There are many ways to play and have fun. Every once in a while I like to mix it up and set up some out of the box ways to play. Beware: The following suggestions are messy, but great for occasional use! The suggestions are somewhat open-ended and unstructured so not only are they creative, but they also occupy children’s attention.
I love unstructured play because it inspires creativity and can be intuitive. The right side of the brain can take over — your child can settle into their alpha brain waves, open their senses, design, and play. You can present your children with the materials and they can put their own twist on it.
These activities help kids to think out of the box. If children get comfortable with creative play and thinking of other ways to play with the same object, they are essentially teaching their brain there is more than one way to solve a problem. Through this play, they expand their minds and later in life they are better equipped to work through adult problems. Isn’t creativity cool?
An added bonus of open-ended, unstructured, wild play, is it can sometimes go on and on. Children will still need to be supervised during these activities, but parents might get a little break.
The wonderful world of paint. Watercolors especially can be very creative and relaxing because you can change the color depending on the amount of water and pressure of the paintbrush. Paint can be purchased by the pint or even by the gallon. I love to set up easel paper or cardboard and put globs of paint down. It’s fun to choose primary colors that can be mixed to create new colors. You can also make your own paint by using mud and other natural materials.
Paintbrushes are fun to paint with but you can also use unconventional items such as toys. I love to give kids cars and trucks with tires of different sizes; it is so cool to see the different approaches to painting. You can also use sponges, plants, toy animals, dolls, and feet.
If it is a nice day out and you have a cardboard box, set your kids up outside and have them paint with their feet or hands. When my kids were babies, I would put them in their diaper, tape paper to the kitchen floor, put some globs of paint down, and let them get going.
To give kids slightly more structure, let them make stamps out of the natural word. If you set up easel paper and dollops of paint, give children different items to dip in the paint to stamp. Some items that work well are sponges, shells, toy animals, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and celery. Paint can also be added to a spray bottle with water and sprayed on sheets, paper, or cardboard. The great things about kids is they are 100% washable.
Forts are a wonderful way to get children engaged and creating. In our family we have a bin of fort sheets; we went to the thrift store and picked up a bunch of sheets for $2 a piece. We place the sheets in a bin with clamps and clips. Forts can transform a bedroom, living room, or porch. Sheets can be taken outside and used in nature to create new, imaginary play spaces. A new space could also be created by setting up a camping tent or a children’s play tent. If you do not have any of these items, but you have access to a forest, logs, sticks, branches, leaves, ferns, rocks, and moss can make an amazing place to let the imagination run wild. Children love having a space that is their own in this big, adult world.
Flour or other tactile items
This one can be messy, but a lot of fun if you can spare a large bag of flour. You can choose to do this outside so clean up is easier. If you want the flour to stick together more, you can add 1 cup of baby oil to every 8 cups of four. You can put this on a table, piece of cardboard, or in a plastic tub. If your kids start to lose interest, give them cups, funnels, and spoons. Some of this fun can also be achieved with mud. If that feels a little too out of your comfort zone, playdough is always an option. You can add in some googly eyes, toothpicks (if you feel it is safe), cookie cutters, play scissors, or play knives.
I love mud — it is easily available and kids love it too. If you don’t have a muddy patch in your area, you can create one. Fill a wheelbarrow or bucket with mud. Some kids would rather keep their hands clean, but many are happy to get their hands dirty when given the opportunity. You can add buckets, cups, pots, pans, and plates. In the past, we created a mudpie kitchen. Our children mixed in plants, pebbles, and sticks to create pretend soups, pies, cakes, and many more “food” items. You do not need an entire mudpie kitchen, you can simply take out some cups, plates, and spoons, and find some mud. If a mudpie kitchen does not interest your child, they can throw mud balls against a tree or squish them on the ground. If you are feeling very, very out of the box, you really like mud, and it is a rainy muddy day, you can create a mudslide.
One very long, trying, rainy week I worked a lot behind a computer, was in “adult mode,” and craved play. I took a walk in the forest and I saw some rain flowing down a hill. I thought it looked like a waterslide. When my children got home, I told them to get in their rain gear and follow me into the forest. We slid down the mudslide and it was one of the best times of my life. After we laughed ourselves to tears, we hosed each other down, took our raingear off outside, then went inside and went on with our day. Mud is messy but it is entertaining and washable.
Water can be used in many ways to initiate play. Small toys can be frozen in a bowl of water; kids can try to figure out a way to free the toys from the ice. Food coloring can be added to water and put in ice cube trays, then they can be stacked like blocks before they melt. Plastic bins can be filled with warm soapy water, toys can be added to it, or baby dolls or clothes can be washed. A lot of fun can be had with a garden hose and sprinkler if children are given freedom. You might even get your car washed in the process!
Bonus: Nature. I see nature as a magical land of play. There are endless opportunities outside. Usually if children are allowed to explore nature for a period of time, they will create an imaginary world for themselves.
Contact me if you would like any more playful ideas, or if you are interested in parent coaching.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.