Are you ready to encourage your kids’ creativity?
Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, spending all day with kids can get really monotonous. Maybe you’re tired of your kids whining “I’m bored,” or you’ve gotten into the habit of relying too much on screens or filler activities to keep kids quiet and pass the time. Maybe you’ve seen tons of cool stuff on Pinterest or Instagram but you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed, or like you don’t know where to start! Maybe your kids have behavior problems and you’re afraid to try hands-on activities because you’re not sure you can trust them.
They can handle it. And so can you!
Through trial and error, over the years, I’ve learned that engaged kids are better behaved, and their energy and excitement is infectious! I was a lot more exhausted at the end of a day of trying to force bored kids to do worksheets than I was after guiding a happy bunch through a fun new activity. Novelty is good for adults too! When your kids are having more fun, you’ll also be having more fun! Most of the stuff I’m about to suggest does take a little preparation on your part. You might need to find supplies or put things together. I think you will find, though, that it’s worth the effort… and also, that doing creative activities with kids doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly complicated. If you’re super busy, or “not the crafty type” or just not sure where to start, this guide is the place for you.
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Step 1: Get Mentally Prepared For Creative Fun!
That’s right, you don’t have to actually DO anything yet! This part is all about getting your mind in the right place. We already know you want to help your kids build their creativity and imagination through plan, and now you’re just going to look at some possible activities and think about what would work for you.
A Good Place to Start: Flipping Through An Activity Book
Asia Citro’s “150+ Screen Free Activities for Kids” was a total game changer for me! The day it arrived I sat and read it cover to cover and just daydreamed about the fun possibilities it represented. A really well written activity book with good pictures can be a great starting point. It’s less overwhelming than certain apps (looking at you, Pinterest), better organized, and many of them have some good hints for beginners as well. If you’re starting to feel inspired, take some post-its and bookmark just a few pages you’d like to try in the future.
Some good activity books to start with are;
–150 Screen Free Activities for Kids (obviously. But really. Check this one out).
–A Little Bit of Dirt (Also by Asia Citro, but this one has a nature theme if that’s a direction you’d like to go)
Or check out this special resource from me!
I KNOW that Pinterest can be super overwhelming, but it’s also an amazing resource for all sorts of activity ideas, so I am cutting it down to size just for you! I’ve created a special board with only the EASIEST activities for kids. Right now, no pressure. Just check it out, look around, see what interests you. Here it is: A Beginners Guide to Creative Fun- Super Easy Activities for Kids!
Step 2: Pick a Creative Fun “Path”
You’re not going to become a guru of kid fun overnight! Think about one area your child might be interested in where you could get more creative. Most exciting, creative kids’ activities fall roughly into a few categories;
-Sensory Play/Small Worlds
“Sensory play” is a big buzzword these days, and the definition can be fairly vague, but it basically means any activity that activates senses other than seeing or hearing (usually touch). If kids are digging their hands into something with a unique texture, that’s sensory play. Small worlds are just collections of objects that invite kids to play creatively. The two could be separate categories, but they often overlap- many small worlds include textured bases like rice or sand, and the best sensory play bins have figurines or other toys that invite kids to use their imaginations.
The key here is that it’s open-ended. A LEGO City Firehouse set might be a challenge to build, but it’s intended to be built one way with a specific set of directions. A bucket of colored LEGOs invites creativity. In a good building challenge, the kids are totally in charge of how it gets put together.
This category requires the same caveat as building challenges. If you, as the adult, know what the finished product is going to look like before the kids start working, it’s not helping them develop their creativity. That’s the reason many preschool teachers are starting to shy away from “crafts” that merely require children to assemble pieces of paper or craft supplies in a specific way. A good art activity is a process that children can use, but that they can take in any direction. For example, you might show them how you can draw with a white crayon and then paint over it with watercolors, so the crayon shows through. That’s a specific process, but the child is free to draw whatever they want with the crayon and use their own chosen colors to cover it, so the product is still something they imagined and created.
-Light Based Activities
This seems so specific but I think it’s a really important category! Light tables are awesome tools for encouraging creativity because they focus the kid’s attention, and allow them to see familiar things in a new… “light” (sorry, that pun just created itself.) Black lights accomplish the same thing (for more information on that topic, you can check out my guide to using a black light for learning . It’s all about giving them a new perspective!
-Creative Toys and Games
This is a catch-all for a million other ideas that allow kids to make their own plans and use their imagination to solve problems or create something beautiful or super fun!
Step 3: Prepare your Space
Even for the easiest activities, you will probably need to gather some materials and come up with some sort of system to organize them.
For Sensory Play
To begin with, you need some sort of container to hold your sensory materials. It could be as large as a commercial sand and water table, or as small as a baking tray. Plastic storage containers are great sensory bins and come in a million sizes. Keep in mind that the larger your container is, the more material you’ll have to buy to fill it. A giant bin might be fun for water play, but if you decided to fill it with, say, oats, it would start to get very expensive. Mine is 6 inches high x 16.25 inches wide x 23 inches long, and it seems to be a good size. (It also happens to be combined with my light table- you can read more about how to make one like it here; EASY DIY 2-in-1 Light Table and Sensory Bin!)
