Play is often talked about as if it were relief from serious learning.
But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
Hello & Welcome!
My kids (pictured covering themselves in paint) are now teens, and I have so many great memories of playing with them and watching them play and grow over the years. I hope some of the ideas I've collected here will help your family have a little screen-free/rainy day/anytime fun!
A little bit about why I'm passionate about the concept of play...
Next to love, I believe that play is the most important part of childhood. And it's good for adults too! As a parent, Music Together teacher, and documentary family photographer, play is at the heart of what I do and seek to inspire. Play is at the heart of our childhood memories.
What do I mean by play? Play is freely chosen, self-motivated, and experimental. It takes place in an environment where there are no restrictions on how to act, think, or do, and where exploration, discovery, and practice are possible without fear of consequences.
Most of all, play is fun.
When we make time and space for real play in our children's lives we are nurturing and cultivating their potential.
We are helping them become who they are meant to be.
1) Build it with Washi
Create a race track, a town, or anything your child can imagine with washi tape and recyclables, such paper towel rolls and tissue boxes. The beauty of washi tape is that it comes in a wonderful selection of colors and typically peels off walls and floors without damage (test in an inconspicuous spot first to be sure). See examples here and here.
2) Create Land Art
A wonderful zero cost (for you and the environment, so long as you pick an area that isn't ecologically sensitive) way to enjoy art and nature! Go for a walk and find a spot to gather stones, acorns, leaves and other natural objects. In Virginia, you may find clay, especially along eroded creek banks, that can be rolled into marbles or "snakes". Experiment with making shapes, stacking, and drawing patterns in the sand or dirt to make works of art that you can then disassemble and blend back into the environment.
3) Art + Weather
Paint with rain: Try leaving paper with dabs of watercolor, or colored with water based markers or pastels out in the rain, and see what happens. You can experiment with sprinkling salt on the paper as well. See examples here.
Cold weather ice sun catchers: Fill a bundt pan, cake pan, or wide plastic bowl with water, and add natural elements (red berries, evergreens, pinecones/needles) and a piece of twine, rope or ribbon for a hanger, then let freeze overnight--either outside or in the freezer. Hang on your porch or tree for a beautiful natural decoration.
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4) Get Musical
This can be as elaborate (lights! disco balls! decorations!) or as simple as throwing on some music and dancing around the house. Let your kids take the lead.
Pots, pans, plastic and parades!
Whether you enjoy a kid-led concert in the kitchen while you make dinner or encourage a full-blown parade through the house with found objects, this one is a classic.
Water Xylophone Fill glass or plastic jars or bottles with different levels of water and tap or blow across the top. Optional--color each with a different dye. See video here.
Boomwhackers There is nothing more fun than whacking things and making music, IMO. www.boomwhackers.com
Build an outdoor musical wall: Hand buckets, pots, tubes, cans, crates, muffin tins, bamboo poles, and anything else that makes a noise on a fence or simple structure. A few more ideas here.
5) Create with a Discovery Box
Put together a box of random objects for open-ended play and creative pursuits. Some ideas include: recyclables like cardboard or plastic boxes, tubes, and rolls, art supplies like tape, pipe cleaners, poofs, popsicle sticks, ribbon, kitchen utensils like pots, bowls, plastic food containers and wooden utensils that have outlived their food careers, scrap wood, and natural objects like pine cones. Be mindful of sharp parts or choking hazards for young children.
The great thing about this activity is that there is no "right" way to use the objects, leading to maximum creativity!
Interested in a playful Family Storytelling session?
6) Hot Lava
Another classic and a great collaborative game if you have multiple kids!
Inside The floor is made of hot lava and you have to get from one side of the room to the other without touching it. For people who are cool with their kids making couch forts and standing on the furniture.
Outside Same idea, except instead of standing on the furniture you avoid the designated part of the ground by building bridges with branches or jumping from rock to rock.
7) Read a Book and Get Inspired
These books are great ways to launch independent or cooperative creative play!
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
What to Do with a Box? by Jane Yolen
The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
Stone Soup (many versions available)Make your own "stone soup" with a pot of water and things like stones and twigs and leaves in your backyard or local park. Great for cooperative play.
Dreaming Up by Christy Hale What will you build?
Backyard Fairies by Phoebe Wahl
Backyard Adventure: Get Messy, Get Wet, Build Cool Things, and Have Tons of Wild Fun! 51 Free-Play Activities by Amanda Thomsen
8. Let your child play!
How to nurture and support your child during parent-child play.
Supervise young children (make sure your toddler isn’t eating the pinecones) but don’t direct the play.
You can support play by:
◆ modeling (your child is always watching you and will imitate what you do)
◆ reflecting and making observations and questions (if your child is ready to show you something) “you’re stacking the blue blocks” "you used a lot of red in that picture" "Wow, that makes a loud sound" "What a great idea! How will you do that?" "How did you make this?" Avoid simple value judgements like "That's a good picture." or "That's a nice tower."
◆ imitating your child
◆ allowing your child to invite you into and lead you in their play
◆ recognizing when they need space to work on their play alone and when they want (or need) you or a friend to join in
If your child is bored or needs help finding his play groove, find a cool project and guide him until he is ready to experiment on his own. In our household, baking soda, vinegar and food coloring were supplies that often alleviated boredom for hours.
◆ providing support and supplies for older children who dream up a project and pursue their interests
◆◆◆ HAVING FUN!!!