Twin Cities Mom Collective

Using Authentic Items for Play

Families with kids are followed by multiple ads with the “latest and greatest” toys. But a multitude of brightly colored plastic toys don’t necessarily create rich play environments for young children. It’s the treasures found upon opening cupboards, stored away bins, or even in grandma’s attic that foster inventive and enriched play.

What are authentic items for play? These are simply real items that children have experienced within their homes and communities. Even real and rare items that they have yet to experience can create intrigue and curiosity in play. 

Authentic items have different temperatures, weights, sounds, and smells than plastic toys. They inspire endless creativity and imagination! Using these real items show children that not all materials are treated equally. When toys are plastic they can be dumped, stepped on, and thrown and they will rarely break. 

However, this is not the case with many authentic items. When we give children items that can be broken we give them the opportunity to see themselves as capable, competent, and responsible. By using authentic items we support play as a very real part of children’s lives. (Please note: Safety should always be top of mind when providing young children with any new play materials.)

Before heading to the toy aisle at the store, explore cupboards, basements, garages, yard sales, thrift stores, and even ask family and friends for unique items.  What better time of year, than when we are all refreshing our homes with a little spring cleaning? Find a way to repurpose, re-use, and re-love unused items.

At Kinderberry Hill we absolutely love real-life authentic items. In our classrooms you’ll find vintage hats and purses in our dress up clothing, old rotary phones and tin canisters in our home living areas, and even an old typewriter in some of our writing centers.  We have found time and again that children prefer the real and “grown up” version over a plastic toy.

Here are some ideas to inspire your children’s play spaces:

Authentic items to encourage pretend play: These items enrich play by helping children lean into their own real-life experiences and portray these in play.

kids playing in dirt

  • Pots/pans
  • Baskets
  • Hats/jewelry/purses 
  • Old kitchen tools/small appliances: mixers, toasters, blenders, tea pots
  • Spoons, spatulas, whisks, colanders, candlesticks, coasters 
  • Dishtowels, tablecloths, doilies

Authentic items to encourage writing: When we rotate interesting real-life items, children’s desire to write and use fine motor skills is abundant.

dress up station

  • Calculators/print calculators
  • Old cards/thank you cards/cardstock/wallpaper/envelopes/stamps/stationary
  • Typewriter
  • Hole punch 
  • Rubber stamps/signature stamps/self-inking stamps

Authentic Items to enhance outdoor play.

Using Authentic Items for Play

  • Mixing bowls, spoons, and measuring cups
  • Cable spools
  • Flower boxes
  • Watering Cans
  • Plants/sprouts/split-transplant plants
  • Wind chimes/bird feeders

Keep your eyes open for ways to incorporate authentic items and elevate your child’s play. As Mister Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

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