If you're anything like me, you've got buckets and boxes and bags and shelves full of children's toys. If your kids are anything like mine, they will play and play and play.... and then things get shoved behind other things, or they tire of stacking blocks upon blocks, or they stop loving playing with the tiny farm animals.
But you still have the toys.
So let's consider what's happening for the child. The child (or children!) have played with the toys. Maybe you've played with the child. The job of a child is to discover the world, and the main way they do this is through play. Once they've exhausted the toys they have and the games they know, they move on to the next thing: for their job is to discover, and so they are seeking something new, something they've yet to discover.
That's where your job as a parent gets interesting. Your job is to set up situations where children can discover something new about the world, and you can use those forgotten dollies and leggos stuffed behind baskets of scarves.
How? You're going to set up a provocation. A provocation is a set-up: you arrange old toys in new ways. It sparks interest because your children are able to discover something new- you're showing them a new way to play and something fresh to discover.
I use child-size table, and I place it in the middle of the living area because they can’t miss it: it’s right on their pathway from the bedroom when they wake up in the morning.
On that table, I arrange toys. I mix legos and blocks, I display books or art projects, I dig out old stuffed animals and set them up for tea. I try to find the oldest toys, and I try to set them up in unexpected and magical ways.
Setting up a provocation accomplishes two things: 1) the kids are delighted I’ve put in some thought to how they experience the world, in the same way that I love it when someone remembers to bring me a cup of coffee or when my husband picks up my favorite ice cream on his way home from work; and 2) I’m showing my little ones how to discover the world by putting old things into new relationships.
They will play for hours with things that were tired- each and every time.
Here are some sample provocations I’ve made for them lately. I challenge you to set one up and take a picture of it- shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the pic and I'll post it here!