Better than any toy

Better than any toy

You’ll often hear us say children don’t really need toys. In fact it’s one of the big ideas at the heart of our mission: we believe play is about so much more than entertainment, for children it’s about learning through their own investigations. By supporting them in their explorations, not only with toys but with meaningful experiences, we can help build inquisitive, curious and thoughtful children, who are ready to take on the challenges of primary school when it comes around.

Toys are great, especially the kind of open-ended toys that encourage children to use their imagination or develop physical skills. But the world is also full of naturally occurring things and innocuous household items that children can love, enjoy and benefit from as much as – more than – any toy.

Last summer we launched a series about this on Instagram. Called #betterthananytoy, it highlighted the many opportunities nature and even provides for play. From climbing trees and collecting apples in a wheelbarrow to stepping stones, cardboard boxes and rockpooling, we celebrated the things that regularly trounce the toys in our house and all over the world. Other things we featured included sand, rock-pools and sewing seeds in the greenhouse.

Now we’re up and running again, we’re re-launching the series and we’d love to hear from you about the non-toys your children love. Does your child collect found items in their pockets and keep them as treasure? Are they always walking along the top of walls, bashing saucepans in the kitchen, or making mud cakes by the river?

Whatever your child enjoys that isn’t a toy, we want to hear about it. So please tell us, what activities would you include in this series? Join us on Instagram and share your #betterthananytoy moments with us.

#onehundredtoys #sandandwater #learningthroughplay #fewerbettertoys #betterthananytoy

Here’s some inspiration from last summer’s series:

Sand and water

Is there a better place to start than sand and water? It was the first post in the series and embodies everything that’s good about non-toy play: open-ended, freely-chosen, self-directed – and fun! Children will happily play on a beach for two weeks every summer without a toy in sight. Can you think of a toy with that level of engagement? Me neither.


What’s lurking inside this slimy mass? It’s a real challenge to walk on such slippery rocks. And if you’re me, the biggest challenge is to stop yourself from worrying that some unknown sea creature is going to bite or sting your toes as your foot sinks into the swampy cracks! ⠀

But what a rich environment to explore! Do you remember using a quadrat at school? Throwing down a square and counting how many little creatures you could find in one square metre. What mysteries must live here?


When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a scoop or a spade, every patch of sand or earth is worthy of investigation.

The seaside

A scene rich in possibilities, from rocks to seaweed, rockpools to sea-life. Enough variety to last not just a holiday but a lifetime.


Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of time in the garden, helping my grandfather in his greenhouse. The satisfaction of growing a plant from seed is immense. Watering and feeding, watching the tomatoes ripen and the anticipation of that first, juicy bite. ⠀

The natural world

Bucket and spade

Not just for sandcastles! Much of the fun of buckets is that they allow children to collect interesting objects and carry them around – often for no discernible purpose. Stones, shells, seaweed, toys, food (!). Everything goes in.⠀

What would you include in this list? Share your images with us on Instagram using the hashtag #betterthananytoy.