How are educational games helpful for children

"Stuff to Play" - Helpful for future-oriented learning?

Freya Pausewang


"Stuff to play" means material that is not made for the child to play but is suitable for and used by children for play. This includes, for example, packaging material such as cardboard boxes, empty rolls from the hardware store, material from the household, old devices that can be taken apart (if there is a cable, it is essential to cut off beforehand!), Collected material from nature, waste wood from a carpenter's shop or the hardware store and a thousand more things. Some daycare centers use a lot of this material.

The question arises of how children deal with stuff to play with and what the educational value of playing with "non-toys" can be seen.

How does children's play change when they use stuff to play?

The material referred to as stuff to play with was not intended for adults to play with. Children look for it themselves. They make it themselves regardless of specifications, they invent, improvise, decide for themselves. This is one of the strengths of the child. There is no need for pre-groomed trails, it shapes first-person tracks.

Makes stuff to play with more imaginative. The child is either stimulated to play and design ideas by the material they have discovered themselves, or they have a game idea and look for the material with which they can implement or expand the idea.

With stuff to play with, the child is supported in typical characteristics to grasp situations and events. In principle, it is sufficient for the children to symbolically indicate the game material and game actions. As a cat, the child moves on hands and feet, calls meow and needs to be cuddled. For example, no material is required for this. As a dog, you may just need some kind of rope or belt as a dog leash. To process the visit to the doctor, it uses a small stick or an elongated building block as a syringe. If the "ship's captain" needs binoculars because he had the idea of ​​exploring an island, he will find a suitable item for it. If the suggestion is reversed, the child discovers a branch lying around, for example while walking, tries to see if it can be pulled, and already develops ideas of what the branch could symbolize: perhaps a street sweeper or the popular dog on a leash.

Guide the "found" items away from consumption and on the dependence on specially prepared material, as well as on money. The material stimulates improviseTo develop ideas further, to accept challenges and new ones Mastering situations.

How can stuff to play support future-oriented learning?

The serious crises that humanity is facing will require changed behavior, especially from the population in industrialized countries. Much that has to change cannot yet be seen. But it is certain that material consumption must be reduced. Firstly, the increasing scarcity of resources calls for product shrinkage. Second, the continuous increase in greenhouse gases in the air does not allow the current production volume to continue and increase, because CO is generated every time a product is manufactured and when goods are transported2 and other climate-damaging emissions. Material growth clearly has no future, even if political and social struggles are still being made for it.

Stuff to play with in early childhood can be helpful in several ways to empower children for a future with a shrinking economy:

Use material longer and more diverse

Without a doubt, consumer goods will have to be more durable, easier to repair and more versatile in the future. In society, the common use of material that is not constantly needed is slowly gaining ground, such as car sharing or the joint purchase of rarely used gardening tools and tools among neighbors.

Stuff to play stimulates the child to use things for which they were not originally created. The child is attuned to a more varied use of material, to recycling and changing uses: It uses what is available and returns the material to its original function after the game, such as household items or the parents' tools. This also means that the relevant material must be treated carefully. For their play, the child also uses things that would have been recycled anyway, such as the packaging material, the scraps of wood, the old camera that is no longer used to take apart, or material from nature such as branches and autumn leaves that are returned to the natural cycle.

Play more independently and pay attention to the consequences and side effects

Above I have listed examples of how gaming behavior can change through stuff to play with. The child plays more self-determined, both in terms of the choice of material as well as the game plan and the course of the game.

Solution strategy and vigilant environmental monitoring are supported in the search for and handling of the material. If a child wants to use a tree stump as a stove while playing in the forest, they will have no difficulty in finding objects as pots and plates. However, it must be careful not to damage any of the inconspicuous small animals. Stuff to play with contributes in a variety of ways to finding solutions to problems in a self-determined manner, paying attention to the consequences and side effects.

Increase social wellbeing

At the moment, people derive a large part of their well-being from their consumption. Shopping and new possessions make you happy. In order to achieve an economy without growth, other reasons for happiness must be sought and must increase. Research is therefore currently being carried out in various disciplines into the non-material areas from which people derive well-being and happiness. Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the Center for Environmental Strategies at the University of Surrey, explains in his book "Prosperity Without Growth - Living and Doing in a Finite World" that there is evidence in all cultures that there is group involvement and achievement for the people Communicating wellbeing Social togetherness can therefore be seen as an important future-oriented learning area for children.

Stuff to play stimulates interaction: inventing and developing ideas is downright contagious for children. In addition, the ideas in the small group are increased by mutual stimulation. The group process usually conveys a sense of wellbeing and increases the joy of being.

A child who brings such an item to kindergarten for the group makes an individual contribution to the community. There has to be something to give. Being active in a group and making a contribution gives the group member a sense of social well-being. This is exactly what needs to increase in our society - wellbeing that is not tied to material possessions - so that people can reduce their feeling of happiness through material consumption.

