Inside: If you are looking to promote a creative, screen-free, unstructured type of child-directed play this summer, this review of BigBoxPlay might help.
Like most parents, I learn the most about my kids from watching them play. My kids play a lot. They play together, and they play alone. They play short games. And they play games that last for days, months, and beyond. (They have one particular game, Dogs & Friends, that involves all the stuffed animals in the house that they have played on and off since 2012).
But when I think about the toys that get the most attention, I notice a pattern. Those special toys don’t have any buttons and require no batteries. They are not bright. And they don’t come with instructions.
They’re called open-ended toys. I see my kids chose those toys again and again. I also realize that those are the toys that tend to ignite their imaginations in unexpected ways and foster the spirit of creativity.
Disclaimer: The product has been given to me free of charge, and I will benefit from your purchase. That said, I chose to write a review for this product because I believe in the power of open-ended toys.
While the global toy market has reached 90 billion US dollars, the refrain you likely hear most often from parents is “my kids don’t play with toys!” and “all the toys are just sitting on the shelves collecting dust!”
Why is that?
I’ll tell you why. Research shows that computerized trucks, electronic dolls, and battery-operated trinkets and baubles leave nothing to the imagination. The best toys are the ones that inspire young learners to come up with their own ideas, improvise, and learn through trial-and-error. They are called open-ended toys because they come with no instructions, require no determined outcome, and have no age limit.
If you are looking for one of those toys to keep your kids busy while also learning a lot in an unstructured way, let me tell you about our new discovery!
My kids are obsessed with the BigBoxPlay structure. FedEx delivered it from California about a month ago, and all my four kids from little to oldest have been big fans since the day they saw it.
As soon as my husband put the structure together, following the instructions that came with it, my kids started moving through the tunnels with great zeal and enthusiasm. When that got old, they immediately came up with a game all four could play together. They called it Attack the Witches in the Castle.
My girls were hiding in the Castle popping up through the openings at random times (in our configuration there are seven openings), while my boys were running around the structure trying to predict where they will appear next and pretending to shoot them with Star Wars blasters (that is, a spaghetti box taped to a hairbrush). In the most vital moments, the “blasters” usually fell apart to side-splitting laughter.
It soon became clear that the witches had superpowers. They could shoot poisonous rainbows out of their fingertips with great precision. Every time the boys were hit – which was all the time – the girls would quickly transform into nurses and get to work treating the patients. After a brief recovery treatment (wet kitchen towels on the head + LEGO bricks applied to different body parts), everyone would go back to their stations and resume play.
There was a lot of running, jumping up and down, shooting sounds, and exclamations like “we need a better strategy!” and “they’re not going to get away with this!” I long ago developed immunity to my kids’ noises, so their game gave me an opportunity to sit down and read a few chapters in the book I was reading (and I consider that a victory for Mommy).
What Is BigBoxPlay?
BigBoxPlay is a modular STEM Fort Playhouse for kids. It’s made of durable cardboard and is very easy to assemble in a way that fits your space and preferences.
Each STEM Play 5-unit System comes with:
- 3 towers and 2 tunnels (unassembled)
- 4 connectable panels (castle-themed or without a theme)
- 2 dry erase panels
- 90 connector knobs
You can also get a smaller three-unit system if your space is limited.
The top panels have hatches (or flaps) that can be open, which appears to be one of my kids’ favorite features – they are always popping out of one of those hatches. The side pieces can be used as doors or turned into a window, castle wall, or dry-erase space by adding an additional panel with connector knobs.
The tunnel pieces don’t have doors or windows and are simply dark, narrow spaces that connect towers and are very fun to crawl through.
The playhouse is made of environmentally-friendly material, made in the USA and comes unassembled. You just follow the instructions to put it together to your taste, and in a short time, you have a life-size structure that promotes open-ended play.
How We Use BigBoxPlay
We set it up just off the kitchen because that’s where my kids spend a lot of time. Besides the games that my kids invent and play together (Attack the Witches in the Caste and Animal Farm, to name just a few), each of my kids came up with a unique way to use the Castle.
My three-year-old likes to hide inside the Castle with her puzzles and coloring books and spend quiet time in there. When the hatch is open, there is enough light inside to read by, but she also has a flashlight that likes to use too.
My seven-year-old prefers chasing games. In a blur of hands and legs, he disappears through one of the openings, crawls/runs through, and suddenly pops at a random place laughing with delight and screaming, “you can’t get me!” He also likes it when Mom and Dad crawl in with him for a cuddle.
My oldest two kids go inside the Castle a few times a day to read with a flashlight, to meditate, to listen to music with headphones, and to hide from the little kids.
We’re thinking of getting two more tunnels and one more tower to create a closed square structure with a tower at each corner. This will allow my kids to get all the way around without coming out of the structure once. Also, each of my kids wants to have his or her own tower to decorate inside in their preferred way.
Seven Reasons We Love BigBoxPlay:
- It encourages kids to explore and invent their own little world. My kids have invented lots of new games since we got BigBoxPlay.
- It can be used in many different ways: Castle, napping spot, zoo, hiding place, reading nook, etc. Each day brings a new adventure.
- It fosters sibling play, negotiation tactics, and the art of compromise. My kids sometimes fight about rules, nuances of a new game they are trying to invent, and who is in charge, but they usually come to some sort of resolution for the sake of keeping the game going. Sometimes I have to jump in and help them negotiate. Either way, it’s good practice.
- It develops a wide range of skills, from problem-solving to critical thinking. How can you use blankets and pillows to cover all doors, windows, and flaps to create a 100% dark space in the middle of a sunny day? How can you get the German Shepherd inside and keep her inside without the dog treats?
- It gives kids time and space to be creative. Every morning, I can see the wheels spinning, “what else can we do with it today?”
- It’s environmentally friendly (made of bio-degradable, formaldehyde-free, and eco-friendly materials).
- It’s fun!
BigBoxPlay is a STEM-authenticated educational product. It means that it’s recognized for its ability to promote learning and curiosity in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. All in all, it’s a great choice to encourage screen-free play, engagement, and creativity.
A final noteworthy point is that all BigBoxPlay systems are currently 30% off. CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE.