It costs very little, distracts kids for longer, and minimizes clutter around the house. In other words, it's every parent's dream come true.
Kids’ toys are the ultimate nemesis of any wannabe minimalist. They are the home’s equivalent of persistent organic pollutants – resistant to degradation and always accumulating with a significant impact on (adult) human wellbeing! Toys have a knack for reappearing as soon as they’ve been put away and getting underfoot at the most inconvenient times.
A big part of the problem is that kids just have too many toys. Organizing is a pointless task because of the sheer number of toys that occupy the average family home these days. We parents buy them in hopes that they’ll provide entertainment, but the fact is that most toys, with their flashy lights, sounds, and colors, offer only temporary distraction and quickly become another object to clutter the home.
There is an alternative approach to toys, however, and that is to choose wisely. Enter the ‘pocket playground,’ a brilliant concept developed out of a study conducted by U.K. juice company Ribena. Although the study dates back to 2012, the idea is as relevant as ever and merits a closer examination as the minimalist lifestyle trend continues to grow.
The pocket playground was originally advertised as a collection of 8 items that cost the equivalent of $10. The items were selected for their ability to stimulate kids’ imaginations and engage them in endless hours of fun. The list included embroidery thread, colored paper, drawing pencils, wooden building blocks, Plasticine, beads, cardboard pieces, and toy figures.
The financial savings of a simplified toy collection are significant. The Daily Mail wrote at the time:
“In a report on the effect of the modern world on children’s play, child development experts found that the average family spends £10,021 (US $12,400) on toys before a child turns 18. Parents with two children therefore spend more than £20,000 (US $25,800) – enough for a deposit on a house.”
By rethinking the kinds of toys we buy, and opting for those that promote creativity and unusual combinations and uses, rather than a single use, we could save a lot of money, keep kids entertained for longer, and minimize clutter. What’s not to love about this?
The Ribena report is no longer available online, but one family blogger, Life At The Zoo, shared its list of 50 things you can do with the pocket playground.
1. Make a bracelet using thread and beads
2. Play ‘hot and cold’ by hiding toys and answering hot or cold to questions from other players trying to find them
3. Create your very own board games using cardboard, pencils and wooden shapes / people as pieces
4. Weave your own friendship bracelets using coloured thread
5. Long hair is perfect for braiding using the coloured thread
6. Play a game of cat’s cradle using thread
7. Design and decorate your own paper crowns
8. Create a town for toy people using the modelling clay to make trees, houses and streets
9. Create your very own game of snap using paper and pencils
10. Make paper airplanes and see how far they fly
11. Learn the art of origami and make a bird with flapping wings
12. Make masks with thread and paper and decorate them with beads and drawings
13. Make a concertina fan with paper and colour it in
14. Build a castle / spaceship / house with wooden blocks
15. Create famous landmarks with the blocks and modelling clay. Who can make the Eiffel Tower or the Angel of the North?
16. Build a house for the toy people using cardboard, modelling clay and pencils
17. Make impressions in the modelling clay with things from around your home, garden or things you have collected on family days out e.g. shells, leaves and tree bark
18. Take leaf, bark and coin rubbings with the paper and pencils
19. Push small items (match sticks, buttons, paperclips, paddlepop sticks, googly eyes) into the modelling clay to create faces or weird and wonderful sculptures
20. Create a modelling clay bakery. Make cupcakes, doughnuts and pastries
21. Create the alphabet or spell your name using moulded modelling clay
22. Build a tower with the blocks. How many blocks can be added before it tumbles down? Who can build the highest tower?
23. Shut your eyes and identify the shape of the blocks by hand. It’s not easy!
24. Create a dream catcher with cardboard, beads and thread
25. Create a ‘magic bird’ spinner – draw a bird on one side of a circle of card and a cage on the other. Make two small holes in the centre and pull through the thread, making loops for fingers at each end. Wind up each piece of string (by spinning the card round) and then, once wound up, pull the string tightly at each side – the bird will seem to appear in the cage!
26. Create medals for games, using the cardboard, modelling clay and string – first, second and third – and use these for whoever wins!
27. Make a rattle – attach beads to a piece of card using the thread and attach to a pencil. Then when you twist the pencil between your fingers, the beads hit the card and make a sound
28. Wherever you are, arrange some objects and draw a still life picture with the paper and pencils
29. Make a cardboard robot, using the thread to hold it together and beads for eyes. And give it modelling clay hair
30. 'Names in the hat' – everyone writes names of well-known people on pieces of paper, folds the paper and places in a hat or tub. Then take it in turns to pick a name out and describe that person without using the initial letter or any rhyming words. Go through as many words as possible in a time limit
31. Use the thread for finger knitting. Make mini scarves for the toy people
32. Make mini pom poms with the thread
33. Create an imaginary mini sweet shop using beads as sweets
34. Make your own beads using modelling clay and thread
35. Make a mini game of draughts
36. Create sculptures of your family using the modelling clay and beads
37. Write down some objects on pieces of paper and fold them over. Take it in turn to pick an object and mould it from modelling clay. The other player(s) have to guess what you have moulded
38. Make your own Bingo game using card, paper and pencils
39. Draw lots of circles on a piece of paper. On the first go one player draws an object – e.g. cat. The next person has to guess what it is and then draw another object in the next circle which begins with the last letter (so perhaps a tiger) and so on
40. Draw a well-known person e.g. a TV, celebrity, sports star or politician – everyone has to guess who it is!
41. Have a game of noughts and crosses or hangman
42. Make a fortune teller – folding your paper into a ‘rose’ and using it to tell the future!
43. Play a game of ‘Boxes.’ Draw dots randomly all over the paper. The first player draws a line between any two dots, and draws another dot in the middle of that line. The next player draws a line between any two dots, and puts a dot in the middle of that line. No lines may cross each other but they don’t have to be straight, so they can loop around other lines. Only three lines in total can emerge from any one dot. The dots put in the middle of the lines already have two lines connecting them to the two other dots, so they can only have one more line. The game continues until no more lines can be drawn. The person who draws the last line is the winner
44. Play ‘Why? Because.’ Each person writes down a question beginning with why (for example, ‘Why do dogs bark?’). Fold the top over to hide the question, and pass to the next player who, without looking at the question, writes an answer starting with Because (for example, ‘Because chocolate tastes good’). Then read out all the questions and answers – there’ll be some funny answers!
45. Play a game of ‘Monster Consequences.’ Draw a head on a piece of paper, then fold and pass on. The next player draws a torso and passes it on. The next person draws legs and the next draws feet. Open out the paper and see what monsters you’ve created
46. Play a game of ‘Written Consequences.’ Along the same lines as Monster Consequences but instead of drawing a monster, write down in turns: well known man’s name, well known woman’s name, a particular location, he said, she said and then the consequence. An amusing story should unfold!
47. Trace around your hand and adorn your drawn hand with jewellery, either drawn on or using the beads
48. Put on a play with the toy people and the objects
49. Make little drum kits with the wooden shapes and pencils
50. Play ‘Mini Boules’ with by rolling beads. Use the paper as your boules green
Whether or not you recreate the exact same Pocket Playground collection or change it to reflect your kid's interests and age, it’s a wonderful reminder of how few things kids truly need to stay entertained, especially if you’re able to remove other, more tempting distractions from their surroundings (i.e. handheld devices, tablets, TVs). Throw in a big cardboard box and then you’re really set.