Playsilks look beautiful, but what do you actually do with them?
Fabric of all kinds should be one of the first things in the toy box. Wool, cotton, polyester – you can use anything. But there’s something special about silks. Their weight, strength, translucence and colour make them perfect for the job. In the 100 Toys house we have a bag of perhaps fifty silks and they squash down to almost nothing, waiting to be called into service.
My children are now 9, 8, 6 & 4 and silks are the only toy they all still use. Out comes the bag and within minutes we have a story. Last night it was The Runaway Dinner. Banjo Cannon – the hungry boy – chasing orange carrots, green peas and Melvin the runaway sausage. I must admit that I wasn’t particularly happy about it at the time. Four children chasing each other in and out of every room in the house is not my idea of a calming bedtime routine, but it was still a good game!
This kind of play happens organically. The children know which materials are available and, through years of exploration, understand the possibilities of each one. A block for this, some fabric for that, a couple of cushions and something from the kitchen. Children make do with whatever is to hand.
But at the heart of it all was the silks.
NOTE: When we used to sell toys, the Adventure Silks featured in this post were our playsilk product. They are no longer available but you can find similar brands online.
You can give your child a silk or two and see where it takes them. Or, if you’d like some inspiration, here are our top 100 suggestions for open-ended play with silks:
Make a den
A quick and easy way to make a den for children is to drape a large silk over a table edge or across the tops of two chairs. If it’s sunny you can hang it over a washing line in the garden. However you choose to use it, building a den with play silks gives children a glimpse of independence, a chance to create a space of their own, where they can make the rules. Fill it with cushions and books and plenty of rations.
Make a sling for a doll baby
Tie a silk around you and make a toy sling for a doll baby.
Babies who are learning the concept of object permanence, love to play games of Peekaboo. Use a silk to cover your face and then reveal it again. Or use a silk to cover something on the play mat, just out of your baby’s reach. They’ll love to lift the silk and see what treasures lie beneath it.
Make a knight’s tabard
Clip two silks together for the shoulders and pop it over your head. Use a belt or tie another silk around your waist, grab a cardboard sword, and you are invasion-ready.
Be a ghost
If you’re looking for an easy ghost’s costume for Halloween or storytime, a white or silver play silk makes a great sheet to throw over. If you want to add ghoulish eyes you can avoid cutting holes in the silk by making some of your own with paper and clipping them on with a grip or large paper clip.
Bandage for a poorly teddy
Wrap a silk around a teddy’s head when he has had a bump or loop round his shoulder for a ready-made arm sling.
Lead for a pet for a pull-along toy
Pull-along toys are great friends for the newly-confident walker. Tie a silk around the neck of a dog-on-wheels or pretty much any toy you like and you have an instant pull-along.
Streamers don’t only look pretty, they provide an excellent workout for gross-motor skills and in their swirling and twirling are precursors to the first shapes and letters your child will make when they learn to write. Tie your silks to the end of long sticks (a branch from the woods is perfect) and watch them whizz and whirl.
Two silks attached to the back of a t shirt of top and then tied at the wrists make a pair of pretty wings for a fairy.
When your game requires an eagle-eyed hawk or a nosey seagull, fold a silk into a triangle and attach to the cuffs of a long sleeve top and at the back. Add a beak and you have an instant bird.
River in a small world
Use blue silks to run a river through your small-world setting and you open up a world of possibilities. Boats can sail down it, fish can swim, bridges go over it, all with one piece of fabric.
Ocean or sea
A flat silk can be a calm ocean, or if you want stormy seas and giant waves, drape it over cushions and other props to create swells.
Tie a yellow silk to the end of your plait and become the fairy tale maiden in an instant.
There’s a lot you can learn about physics by making a parachute. Take four lengths of string and tie one to each corner of the silk. Join the four loose ends and connect them to a small toy. Stand on a chair or at the top of the stairs and watch it gently fall.
As with the parachute example above, tie a length of string to each corner and pull the silk along behind you as you run.
Scrunch up a Dark Mountain Adventure Silk and drape it over a cushion to add verticality to your small world play.
For campfires, witches cauldrons, rockets and other situations requiring (imaginary) flames.
Fix your own tin foil stars and planets to black or dark blue silk for an atmospheric backdrop to a small world.
For the full princess bed effect, hang your silks from the ceiling over the bed, or make a frame using the poles from a Wendy house or similar. Much like a den, you may find your princess wants to stay in her (or his) private little world for some time.
A quick knot around the neck and you have a ready-made royal cloak. For safety with younger children, use a clip or peg instead of knotting.
Superhero play is incredibly popular with pre-schoolers, who use the exaggerated characteristics of their favourite goodies and baddies to explore themes of right and wrong in a safe setting. A silk tied loosely around the shoulders makes a great cape for flying, or if you are more of a bodysuit kind of hero, you can tie it around your middle and add your initials in cardboard.
Create a forest with broom sticks and chairs and a canopy of green silks above them.
Jungle plants, hanging down
Tie green and brown silks around the spindles on the stairs or up chair legs to create the kind of vertical greenery you need in your jungle.