For Building Challenges
You can have a lot of fun making your own materials for building challenges (like these DIY rainbow blocks) or you can look for building toys that encourage open ended play. Using the above example, if you want LEGO’s, look for the classic creative brick boxes that don’t expect kids to just copy one specific design. Other awesome, open ended building toys include Picasso Tiles and magformers (those two are also awesome on the light table), unit blocks or, if you want to scale way up, I highly recommend the Fort Magic building kit (I’ve been having a blast using it to make baby gyms for my twins! You can read more about that here)
For Art Activities
You don’t need a ton to start, just some construction paper, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, and paint. I’d also consider a hot glue gun an essential crafty tool- honestly, there isn’t much you can’t make with cardboard, paint and hot glue!
If you want to sparkle it up you can also look into adding some washi tape, sticky gemstones, or glitter paper to your collection! Yeah, I’m a sucker for anything glittery, but after many years of teaching I’ve learned that kids are too! Sometimes you’ve just gotta embrace the sparkle! Notice, though, that I didn’t include straight-up glitter on the list. Use it if you dare, but if you don’t I understand. That stuff is the plague of the crafty world.
The key to having fun with craft supplies is keeping them organized! I made it through my entire childhood with one Rubbermaid bin stuffed with craft supplies that I could put on the table next to me for crafting sessions. If you have a small house that might be enough for you- or maybe you want to create a little art caddy like this one! Maybe you can devote one cabinet or shelf and organize all your craft supplies in labeled containers so they’re easier to access. Other people swear by their ikea art carts! (You can find some tips on setting one up here) Craft supplies can get really messy, really quickly, so the the important thing is just to be proactive about your system of organization.
For Light-Based Activities
You can buy commercial light tables, but for some reason they are crazy expensive! I suggest making your own- again, here’s the tutorial for mine; EASY DIY 2-in-1 Light Table and Sensory Bin! If you want to do some glow-in-the-dark activities, I have this cheap little black light that I’ve been very pleased with.
For Creative Toys and Games
I HIGHLY suggest designating a junk box! Have you ever looked at something and thought, “Hmm, I don’t really need this anymore but it is kind of cool…” and then not wanted to throw it away? Or is that just me? I’ve found that the key to keeping that clutter out of the rest of my house is to set up a junk bin (mine’s in the basement) for things that aren’t really useful anymore but might be fun to use in a project. It’s full of things like old CD’s (so shiny!), pieces of bubble wrap, interesting little boxes from things, etc! That sort of stuff is awesome for projects! You might also, if you have the space, want to start saving any cardboard boxes that come your way. There are so many things you can make with a simple cardboard box!
Once you’ve assembled and organized your materials you can move on to…
Step 4: Pick your first activity!
With so many to choose from, it can be tricky to know where to start! (Have you looked at the pinterest board yet?). If you’re still swimming in possibilities and you need help picking just one first activity to try, here are my suggestions;
Step 5: Prepare your Kids
This is an important step! Part of the reason that most people shy away from doing really exciting, creative activities with their kids is that they’re afraid of the mess, or they’re not sure how their kids will handle it, and I understand! That vision of the colored rice from your sensory bin being thrown all over the kitchen is real, and for a long time I steered clear from these sorts of activities for that exact reason! The key is setting specific rules and expectations before you let your kiddos loose. As a teacher, Responsive Classroom’s “Guided Discovery” was a total game changer. I’d suggest reading this article that goes over all the steps in detail. As a parent you might not need to make it so complicated, but it’s still important to go over the rules for using a material and model them first. It might look like this;
Introduce the activity:
“Check it out, honey! Today we get to play in a sensory bin full of rainbow rice!”
“We can only do activities like this if it doesn’t make a huge mess, though, so our rule is going to be ‘what’s in the bin stays in the bin'”
“Look how I pick some up but I keep my hand inside the bin! That way, when I let go of the rice, it doesn’t fall on the floor! Now you try..”
Watch them try and praise good choices:
“Okay, your turn.. nice job! All of the rice stayed inside the bin!”
Then you can let them play on their own– but I’d still suggest watching and praising them for using the materials properly for the first few sessions. Once you’ve been doing this for a little while, they’ll know your expectations and you probably won’t need to supervise as closely any more (depending on their age, of course- you know your child and what they’re capable of.)
Don’t assume your kids know rules that might seem obvious to adults! If you give them markers and paper, you might think they know that paper is the only place they’re supposed to draw, but to a toddler the wall seems like a fine and inviting canvas! Make sure to tell and SHOW them exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Know, too, that even as a teacher I’ve gone too far and given kids materials they weren’t ready to handle yet. If that happens, it’s okay. If rice starts flying around the room, you can always close the bin and put it away, and try again another time.
Step 6- Jump in and have fun!
Now that you’ve prepared everything and chosen an activity… go for it! Get colorful, get messy, get creative! Sit with your kids, watch them work, talk about what they’re doing and ask questions to extend their thinking! Tell them what an awesome job they’re doing, admire their work, and take a bunch of pictures! Most of all, notice how awesome it feels to do something a little new and exciting together.
Are you ready to dive in and have some creative fun with your kids? What will your first activity be? Leave a comment and let me know!
One of my favorite ways to encourage kids to use their imagination is going on a story adventure together! Find out more here: Go On a Story Adventure with your Child!
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