“What does a daycare without toys look like?”

Several people have reached out with questions like this, trying to wrap their heads around the concept of a daycare with no toys. Some seemed worried, even, as though we are doing a disservice to the kiddoes, depraving them of something – which is absolutely not the case. So here we are – ready to answer some frequently asked questions about the absence of toys in our small West Island Daycare & Preschool.

Q: Why?

A: This is the most asked question by far. The reason for using loose parts is that they offer the children endless opportunities for development. Imagine wanting to play cars without having any actual cars to play with? The children have to figure out how to find or make the “toys” they need. This becomes an exercise in problem solving, creativity, and even engineering as they try to invent or create the materials they need for their games!

On the other hand, most store-bought toys are made by adults with one use in mind (ie. A car is a car, a plastic banana is a banana, and a dinosaur is a dinosaur.) They also often make sounds, have matching accessories, and more… they don’t really leave room for interpretation or imagination, an even less room for innovation.

Another amazing benefit to loose parts are that they are often eco-friendly. Because the items are often donated, found, or bought second-hand, we reduce the amount of plastics that we purchase. We also give second lives to items destined for the trash or recycling bin, reducing our waste output.

Q: What are they learning?

A: The easier question to answer would be “what aren’t they learning?” Because they are just learning so much all of the time. Play is humankind’s natural preparation for life and future learning. 

For example, take a look at these masks. It took so many skills to make these:

  • fine motor: to cut, draw, and glue the elements
  • problem solving, engineering, & design: to figure out where to put the eyes, how to attach it to their head, what materials to use, etc
  • collaboration & language skills: they often worked with others to come up with the ideas and share tips and tricks.
  • creativity: to come up with the idea and to actually design them
  • cognition: planning the mask out & identifying the tools and they would need
  • self-confidence & internal motivation: to fail (which they did) and to try again.
  • research (learning how to learn): improving on their errors to improve their mask designs.

All of these skills make for a successful future in academics and beyond. Most adult-directed activities could not teach a 4-year-old these skills in an easier way.

Q: What do the children do all day?

A: Play! They also do art, dance, sing, run, read… The lack of toys definitely does not mean there is nothing to do. In fact, the materials we offer ensure that the kids have many things to explore, manipulate, and play with. This is all explained on this great and brief information sheet on Loose Parts Theory.

Q: Do the kids get bored?

A: Yes, sometimes they do. And that is what inspires the most creativity! Believe it or not – it is not the parents’ or educators’ job to entertain the children, instead, their job to give the the children the tools, safe space, and time to entertain themselves through play.* In fact, it is in this time and during this free and child-initiated play that the most learning happens!

*There are a lot of other things the educators do to encourage learning and development, to ensure the safety of the children, and more, but entertaining the children is not how they do those things.

Generally, though, the children that get bored are the ones who are newer to Sunnyside and not used to the philosophy. They are often accustomed to educators who choose their activities; to toys that are made for using in a certain way; or to TV/tablet time which doesn’t leave much room for creativity, let alone the rest of the skills listed above.

Q: Where do you get your materials?

A: Our materials come from all sorts of places. Most are bought from thrift stores, garage sales, or flea markets and others are saved from our recycle bins. Many of our loose parts are also donated by parents, relatives,and other community members. Natural loose parts are generally found in nature (stones, pinecones, leaves, sticks, etc) and are often even collected by the children themselves.

If you still want to know more after this FAQ, feel free to email us or comment below with your questions.[:

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