Swept Up Imagining (A Play Object Lesson)

I know… it’s ugly. But like almost any object babies encounter, they find this mini sweeper and dustpan an intriguing tool for creative play. It is an example of the simple objects we use as ‘toys’ in our parent/toddler classes and recommend for children who are past the put-everything-in-my-mouth stage.

The beauty is that it can be used creatively in multiple ways. Sometimes children use the brush as intended and sweep the corners of the room, or experiment with the ‘mechanics’ — fitting the brush into the pan by snapping the handles together, and removing it again. In a recent class, a toddler picked up the brush, exclaimed “paint…paint!”, and then proceeded to ‘paint’ the walls. Another day a boy used it to brush his hair, and when he went to brush his mother’s she gently said, “No, thank you.”

Most of us believe we should play with our toddlers and show them how things work. But if I had demonstrated, no matter how subtly, the ‘right’ way to use the sweeper and pan, the children would probably not have been encouraged to imagine the different uses this toy could have.  As a visiting grandmother commented during our discussion, “That is exactly what we’d be doing in an actor’s improv class.”

3 Comments

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  1. Mini sweepers and dust pans have been a long time favorite in my classrooms. The children do come up with all types of creative uses for them! On the playground they like to dip them in water and “paint” the walls and inside they often like to dump rice or bits of paper on the floor and sweep them up. Once in the dramatic play area a little girl was using the sweeper to brush an imaginary horse!

    1. Sounds wonderful! Painting with water on the driveway was a favorite pastime for my children. I appreciate the preciousness of ‘temporary’ art. It’s all about the process — can only be enjoyed in the moments before it dries out…

  2. We also have dustpans and brushes in many of our classrooms. The younger toddlers love to use them to scrape/sweep up the sand that escapes the sand box and dump the sand back in, as they see the teachers doing. In the younger preschool room they have scrub brushes as well. The children use sidewalk chalk and then add to the design by painting with water, or they scrub the chalk off. Simple toys that are similar to things the children experience in other parts of their life are always the most interesting!

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