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Kids play with anything

This is going to be a short post today, because I’m writing it in the passenger seat of our minivan, heading to my in-laws’. It is 11:53 p.m.—move out day. We’ve had quite the laborious Labor Day weekend, stacking the remaining boxes in our storage unit and filing our backpacks with next years’ necessities.

We’re grateful our house’s new owners agreed to let us live in the house till the end of summer, long after we sold it; this way, we were able to move out slowly and thoughtfully (that didn’t mean we still didn’t have last-minute cleanup and packing, but I digress). In the past two weeks, as all but the absolute essentials were carted off, I was reminded of a beautifully simple truth.

Kids really, really don’t need much to be content.

As of a week ago, our kids have only had wooden blocks, books, and art supplies in the house. Everything else was packed, out of sight and apparently out of mind. Our three kids, age 9 and under, found happiness playing with the dirt and sticks outside, the paint and paper from the craft cabinet, and for the first time in about a year, they actually played with those blocks.

In fact, because everything else was gone, those few playthings became special, sacred even. The kids could better see them. And they never missed their other things.

It reminded me of Maria Montessori’s insight over a hundred years ago, when she witnessed young children in an empty room playing with their food that fell to the floor: she discovered the simple truth that kids are hard-wired to play, no matter their environment.

kids play with anything

Now, does an intentional environment contribute to more creativity, a self-motivated desire to learn? Of course (that’s chapter 28 of Blue Bike, in fact). I’m all for a thoughtfully-curated collection of toys and games.

But goodness if they don’t need very much. Our kids get to pick out one special toy for our year-long journey, and that’s just fine by us. Truth is, they tend to figure out how to play with whatever’s right in front of them. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way.

Just like the tin foil balls our kids played with for three hours yesterday afternoon.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Ari

    I spoke to my Mum today and she’d spent an hour this afternoon playing Buses with two of her grandkids. 6 chairs lined up in twos, two adults, 2 kids under 3. No toys, but trips to get pizza and to the park and the shops. Fun for all of them!

    • Tsh

      Yes, chairs can be all sorts of fun, can’t they? 😉

  2. Rocky - Wisebirdsays

    I order a lot of things online, so there’s a lot of boxes that comes to my house. Every time my nieces and nephews come over, they don’t ask about my electronic gadgets. They want to play with the boxes!

    • Tsh

      Cardboard boxes are just about the best toys in the world.

  3. Sarah G

    We found the same thing when we went camping last week. The only toy I packed was a small excavator. With only one option, our 4 year old contentedly built roads, playgrounds, skyscrapers, etc. for an entire week when we were at our camp site. In fact, even with the thimble sized scoop, he dug so much I had to have him fill in some pretty major holes before we left 😀

  4. alicia

    We moved a month ago today. Several catastrophic events have required our attention from the moment we’ve moved in. Because of this, we haven’t had time to unpack the majority of our stuff, including the bulk of the kids toys. They’ve not asked about a single one of them! (And I certainly don’t miss them being underfoot!) Since this move was a big downsize, I doubt many of the toys (and much of our stuff as well) will make it back into the house!

  5. Sharon Holbrook

    Thank you. This just have me the nudge I needed to toss most of the tiny plastic dreck I just picked up while vacuuming.

  6. Valerie

    I agree with this for sure! When my son’s room is clean and everything is out of sight, he plays with (and clings to, like you said) the few things we leave out…. the precious bunny stuffy, the dinosaur toy, the car. Compared to always wanting everything down and out to play with, he really prefers, I would dare say, to play with less!

    Thanks for this!

  7. Vanessa

    I think it’s a common element to how adaptable humans are! My husband & I keep home made play doh in the fridge to play with and we don’t even have kids. Sometimes it’s just nice to do fun things with craft materials.

  8. Loretta S.

    You are awesome!! Love that you so lovingly speak truth. Have a great trip!!

  9. Tracey

    The creativity of children is astronomical isn’t it! I am on a travel adventure with my family since April this year and I can honestly say, my 5 year old son hasn’t played with one toy he brought. We packed boxes and more boxes of toys in storage and he hasn’t mentioned missing them once. Sticks and dirt and rocks, now those are a different story:)

  10. Steph

    It’s crazy and awesome what kids will play with when they have the opportunity. My 15 month old played with clothespins for an entire 20 minutes (which for him is pretty impressive) the other day. Then my husband and four year old clipped them onto his clothes and they all played for another 20 minutes.

  11. jill britz

    Balloons & marbles around here these days! Since we began decluttering our lives, more & more plastic & prefab toys have gotten the axe. Do my kids need a jumbo kitchen to pretend cook, or can I just prop them on a chair with measuring cups & some beans beside me while I fry the hamburger? The beans aren’t so ugly to look at, at least. ;). (Though the mommy guilt I field for NOT buying them the big ticket plastics is another beast. . . .)

    P.S. — isn’t that play-with-anything ingenuity, that deep, fulfilling imagination, what we’re trying to get at with all the toys anyway?? Take ’em away & watch ‘ em play! 😉

  12. Louisa

    When we were camping in July we only took the minimum of toys. Even then I don’t think we needed all of those. My 6 and 4 year old boys decided making planes and space ships out of Clothes Pegs was the new craze!!! They played with those pegs for hours 🙂 I must remember to pack them for our next camping trip.

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