The Big Bilibo – better than the box it came in

Bilibo is a toy. A large, colorful toy. With no moving parts, unless you count the children who play with it. Like any toy, it is designed for a certain kind of child with equally certain kinds of parents – creative, imaginative, active children, whose parents understand and support unstructured, unpredictable, non-directed play.

The Bilibo is the mother of the Bilibo Game Box – the very Bilibo Game Box glowingly reviewed here just last month. For children between the ages of 18 mos and 8 years, the Bilibo is something to sit in or on, to rock or twirl or scoot in, to stand on, to wear. It is a water toy and a sand toy and a family room toy. It is a toy for storing other toys in.

Just what this toy means to kids depends on the adult as much as the child. The way you play with your child, the expectations you have, the limits you impose, the other toys you have out for play… all impact the way your child experiences the Bilibo, and you experience your child. Alex Hochstrasser, the inventor of what has become the Bilibo system, comments: “…most children have fun with Bilibo anyways, because that’s how they play. They learn much more when they explore and discover things by themselves…I wanted to create a toy that was not gender or age specific but rather grows with the kids and, depending on age and interests, can be used in ever new ways. The closest I had as a role model was probably the card board box.”

But it is also true that if adults are present, they influence the child’s play, overtly or covertly. Parents need to be careful of their expectations. Even the most gifted children might not immediately take to the Bilibo. They need time with it. Time to explore or not. To kick it around, sit on it, or ignore it. Its presence in their play environment, like the presence of an empty cardboard box, will, in time beckon to them.

The best influence you can have, especially with a toy like Bilibo, is in your willingness to let the child discover and define the toy for herself. For example, from the persepective of a physical therapist who has obviously allowed the child undirected access to the toy, it becomes a multi-purpose tool. The therapist writes:

“I thought I would tell you how much one child I work with enjoys the Bilibo toy. He is 5 and totally blind. He spins quite fast around in it on a hard surface floor. He is able to catch himself with his arms what ever direction he tips over which is helping him with upper body development and balance skills.

“It also cradles small/multi involved children with low tone, very nicely encouraging them in bringing their hands to midline. When a large enough child is in there (and I am supporting the Bilibo not to roll about), rather than arms/hands flopping about at the sides, the arms end up more in the middle of the body, to hold a toy. Of course with experience many of these kids like a bit of gentle rocking to and fro as well.”

Alex adds: ” the stimulation of the child’s vestibular system by spinning and balancing in the shells would be an interesting area where Bilibo shines. (The vestibular and proprioceptive systems play a key role in the development of the brain and reading and writing skills in particular.)”

If you already have the Bilibo Game Box, the big Bilibo makes an ideal expansion component, and vice versa. It’s almost a given that children will weave family fantasies around the relationship between the big Bilibo and mini-Bilibos. Then there are the profound discoveries to be made about mini-Bilibo-spinning inside a big-spinning-Bilibo, spinning, perhaps, in a different direction. And what about the Bilibo Pixel? Does it roll and bounce and do even more fun things when it’s inside a big, spinning Bilibo?

And if you can afford more than one (child or Bilibo), there’s yet other orders of magnitude of games and fantasies, probability and physics, social and biodynamics to explore.

For kids (or parents) who don’t yet have a Bilibo, there’s an ample collection of inspirational clips on YouTube. On the other had, once your kids start playing with their Bilibo collection, they’ll have all the inspiration you need. If you’re good, maybe they’ll let you play, too.

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