If you heard me speak last year at the fabulous Lincoln Birth to Five Conference (taking place this weekend in case you’re interested), then you probably know what a big fan I am of bygone containers! Not in the Antiques Roadshow sense, but watching the play ignited by the discovery of a collection of interesting shaped glass bottles, the play potential and open-ended appeal were clear. The ramshackled bottles spawned not just deeply enriching play but the children aged five and eight years, picked a name for their business,  Bottletastic of course, developed labels and receipts – real writing for a purpose and created a product range, initially petal perfumes before diversifying into wines too. Together they solved problems, role-played and had fun.

Observing this wonderfully rich play unfold, the value of children accessing open-ended resources with a wow factor was evident. But it also highlights a functional role of these bygone containers as the shape and colour of the bottles gave important clues to their contents. A poisonous substance or medicine would often be found in a blue or brown coloured bottle (please correct me if I’m wrong!) while perfumes typically came in fluted, miniature or ornate bottles. The closest we get to this today is bright yellow plastic bottles with crosses on for bleach and brown bottles for TCP, calamine lotion, marmite and some medicines! Given our greater understanding of brain development and the mind boggling process of neural filing taking place in children’s brains, the value of such visual clues to an object’s purpose is clear. Much like some of the toys and mechanical gadgets of bygone days that children could strive to understand by taking apart, the bottles themselves helped children decode and make sense of their world.

Allowing children to play with glass will not be for everyone, nor should this be taken lightly. These children were deemed to be old enough to act responsibly; the glass was thick and robust; the children’s response to the bottles conveyed awe, wonder and respect; and they were supervised, but cast your mind back to your own childhood and see if any of your most vivid or exciting play memories involved doing things that today would be shunned? I’d love to hear your views on offering resources like these to children and your own childhood memories.

I was reminded of these old-fashioned glass bottles at a charity fete this weekend, where my children and I were fascinated by a collection of amazing tins.  Some of these had iconic shapes or detailing now synonymous with the product or brand, others had a wow factor by virtue of their unusual shape and design, like the tins shaped like Gladstone bags, watermills, a globe (for teabags in case you’re wondering), vehicles, a grandfather clock etc.  Like the contents of a carefully sourced treasure basket, the basket itself appears to perform an important role in focussing attention and adding a treasure-like feel to the contents.  Picture the same treasure basket objects in a cardboard box and I doubt they would have the same quality appeal, although they would probably still attract interest, much like a 20p rummage box!

Later at a charity stand my little boy spotted a treasure chest shaped money box tin. On opening it he discovered it was filled with a collection of stickers, football coins and transfers. Like that well-sourced Treasure Basket, simply by virtue of them being in the ‘special’ tin seemed to confer a specialness to the objects themselves. The tin now sits proudly in his room ready to receive tooth fairy coins or more likely the hoards of little ‘treasures’ that my children love to collect!

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