Ropes for raft building
Collect sticks in the woods or garden and weave together with a strong and sturdy silk for a raft for your figures in the paddling pool.
Tie a silk to a stick, a tree or hang from your den. Every army needs a flag!
Wrapped around a doll a silk makes an excellent ball gown
Hair in the hairdressers
Tie it or clip it on to you customer and (pretend to!) cut it.
In the bath or paddling pool, a floating silk makes a satisfyingly-sinister sea creature.
See how many toy fish you can scoop up in one go?
Pack a picnic in your silk knapsack and off you trundle to the bottom of the garden for an adventure.
Red Riding Hood
Traditional fairy tales are still so popular with children because they provide an opportunity to explore difficult and sometimes scary ideas and concepts. Getting into character when you are reading a story can take your explorations even further. Throw a red silk over your shoulders and you have a real-life Red Riding Hood.
Lay the silk down flat and pile on some dirty clothes from the laundry basket. Pull the corners together and you have a quick and easy way to carry it to the washing machine. Household chores have never been so much fun.
For snoozey teddies and dolls
Flames from a rocket
Stuff into a rocket made from a kitchen roll or empty bottle and pull out just enough fabric to create rocket boosting flames. We have lift off!
Covering a nature table
Just one or two colours can provide a seasonal backdrop for a nature table. Choose greens for spring, yellows for summer, oranges and browns for autumn and silvers and greys for winter.
Perhaps the most immediately satisfying way to include silks in your small world play is to use blue to represent water. Mix two blues or use a two-tone silk for a more realistic effect. Side lit using natural light from a window your river will come to life.
Liquid in a bowl to stir
When you are making tea for all your dolls, a silk in a bowl with a wooden spoon makes a very pleasing liquid.
Potions in a witch’s cauldron
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Wrapping for presents
Children exploring their enveloping schema often enjoy wrapping things up, either as pretend presents or simply as way of researching what happens when you ‘hide’ something. Silks make a quick, easy and re-usable way to enjoy wrapping pretend gifts and almost anything else you can think of.
Another favourite with children exploring an enveloping schema is posting items, seeing what happens when something disappears. Make a postman’s sack and fill it with letters and parcels to deliver to all your family members.
- Tabard for team sports
- Tie for legs in three-legged races
- Tie for a business person
- Table cloth for a teddy bears’ picnic
- Sheets in an operating theatre
- Ice in the Arctic
- Curtains on a stage or puppet theatre
- Magic carpet
- Pony’s tail or mane
- Lion’s mane
- Curtains in a teddy or doll hospital
- Sunloungers at the pool
- Take a staycation in the garden and lay silks out around the paddling pool like deckchairs.
- Lily pads in a pond
- Swirlers for rhythmic gymnastics-style dancing
- A fortune teller’s turban
- A Land Girl’s headscarf
- Astronaut’s suit
- Skipping rope (tied together)
- Tied around a ball to make a comet or shooting star
- Rope for pirates
- Curtains for a bunk bed
- Sleeping bags for teddies on a camping trip
- Bird’s nest
- Easter egg basket
- A sling for a broken arm
- Tied to baby gym or play arch
- A carpenter’s belt
- Santa’s sack
- Chinese dragon
- Wind in a storm
- The sun
- A rainbow
- Outside for a fairy’s den
- Sunlight streaming through silks makes a beautiful, dappled light that’s perfect for a fairy kingdom or a troglodyte’s cave.
- Blanket for a pet bed
- Ballerina’s tutu
- Picnic blanket
- Wrap a blue silk around your legs and you are a mermaid
- Bride’s veil or train
- A desert nomad’s headscarf
- Baby doll’s nappy
- Curtain or doorway to a magic kingdom
- Waiter’s apron
- Chef’s hat
- Nurse’s uniform
- Doctor’s uniform (with a toy stethoscope)
- Caveman’s clothing
- Greek goddess or god
- Old lady’s shawl
- Scrunched up as flowers
- Monkey ropes
Sheets to hang on the washing line
A brilliant pre-writing activity. Use clothes pegs to attach your silks to a line. Not as easy as it seems!
Don’t forget to play with the packaging!
The Adventure Silk packaging was designed to be part of the fun.When children play with open-ended materials like tubes and fabric, it’s known as heuristic or discovery play. This means that there are no fixed outcomes. The value comes from the exploration.Here are some ways you can play with the packaging:
- Take of the lid and put it back on
- Twist the lid
- Roll the tube
- Fill the tube
- Put beans or rice into the tube and turn it into a shaker
- Stack the tubes
- Use the tube as a pretend cup
- Roll up the silk and put it back inside
The possibilities really are endless. The trick is to leave your child to make her own discoveries. She will learn what she needs and at a pace that matches her development.
Adventure or Wilderness?
Adventure Silks are solid colours and are designed for imaginative play. Wilderness Silks are two-tone and designed to be used as the backdrop to small world play.Both are a generous 1m x 1m square, and are finished with beautiful hand-rolled edges.