Thinking “Outside the Toy Box” – Improving Developmental Skills with Household Items ~ By Allie, Shine SLP

Is your child “getting into everything” as they learn to walk and navigate their environment?

Is there a voice saying, if we get ‘x’ toy, then they will be ready for kindergarten? 

Do your kids play with the flashy toy for a couple of weeks and then it sits neglected with the rest?

These are common questions we have asked ourselves as parents, and heard from our client’s families.  The truth is, therapy & healthy development should be a human right and accessible to all. Let us debunk some false beliefs around toys & explore different avenues of nurturing development with our “Outside the Toy Box” Series.

We have all witnessed the phenomenon of a child receiving a *great* gift but then only playing with the box, right? Now you are frustrated because you or a relative splurged on the “wow factor” gift & there is little interest in it. The child could even be overwhelmed by it (*insert annoying noisy toy, that you hate too), or they have no idea how to even play with it! The truth is, less is way more with toys. 

In Shine’s series, “Outside the Toybox”, we feature a variety of objects/activities that you will find are a part of your everyday lives. Most importantly, these activities are super fun AND foster development…without our kids even knowing it.

One huge advantage of going more “toyless” is cost. This mindset helps you utilize those household items that you’ve already invested in, because they are needed in everyday life. Think, paper towel and toilet paper rolls. Kitchen utensils. Old boxes. Dry noodles. Once you start, the creativity can be endless and very  satisfying! 

HIDDEN BONUS: With consumerism at an all time high, many households are looking for ways to declutter their lives. We can help in the children’s department!

Additionally, as your toddler is learning to walk and navigate your home, they are proceeding to “get into everything” as their curiosity grows. Why is this happening? Especially with all of these great toys lying around? Because they see you touching and using these items every day. And YOU are your child’s first superhero! How can we turn this curiosity into play AND connection?

At Shine, we value relationship-based therapy. Meaning, we strongly believe that fostering your child’s development is rooted in a loving relationship with them. One with mutual trust and respect. We believe the best developmental nurturing is embedded within our everyday routines and interactions.

Nurturing curiosity is vital to development. Our first instinct is to keep the kids entertained or out of the way. Are there going to be days like this? Yes, of course. We realize it is a privilege to have this sort of time & patience every day. Start small and when you feel you have the capacity to do so. In the kitchen, nurture the curiosity by letting them play with the drinking cups! Have them help you put away the dishes. Let them chop some fruit up. Show how you can stack cups and make funny noises in them. Hide small objects under them.  Make up a song about doing the dishes. The possibilities are endless! 

We also love positive reinforcement at Shine. Letting your child participate in routines & chores also reduces ‘no’s’. Reducing your ‘no’s’ will improve your relationship with your child by connecting and learning from you. This is vital for self esteem, communication and overall development. Sometimes (often) this means that routines such as cleaning up the kitchen take longer to complete…however, using these as moments of teaching & connection means that the daily routine runs more smoothly and with more enjoyment!

The magic that is happening: your child is learning life skills with REAL objects. Touching and handling everyday objects/food will only enhance their world. Bonus: for every suggestion we make, we guarantee that it covers all developmental areas! WHAT?! Follow along with our blog and social media pages (Facebook & Instagram) for specific ideas! 

We hope you join us on this journey of thinking outside of the toybox.


An 8-week program for children age 3-6 with sensory processing differences

Children with sensory processing differences have difficulty with regulation, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to interact with the world around them. Our Sensory Explorers group targets regulation in order to build engagement! This group is led by pediatric occupational therapists Mackenzie Baldock (2:30 group) OR Meghan Day (8:30 group) and developmental therapist/PLAY Project Consultant Brenna Thompson, all of whom specialize in using developmentally appropriate strategies to support children so they can learn new skills. Group meets once/week for 60 minutes.

Wondering if this class is appropriate for your child? Some characteristics of kids who benefit: easily frustrated with play, repetitive play, difficulty sitting/keeping still to engage in play, refuses to allow others to engage in play, unable to be messy, overly busy, quickly overwhelmed in a busy environment, picky eater, difficulty tolerating grooming/dressing/diapering routines, struggles with transitions/following a group plan/routine. 

Goals of the group include:

  • Child participating in a variety of sensory play activities
  • Engaging socially with others in the group
  • Providing a non threatening environment where children can experience new sensations with the support of a pediatric Occupational Therapist and PLAY Project consultant
  • Providing personalized resources to caregivers, so they better understand the sensory system and learn strategies to assist their child with regulation outside of group
  • Opportunity to meet with other local families

GROUP MEETS for 8 weeks:  Caregivers must stay on the premises to support their child and learn helpful strategies. Children will separate from caregivers for the session; caregivers can socialize in the lobby (we will also provide a few toys for siblings to play). Caregiver education is a key component of this program. 


OPTIONAL Summary Report available at close of session. This 2 page report will summarize your child’s participation in the class and provide helpful sensory strategies to increase their participation in activities. This report could be given to teachers in classrooms & daycares or utilized to help educate other caregivers about ways to help your child participate. This option includes a 30 minute Zoom meeting with Brenna and MacKenzie/Brenna and Meghan to review the report and discuss your child’s progress in Sensory Explorers. COST: $100 due at sign up