Simply Play Time Part 2: Toys for Guided Play

As a teacher, I’ve always been a fan of Vygotsky, who stresses the importance of having a child work together with an adult mentor, so that they can achieve more than they would on their own. Yet it is not completely adult-directed. This is the theory behind Rob’s and my guided play sessions with the Bean.

We’re not fans of flash cards, which simply teach rote memorization (and are not really fun). We also don’t like many electronic toys or videos, which as quite passive. These are all low-tech toys that help kids with important preschool skills. We got a lot of our inspiration from the Bean’s play-based therapy sessions.

So here are some of our favorite toys for guided play:


We just bought Eric Carle’s wooden puzzles, and the Bean can’t get enough of them! These are 12 piece puzzles of zoo animals. The Bean will say the name of the animal she wants and put together the puzzle. She needs some help getting started. Puzzles are great for visual problem solving, as long as they are rotated, so that the kid does not simply memorize them (which is also a good skill). If the Bean asks for help, first I will hand her a piece that goes in the section she is working on. If she is still frustrated, I will turn the piece around. If that doesn’t work, I will set the piece next to the place it goes. But she always puts it into place!


The Bean got some Melissa and Doug beads for Christmas. This comes with two strings, so that she and I can use them together. These are a good creative and fine motor activity.


The Bean has a lovely toy kitchen, which is great for guided imitative play. She has felt food, a small cast iron skillet, an old rotary phone, and wooden dishes. Her favorite addition to the kitchen is her Melissa and Doug cookies and dough set. She cuts the cookies apart, sticks them to the cookie sheet, then sticks frosting to the top. And some nights, this is followed by the creation of real cookies in Mommy’s kitchen!


For large motor play, nothing beats an old fashioned ball! This is a bath time game in our house. The Bean sits in the tub, and we throw the ball from the doorway. She, of course, throws it back. This usually involves lots of splashing, for extra fun!


We found a balloon pump at the grocery store. This is a fun activity for the Bean. Since she can not get the balloon on it by herself, she has to say “Help, please.” Then, when she’s ready to let it go, she says, “1 2 3 Go!”

There are many other toys we have had great success with, and I will be writing about them from now on, in “Saturday Simple Playtime.”

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