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imaginative play activities for kids

Try These Imaginative Play Activities for Kids’ Inner Steve Jobs

If you examine the childhoods of great inventors, you’ll notice all had one thing in common: None of them had iPads; if Christiaan Huygens had been able to play Temple Run all day, we’d still be telling time by the slant of the sun. Which means the only play options left to these burgeoning great minds were imaginative play activities that foster creativity in children.

Imaginative play activities and creative activities for kids, however, do the opposite. They help children develop the ability to solve divergent problems — that is, problems with multiple ‘right’ answers (which constitute approximately 98.4% of human challenges, based on a highly scientific, 60-second review of this author’s life). Kids’ creative play and make believe play also help them learn to manage their emotions and reason counterfactually (i.e. consider the ‘what if?’ which is essential to planning). Digital and electronic play, on the other hand, can actually stifle children’s development.

Creative play for toddlers is particularly important; at that age, children are just beginning to develop the cognitive ability to pretend play, a milestone in their development. So, have we convinced you to inject some imagination into your kids’ lives? Good. Here are some ideas for imaginative play activities for kids.

Quick and easy imaginative play activities for kids

Creative play for toddlers typically involves a parent. Which is kind of the best thing about parenthood, to be honest — getting to see the world like a kid again. Imaginative play activities let us do that while also building our kids’ brains. Win-win.

Cucumber Trees

Draw a landscape sans crayons and paints. Instead, use kitchen items like dried kidney beans, fruit slices and whole grains to create landscapes on a plate or tray. With imagination, a cherry can become a setting sun, apricot pits, a mud path, but let your kid identify how and where to use the material. As a bonus, this game can blur into snack time, or a conservation lesson if you use kitchen waste like vegetable peels, empty packaging and fruit seeds.

Face Time

Take your child outdoors and look for faces anywhere: in the trees, in the sand, in the sky. When your kid spots one, ask her to point out the eyes, nose, mouth and other parts of the ‘face.’ This helps kids understand that things aren’t always to be taken at face value. (Get it?) If you want to make it competitive, the first to find 10 faces, wins.

DIY Dictionary

Get a scrapbook and make titles on every page for the people, places and things your child is familiar with or interested in. Then, add pictures from magazines, newspapers, print outs or drawings, and be sure to include a variety. For example, on the page for ‘tree,’ you can cut out a picture of a fir tree as well as an image of a gulmohar. Eventually, a girl will become more than a person who has long hair and wears certain clothes, and grass more than a green plant that grows on lawns. The more ways a child recognizes and describes something, the more fodder he has for his imagination.

What Would You Call It? 

This experimental language game is similar, but focuses on names, not definitions. You can start by pointing to a car and asking “What would you call this?” Your child might say “wheelie” or “vroom”  — it doesn’t matter and there’s no right answer. The point is to get him to come up with an alternative name for something that already has a label. Once the creativity is running, write down the words and invent your own code language together.

Bottle Puppets

The quirky characters, funny voices, and colourful faces of puppets are a lot of fun for kids to watch; they’re also fun for kids to create. Grab some extras from around the house — old plastic bottles, milk cartons, woolen socks — and go to town. You needn’t decorate much; just glue/paint/sew features as necessary and allow your child to make most creative decisions, even if she calls for blue hair. After you’ve fashioned your characters, have her make up a story that connects them all.

Playtime Prop

Creating a whole new avatar for a school fancy dress is hard work — this is far from that. In this activity, all of the hard work happens in your kid’s head. Tell him to dress up as one of his favourite characters using only one prop he finds in the house. It has to be something that’s easily identifiable, like a pen that doubles up as a smoking pipe for Popeye the sailor, or a handkerchief used as an eye patch.

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House rules for promoting creativity in children

But games and activities for kids only last so long. What you do as a parent has as much if not more effect on creativity in children. So make sure you follow these principles, which reinforce the subtle lessons of kids’ imaginative play activities.

Allow for boredom.

When you hand a child a device every time he needs to be entertained, you’re depriving him of the experience of boredom, a necessary step toward creativity. Left to himself, he is more likely to explore and learn about his surroundings or use his imagination to turn something into a toy. Speaking of …

Turn things into toys.

Encourage the use of household objects as toys. Teach your children that a car doesn’t have to look exactly like a car; sometimes it can look like a large bar of chocolate on four ping pong balls (albeit an accident-prone one).

Go outside.

There’s nothing that fires up the imagination more than quality time with nature. Take your child to the beach and marvel at the symmetry of a shell, or trek through a nature park and revel in all the different shades of green. After all, Newton chanced upon gravity after he watched an apple fall from a tree in his mother’s garden.

Read and make up stories.

Reading a story to your child with funny voices for each character is good. But a story that’s made up as you go along is great — especially since it never has to end. You don’t have to be JK Rowling; if you’re out of ideas, just model the story around your own life and throw in some imaginary characters and improbable outcomes.

Allow messes.

Of course you don’t want your house to be covered in paint or mud, but a finger-painting or mud-pie-making session once in a while won’t harm anyone — and might just do your kid some good. Designate a particular place and/or time for your kid to get messy, and simply grin and bear it.

Don’t evaluate. 

Technology already sets fixed parameters for everything from beauty to skill. Parental evaluation only makes it worse. So don’t tell your kids to colour inside the lines, or that dogs can’t be purple, or that the dragon she’s drawing looks like a lion. Appreciate her imagination and creative attempts as much as you would an achievement.

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