Simple Parenting: 6 Tips on Finding Imagination and Play

This past weekend my kids spent part of their afternoon building.  They built a house of cards, a structure made of toothpicks and gum drops, a fairy house out of old tubes and cardboard, and several fortresses out a various types of blocks.  Thanks to our very snazzy local children’s librarian she opened up a space for play on a cold afternoon where children were allowed to imagine and build with household items and things that often end up in the trash or recycle bin.  The joy and imagination in that room was magical.

This idea of building something seemed so novel–both her and I conversed about how sad it is that imagination and play has become a novelty.


About 30 years ago you would find me outside with the neighborhood kids (rain or shine…more often rain…I did grow up in the Pacific Northwest) imagining we were shipwrecked in an old broken boat my dad lugged home, stamping out secret rooms in the tall grass on the vacant lot in our neighborhood, or imagining there were fairies and trolls in a land we declared “Lobo Land” in honor of a friendly dog who often ventured into this mystical territory–it was only the small wooded lot behind the neighbor’s house.  We were a gaggle of kids eating wild blackberries and needing baths every night, cops and robbers, cowboys and Natives, biologists and botanists, and we found so much imagination and learning in this one short, dead-end street.  I want that childhood for my own kids, and I watch it passing by wondering how to capture some of that magic for them.

Here are some things I have done in the past and hope to do in the future to elicit more time out of doors (or even indoors) finding imagination and fun.

1. Turn Off the Screens: In our house we have T.V. and computer time–but on most days those media minutes are limited.  It is very difficult to create a bursting imagination when the mind and eyes are directed at an all encompassing entertainment source.  On sunshine-filled days we just leave the T.V. and iPad off.  Typically, Sunday is a media free day in our house so imagination can reign. *The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children older than 2 limit their screen time to one to two hours (for under 2 they advise no screen time).

Shaving cream and a cookie sheet allows for tactile play/drawing--great for little fingers
Shaving cream and a cookie sheet allows for tactile play/drawing–great for little fingers

2. Make Time: In the age of the hyper-competitive helicopter parenting, I believe-as an educator and a parent-we are overburdening kids these days with very hectic schedules.  If most of your meals are eaten in your car or at a fast food restaurant it is very likely that your schedule and your child’s is too much.  Reducing activities to allow for unscheduled time or “down time” is essential in giving your child time to learn through free play.  Free play offers time for unhindered fun, uninterrupted mental flow, questioning, finding answers, creativity, problem-solving, and peer or sibling interaction.  All things that allow children to thrive and become happy adults.

Look at your child’s activities and see which ones are really making your child happy–which are a burden–let some of them go.

**…And for those of us who are helicopter parents (I include myself in that group), remember for college entrance it is the rigor of course work, test scores, and a couple of outside activities a student is exceptional in that colleges are looking for (if you won’t believe me call a high school counselor or your Alma mater–it’s true)…kids do not need to do every activity under the sun for success in life.

3. Teach Them: The gaggle of kids are nowhere to be seen in our neighborhood.  We moved this summer to a place we knew our kids would be able to get outside and roam free.  They didn’t have that opportunity at our last home.  I know there are children in our new neighborhood, but my kids were the only ones regularly outside during this past season.  My kids needed a little schooling on some things they could play out of doors.  I had to spend some time showing them the things I learned and played as a kid, but I was eventually able to sneak away and let them to their own devices.  Outside play has become something they look forward to without too many moments of boredom–and on that note…

4. Boredom is Good: Allow time for boredom.  Boredom becomes creativity if it is left to fester and ooze into something uncomfortable it then becomes something beautiful–ingenuity.

5. Find Support: Finding other like-minded families is important.  Start in your neighborhood.  When spring arrives, I plan on visiting neighbor families and seeing if their children can “play.”  What a crazy concept…just play!  Also, by joining some community groups (PTO, mom or dad groups, a church, Scouts, etc.) this expands who you know within your community.  Like-minded souls may be among these groups.  You might have to drive your child to a house to be a part of the gaggle, but it is worth it.

6. Spend Time in Nature: In the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv gives argument why kids need the natural world to grow in multifaceted ways.  I wholly agree. Your green patch may not be big, but getting kids outside is important for their physical and mental health.  Most metropolitan and suburban areas have easy access to parks, and for those of you in the U.S. allows you to easily find a forest near you.  Clean forest air is something every human being should experience–invite your kids to love the natural world.  I believe time in nature makes us all better.

What do you do in your family to allow for imagination and play?

6 thoughts on “Simple Parenting: 6 Tips on Finding Imagination and Play

  1. I used to tromp around in our woods behind our house looking for mysteries and clues. Lol. I was sure something very exciting happened back there.

  2. These are great ideas! I am too often in the camp of “getting things done” instead of encouraging play – especially on school days when the hours at home are limited. Your shaving cream picture reminded me of the times when I would play in it with my younger siblings or get it out for my older children when they were young. Thanks for the reminder! I think I’ll be doing that tomorrow with my 3 year old.

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