RIE Practice: Choosing Play Objects

Passive toys make for active infants and active toys make passive infants.” — Madga Gerber

How to Do It:

What kinds of toys for babies should we choose?

  • Open-ended: they allow the infant to decide how to use them. Toys that are replicas of items limit the ways children use them. Choosing items that are versatile allows infants to create for themselves. They use their own ingenuity in using the materials, which can support these new ideas.
  • Safe: cleanable, too large to swallow or lodge in the nose or ear, breathable if they can cover the nose and mouth.
  • Passive: they allow the infant to act upon them rather than do for the infant. 

Some ideas of simple objects:

  • Wooden Rings
  • Sturdy cotton or linen fabric square 
  • Plastic containers of all sorts with lids
  • Metal juice can lids
  • Metal canning rings
  • Balls in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • Plastic colanders

Why we do it:

  • Increases attention span
  • Supports open-ended play
  • Supports creative thinking
  • Supports independent play
  • Supports executive function development

When choosing play objects embody the mantra “less is more.” The less the object does the more the infant and toddler can do.  The less the toy specifies how it is to be used the more ingenuity the infant is allowed to bring to the time spent with the object. 

Limiting the number of play objects is also important. Choosing too many reduces a child’s ability to focus on any one item for long periods of time. An abundance of objects means the child spends more time deciding what to play with and less time exploring the object in its many facets, capabilities and uses.

Simple objects, especially for toddlers, may come from the kitchen or recycling. You need not spend a lot of money on toys for your baby to stimulate learning. Simple objects build your baby’s capacity for creativity and attention.

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:

“The irony is that the real educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gizmos with big promises, but the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades.”Dr. Alison Gopnik 


Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. (2017, November 27). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Retrieved December 08, 2020.

Temple University. (2007, November 26). Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2020.

Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 97-101) 
Greenwald, D. and Weaver, J. (2013), Gerber, M. (1979) The RIE Manual.

Adapted from Dear Parent by Magda Gerber and the RIE Manual