Encouraging Creative Play

Suggestions for encouraging unstructured play:



1.  Make costumes available.  Make sure the costumes can be anything.  You want long skirts, leather vests, scarves, boots, interesting belts, capes, fun pouches and bags.  (We actually have a spiderman costume, but because my children have never seen the movie, the costume has been used as a "China-man Robin Hood"??? and simply a “hero”)  Go to resale shops and look for cool leather belts, great skirts, vests, hats, and boots.  Look during Halloween season, and you may find some great capes and homemade costumes.  If you can sew, the sky is the limit.  A costume is an amazing gift.  Then put them all in a trunk, and let creativity unfold.

2. Provide access to "props" without putting your favorite things in danger.  I give my children old pans and spoons and muffin tins for mud pies (or get them for ten cents at a garage sale).  I have purchased used mixed-matched china saucers and tea cups at sales so that when my kids want to have a tea party or join the adults for tea, they feel they are doing it right.  Meanwhile, I don't have to worry that my family’s heirlooms will be broken.  Keep outdoor "dishes" in an old recycling container in the garage.

3. Provide old towels (or buy them at resale shops cheaply if you don't have your own ragged towels) for cleaning off at the door.  Children need to know the boundaries of their mess.  Mud boots or bare feet are to be used in the mud and all must be cleaned off in an appropriate place.  Pre-determined jeans are set aside for use in the mud and are laundered together with no expectation of looking good.  These are the "mud-jeans." Once chunks are cleaned off, they can walk upstairs and have a group foot washing on the edge of the bathtub.

4. Give children clean-up zones.  Everyday at a pre-determined time before dinner, each child is responsible for an area that must be straightened.  If a child finishes his area, he must help another with his.  One area might be used more than another in a day;  so they must help each other.  Costumes have a place, as do games, Playmobil, dolls, all outdoor toys and balls, and books.

Raw Materials for Creative Play:

You do not need to have all of these by any means; some children will gravitate to some over others, and boys and girls are often drawn to different genres. If you are going to accumulate toys, this is a list from which to draw ideas.

  • Costume pieces (belts, hats, capes, see above)
  • Blocks
  • Legos
  • Dishes
  • Dolls
  • Playmobil
  • Papo and Schleich figures and animals
  • Fabric and/or scarves
  • Rope (lots of lengths and sizes)
  • Sewing Machine (for older kids if they know how to use it)
  • Knitting Needles, Crochet hooks and yarn (get someone to teach your kids)
  • Play Weapons (swords--we have great wooden swords made by family members, but Nerf swords are great and inflict less pain if mishandled--bow and arrows, guns)
  • Tools, nails, and wood
  • Art materials (watercolor paints and paper are my favorite; simply make paper, pencils, markers, scissors available at all times.  Paints require more oversight;  we keep old shirts in a bag as smocks for painting)
  • Balls and sports equipment
  • Trains and Cars
  • Puzzles
  • Board Games
    • for very young children:  Pillow Pinchers, Rat-a-Tat Cat, Uno, HiHo Cherry-O, Go Fish, Memory, Old Maid (even two year olds can put matches together if all the cards are laid out), Cadoo, Dominoes
    • for medium age children: Apples to Apples, Monopoly, Phase 10, Rummikub, Dutch Blitz, Chinese Checkers, Pictionary, Cranium (great family game for all ages), Charades, Checkers
    • for older children: Stratego, Settlers of Catan, Chess, Forbidden Island, Ticket to Ride, Battleship, Risk, Bang, Bananagrams, Password, Saboteur
    • Look for these at garage sales and resale shops.  Just make sure they have all the parts.  Even instructions can be found online if you find a game without instructions.