Are the toy-free months coming back to life?

In the early 1990s, kindergartens began moving their toys into the basement for a few months. Educators informed the parents beforehand and discussed the plan with the children. The toys were put away together. The educators wanted to lead the children back from the abundance of toys to the essentials, stimulate the invention of the game, the imagination and the interaction. It worked out. It was often reported that after a short period of change, the children played more imaginatively and clearly in groups. Social forms of play increased. The children felt very comfortable with the reduced play material.

Nevertheless, these tests could not spread very much and disappeared again after a few years. Of course, it is an expenditure of time for the educators to bring all the material into a storage room and after perhaps three months to fetch it again and put it away. Perhaps that is why this experiment lost its appeal after a few years. However, the new educational plans of the federal states with a stronger emphasis on cognitive learning may also have contributed to the fact that the educators had to concentrate on other things. Now you can find the first reports about such toy-free phases on the Internet again. That is a good thing, because they help the children and their parents to question their material possessions a little and to see a reduction as less fearful.

What inspires children in the (almost) toy-free forest kindergartens?

Forest kindergartens, which have increased in the last two decades, get by with a very small amount of purchased toys. The children have enough ideas to play with the materials and suggestions they find in the forest - from bushes, trees and hilly plains to streams, stones, sticks, earth and mud. In addition to magnifying glasses, possibly books, ropes and balls, little game material is taken. The forest children later cope with the performance requirements in school just as well as the other children. The exercise in the open air is very appealing for the children, as is the nature to be discovered, so that they are fully filled. The forest children don't know boredom. The children use purchased material in the afternoon in the facility or in their families.

How can parents be convinced not to give children private toys to the facility?

For many kindergartens it is a nuisance and leads to problems when children from their families bring play materials with them. Most kindergartens therefore ask parents not to give the children any toys or at most only on a designated weekday. The reason that the team then has to take care of the private toys is an organizational reason that is entirely justified, but that is by no means the only reason: The toys brought along create unnecessary competition among the children and a motive to show off. Children use the material to attract friends to play with and at the same time to be "determiners" of the course of the game. Their contribution to the playgroup does not arise primarily from their behavior, but from their possessions. This is not a good learning path for a future that has to deal with growth contraction. This is also not a good direction for children's individual development. They seek recognition based on possession, not behavior.

Richard Wilkinson and Cate Pickett show in their book "Equality is Happiness - Why Just Societies Are Better for All" that when surveyed in societies with greater financial equality, people say they are on average more comfortable than people in societies with a wide distinction between rich and poor. Toys brought along make ownership clear in the kindergarten group and increase the material difference for the children.

The feeling of well-being that a child feels when it brings its family toys with them is only temporary. Wellbeing that arises from behavior is more sustainable. Less possessed children feel worse and inferior. Perhaps they react with shown disappointment, anger, or provocation. Relationships in the group are affected. The child in the center does not make an effort to gain recognition in the group through his or her behavior. It relies on the effect of its material. Toys brought along therefore ultimately do not have a connecting, but a separating and competing influence on group life.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince parents not to give their children private toys. Parents feel the disappointment of their children and want to allow them the joy of presenting their material in the group and shining with it. Your request to let other children play with the toy does not change the weighting of having, either in your own child or in the group.

It is different if the child brings stuff to play with. The material has a different value; as a rule it is a contribution to the community and therefore has a social aspect and a focus on us.

Stuff to Play with - Just a Drop in the ocean?

Perhaps the only way the child will later remember his play with material that was not intended for play is when he looks at his (not thrown away) portfolio from kindergarten. But the willingness and the desire to use things in a variety of ways and not always expect specifications from above may have remained awake. The young person may also have developed a basic attitude with which he does not think of buying as the first solution to a problem. Certainly this is just a drop in the bucket for shaping and managing the future of society. But water is made up of drops. And constant dripping definitely has its meaning.


A consciously future-oriented upbringing in early childhood is dealt with more broadly in the book: Freya Pausewang: Makes me strong for my future - How parents and educators can strengthen children in early childhood. Munich: Oekom-Verlag 2012.


Jackson, Tim: Prosperity Without Growth. Living and doing business in a finite world. Published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Munich: oekom, 2nd edition 2011

Pausewang, Freya / Strack-Rathke, Dorothea: Accompanying into life - education and upbringing in socio-educational practice. Berlin, Düsseldorf, Mannheim: Cornelsen Scriptor Verlag 2009

Uexküll, Jakob von: "We owe that to our children". Hamburg: EVA / European Publishing House 2007

Wilkenson, Richard / Pickett, Cate: Equality is Happiness - Why Just Societies are Better for All. Hamburg: Tolkemitt Verlag at Zweiausendeins 2010