From You Are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy

Copyright © 1989 Rahima Baldwin Dancy

Celestial Arts P.O. Box 7327 Berkely, California 94707



Creating an inviting environment

The way in which you display a child’s toys determines to a large extent whether or not they will be played with. When toys are plied together in a toy box or a basket, they aren’t inviting to a child. Remember that much of a child’s play is suggested by the objects as they spark associations in the child’s imagination. While it may seem like extra work to clean up with our child at the end of each day, arranging toys invitingly on shelves will encourage your child to be self-motivating in his play. Arranging little scenes on tables or shelves will also invite the child to “live into” the scene and start to play with it.


Another aid to your child’s play is having activity areas, if your home or apartment is large enough. For example, a play kitchen area with a child-sized table and chairs and some kind of toy stove and dishes will provide hours of imitative play. Community Playthings makes wonderful wooden kitchen appliances and other toys for children. […] But it is also possible to make a simple stove-sink combination by finding a or building a wooden box, then cutting a hole into which you put a metal bowl for a sink, and painting burners beside it. Hinged doors and shelves inside for cupboard and oven are all the better, but not necessary.


Most of the play dishes, pots and pans sold in toy stores last a few weeks or months before they are broken or dented beyond recognition. Adult items are sturdier and can usually be picked up inexpensively at second hand stores – wooden bowl, small pots, silverware, saucers and pitchers, for instance. Wooden fruit can be found at many variety stores, and a jigsaw can be used to cut pieces of bread from a scrap of plywood.


Another area of great enjoyment is a workbench with a real vise, small hammer, saw and nails. Children enjoy the activities of hammering and sawing, and they can also make toys such as boats or cars. An old tree stump that can be kept indoors for pounding nails is a great way to engage children’s excess energy.

A doll corner is a special place where dolls can be put to bed at night and greeted in the morning. Cradles, baskets lined with cloth, a small high chair and a drawer for dolls clothes all add to the play in this area. The kitchen or dining room table can serve as an area for painting, coloring and crafts […].

When you set up play activity areas, remember that your child will most often want to play fairly close to where you spend most of your time.  Play area in a dining room or family room is often used more frequently than a bedroom that is upstairs and far away from the main activities of the family.


An invaluable aid to play are trestles or blanket stands. These wooden structures can be made in a variety of ways, as long as they are both sturdy and light enough for the child to move himself. They are about three feet high and can have and can have sheets and other lengths of cloths draped over them to form houses, caves and other enclosed play spaces. Simple sawhorses made from lumber and metal braces work quite well, or trestles requiring more carpentry skill can be seen in the catalogue Hearth Song or in the book Making Soft Toys […].


Along with sheets and long lengths of cloth, you will want to keep a box of colored pieces of cloth in various sizes from one to two yards. These will be used for table cloths, baby blankets, rivers and to define a space when a child wants to create an action scene for a doll or a puppet play.



A few simple costumes can greatly enhance your child’s play. Children love to play “dress up” for the sheer joy of putting in and taking off fancy clothes; they love to transform themselves into characters who can then act out roles in imaginative play – especially if several siblings or friends play together.


Having a few special hooks for capes and a shelf for hats can make costumes easily accessible and suggestive of creative play.  Again, don’t make a lot of things at once – give your child a chance to play with and relish each new thing. Try making something as it fits in with your child’s play, or engage in a little imaginative play with your child the first time he puts on something new that you have provided. Your interacting with the characters suggested by the costumes will go a long way toward their being used in the future. Here are some suggestions for things you can easily make:



·    Make a crown out of stiff paper; cover with aluminium foil.

·    Make a crown by sewing the ends of some fancy braid to a few inches of one-inch-wide elastic

          to make a circle that will fit your child’s head.

·    Make a couple of squares of thin material, like chiffon, that can be worn as veils held on by the braid crowns.

·    Cut two kitty ears out of colored felt; sew onto bias tape or ribbon; they’ll stick up when worn,

          also works for dogs, bunnies (with paper between the two layers to stiffen the ears.  

·    Collect hats from second-hand stores; dress-up, sailor, farmer, train engineer.



·      Take a length of material, turn under one-inch casing, put elastic through and sew the ends together

          for the neck; hem; add braid or other decoration if desired.

·   Make a cape with a hood by closing one end and putting casing for the elastic down about ten inches.

          Sew the ends of the elastic to the edges of the cape and add ties.


·      Capes with elastic around the top are also worn as skirts; or make a simple skirt with elastic

          to match a cape. Add braid and crown to delight any princess!

·       Make a tunic by cutting a head hole in a piece of cloth about eighteen inches wide; sew a tie

          to the center back. A must for knights, bears, cowboys, anything your child wants to be.

·       Save and collect dress-up clothes: velvets, blouses, jackets, etc.


·      Go through your own home, grandma’s attic, or rummage sales for aprons, gloves, silver shoes,

          and so forth.

 Toys for imaginative play

The less formed and more archetypal a toy is, the more possibilities it leaves for the child’s imagination. In Love of seven Dolls by Paul Gallico, the little girl is taking leave if the seven dolls she loves so much. The doll “Monsieur Nicholas,” who repairs and makes toys, gives her the following present: …and Monsieur Nicholas gave her an odd turned piece of wood that was not one but many shapes. ‘For you first born,’ he said. ‘It is a toy I have made for him that is not any, yet still all toys, for in his imagination, when he plays with it, it will be whatever he sees in it, or wishes it to be.’”[1]


Shapes and forms from nature have that possibility; gnarled knots from trees, pieces of bark, small pieces of branches or one-inch rounds from a tree trunk. This is where a large box or basket filled with “blocks” made from a tree trunk and branches will be used for much more than stacking and knocking down.


Baskets of natural objects can also be used in many ways by children. Rocks, shells, pine cones, chestnuts, or walnuts, if made available in small baskets or other containers, will appear as part of the scenery, pieces of food, small animals or whatever is needed in the moment’s play.


It is easy to make several stand-up dolls with which your child can act out various scenes in play. These simple dolls/puppets have cylindrical bodies and no arms or legs. Instructions are available in Making Soft Toys and The Children’s Year. Try making a mother, father, old man, old woman, king, queen, baker or boy and girl. The list is as long as your imagination.


In addition to the stand-up dolls or puppets just described, you will want to have dolls of various kinds. Instructions for making more complex soft or knitted dolls can be found in the books just mentioned. The Doll Book by Karen Neuschütz gives detailed instructions for making a large soft doll, or you can buy a kit ready-made from Hearth Song. Pick up baskets for cribs at discount or second-hand stores and line them with material, which you can also use to make a matching pillow and blanket. The toys themselves are wonderful, and the fact that you have put your own imagination and creative energy into them makes the even more so!


If you like to play with shapes, you can make animals by sculpting colored wool fleece with a needle and thread. For example, a simple bird can be made by tying a knot in a length of colored wool for the head and inserting another piece crosswise for wings. Attach a string to it and hang it in a window or tie it on a stick for a very successful bird. […]

[1] Quoted in Britz-Crecelius. Heidi. Children at Play Inner Traditions International, New York 1986 p.81