As an advocate of the potential for children finding enriching play opportunities everywhere, my recent travels around Thailand have given me much food for thought. While visiting the only Government run elephant hospital and centre in Lampang, Northern Thailand I observed a Thai toddler engaged in deeply purposeful play. Using the resources to hand, in this case some litter, the child had skilfully fashioned a collecting ‘tool’ from a small clear plastic bag and a drinking straw. Having secured the bag to one end of the straw they were using it much like a shop bought butterfly net to scoop up insects, petals and other litter. Crouched on the ground and with great manual dexterity they manipulated the implement to collect their chosen treasure. This same action captivated them for some time as each time the ‘net’ was full its contents were emptied so that the game began again.

The apparent simplicity of this wonderful play vignette masks perhaps the degree of sophistication and creative thinking involved, as litter was transformed by the child’s body and imagination. It reminded me of some Finnish research into children’s explorations of their local neighbourhood and how pre-school children’s fascination with detail manifested itself in prized collections of natural and man-made litter, (Raittila, R. EECERA 2010). Events like these reveal the wonders of sensory-rich play and the magic that these simple resources hold for children. Like the closely guarded treasures collected by these pre-school children, (classed as ‘litter’ by adults), a wooden spoon is rarely just that to a child but a resource for stirring, transporting, mark making, role play, magic, and so on.

As I look out onto the unseasonably grey and rainy day (after three weeks of tropical sunshine) it is clear that to live sustainably and better understand children we need to maximise the play opportunities freely found all around us. I guess for us Brits we can start by making the most of our abundant weather!