, it is ideal to put unstructured materials at their fingertips.

Actually, this does not require much on our part … because the least thought can be used to play. Even … without any material unstructured play can arise, only with the imagination.

In case you need inspiration, I leave you some ideas so that you can see how unstructured materials can be of many types and qualities.

Nature elements

I think nature is a perfect place to play, where everything is unstructured. Since there are no toys in it, children stock up on it to recreate whatever they need to imagine.

They usually play with:

  • sticks
  • stones
  • logs of all kinds
  • pineapples
  • shells

The sticks in the photo are part of our collection (or rather collection, hahaha) of sticks. The photo is from some time ago, I promise it has grown alarmingly … and the worst thing is that I contribute to it. I see a stick in the forest and I think … with this we will do this, with that the other …

Recycling materials

In reality, any object can be used to play in an imaginative way, even those that for adults no longer have a purpose and go to the trash. For instance:

  • water bottle caps
  • rolls of water paper
  • corks
  • Plastic bottles
  • cartons

Purchased materials

Fortunately, more and more brands and manufacturers are making unstructured materials, which are carefully designed, with quality raw materials. You already know that I love Grimm’s materials , that they also have several toys of this style, materials that are nothing in themselves, but that through the child’s imagination will become what he needs.

Recently, in addition, I have met through Instagram to Grapat , a brand new, domestically produced, which makes a so precious things … all with the idea of being very free items to play.

There are also many different brands that make eco-blocks. At home they are a success. They are used to make towers, create houses, walls, any block of wood can become a car, a person, etc.


I would like to finish this article by summarizing that these types of materials have a lot of benefits for the child:

They stimulate creative thinking : these types of objects do not have a clear function so it is the child who must give them a purpose and create the stories they want.

They adapt to the evolutionary stage of the child : as these types of materials do not have a specific purpose and are not very elaborate, they will accompany the child for more years because they will adapt to their development and change of interests.

This year, for example, Terrícola and I are spending a few mornings a week with other families with older children. We usually go to the mountains or to parks and I observe how each child enjoys the same but each uses what is available to them in a different way. Terrícola usually plays at digging holes in the sand, towing the excess sand, etc. A 9-year-old friend of hers often uses sand and earth as an archaeologist. I love to see her polishing the ground with her micro-shovels, or making a furrow around a stone embedded in the earth to rescue it.

Avoid overstimulation : there are no lights and no sounds, therefore, there are no external stimuli but they have to come from within the child. Sometimes we think that if a toy is not stimulating enough … the child is going to get bored. But the truth is that it is even the other way around… The more materials and unstructured objects there are in an environment… the greater the chances of seeing creative and totally imaginative games parading through the living room .

Surely many of you already have this type of material at home. For those of you who do not have, I really encourage you to collect or buy all kinds of items and allow your children to use them without instructions or directions. There is nothing more rewarding than watching kids create fantastic worlds and incredible stories from practically nothing.

With the least thought of material, with the simplest elements, the magic of the game happens .