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10 Outside-the-Box Ideas for Creative Play

With just a simple prompt for their vivid imaginations, watch what your kids have the capacity to create.

Remember the days when social networking meant play dates at the park and capture-the-flag games until the sun went down? Creativity is not only beneficial for play, but necessary for it to happen. Our children, however, have grown up in the age of technology; they may see little use in playing an imaginative game of “house” when they can design their own in the digital world of Minecraft. But creative thinking and brain games are imperative for proper growth and development, and can influence how children manage complex situations later in life.

 

While sometimes all kids need are a backyard, a cardboard box, or a storybook to get creative, perhaps your kids need a little nudge to get those creative juices flowing? Try these 10 ideas, and soon they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize how much they’re learning!

1. ‘What Lies Beneath’ Creative Writing at Tyler Arboretum

Tyler Arboretum has teamed up with local artisans to create a unique exhibit that simultaneously launches “The Tyler Arboretum Writing Project.” As you stroll through the woodlands of the Nature’s Enchantment exhibit you’ll spot delicately crafted gnomes, trolls, and hobbits. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon a mysterious door that appears to lead underground. “What lies beneath?” is the question fueling the writing contest that welcomes short stories, poems, and prose written by children 4 and older. Your kids will get to flex their creative-writing muscles and maybe even master some grammar, all while dreaming up story lines from the magical to the mysterious. Submit online or drop your work-of-words in the mail, addressed to Tyler Arboretum Writing Project. Learn more at tylerarboretumwritingproject.com.

2. Story-Telling, Squared

Simple cubes can create hours of fun. Rory’s Story Cubes resemble a die, but feature a different picture on each side instead of numbers. Pick up a few and roll them. Say you score an alien, a map, and a calculator. Create a story using those visual cues as prompts. Use more or less cubes depending on the child’s age. Dice come in large sizes and different themes, such as actions, voyages, and Batman. While you can rest assured this game is helping your kids with problem-solving skills and creative thinking, they’ll be too busy laughing at the funny stories to notice. 

3. Fizzy Lemonade

See what happens when you mix acids and bases to make fizzy lemonade your children can drink with lunch. Squeeze the juice of one or two lemons in a glass and add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda or bicarbonate of soda. Stir and watch it fizz. Add some water (an equal amount to the lemon juice), a bit of sugar, and up to another 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to jump-start the reaction again. What’s happening? When the acidic lemon and basic bicarbonate of soda combine, carbonation occurs, which causes the fizzing reaction.

 

To enjoy your scientific concoction, add more water and sugar to taste. Ask your Einsteins before the experiment what they think will happen, and explain to them they just created a hypothesis (sure to impress them!). You can reproduce this reaction as many times as you like, changing the amount of acid and base. If you plan on consuming the beverage, no more than 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda or baking soda should be added. Once the experiment is finished, encourage the creativity flow by letting them mix their own measurements and see what happens.

4. Draw Outside the Lines

Here’s a fun and easy art activity that doesn’t require many supplies. Cut images out of old books or magazines—but just part of the image. For example, just cut the head and neck from a picture of a giraffe, or just the trunk from a tree. Glue the images to paper and have kids use markers, crayons, or paint to continue the picture. Encourage creativity— a fish body on a giraffe head is sure to elicit lots of laughs. Ask them what they wish grew on trees and encourage them to draw the tree that’s in their mind.

5. Walk Like an Animal

Here’s a great one for your youngest children. Cut circles, squares, and triangles from construction paper. Next, spread them out randomly on the floor. Have your children hop, jump, and walk like different animals as they move around from one shape to another. For example: “Jump like a tiger to a square spot” or “Walk like a flamingo to a circle spot.” Encourage animal sounds as well. This helps your child work on finding and identifying shapes as well as developing important gross motor skills. Change the shapes to colors or even sight words to work on different skills as they have fun monkeying around.

6. Make a Solar System Scale

Thinking about the universe can be pretty mind-boggling, so bring it down to size with a scaled model. Google how far the planets are from the sun and create a scale using toilet paper. For example, let’s say every 20 million miles equals one toilet-paper square. Figure out the number of squares for each planet; while you’re doing calculations, have kids draw pictures of the sun and the planets. Finally, label each planet and roll out toilet paper in accordance to your scale. This brings back to earth the varying distances of the planets from the sun and each other. Super-fun for younger children and helps the older kids study for tests.

7. Homemade I-Spy Bottle

This DIY toy is a ton of fun, and super easy. Fill a clear, empty water bottle (16- to 20-ounce works best) with dry rice a little over 3/4 of the way full. Next, add tiny plastic figures like shaped erasers or animal beads (find them in the party favor section or craft store). Write down the items you added. Seal the lid tightly, shake it up, and watch the figures disappear in the rice. Kids can tilt, shake, and move the bottle around to find the written-down items. Great for rainy-day fun or to take along on vacation.

8. Master Engineering Basics with Roominate

Roominate was designed to encourage science and engineering interest in young girls, but this unique toy is fun for anyone. Modular plastic squares and circuits connect to build just about anything from dollhouses to flying cars and everything in between. Roominate is meant to be open-ended and allow the builder to use his or her own creativity, but you can buy kits for building a city-view apartment, an elevator, a library café, and more. Connecting and building will seem like play to kids as they learn the basics of sound construction. 

9. Jam Out with Homemade Instruments

Exposing kids to different music can be inspiring and get creative juices flowing. Take the family to local music performances, a school band recital, or watch music videos from different genres or decades. Get them more excited about music and show them how to make their own instruments. A rain stick is easy: Seal the ends of a paper towel tube and fill it with rice. Make a drum from a coffee can, a plastic lid, and some sturdy sticks from the back yard. Decorate your instruments with paint and stickers. After arts-and-crafts, put your new band to work with an impromptu parade in the driveway or make your own iPhone music video.

10. Group Art

This game can entertain all the kids at once as they collaborate to draw something silly and spectacular. One child starts by drawing a simple line or shape, the next one expands, drawing another line or shape that somehow connects to the previous. What will the end result be? This calls for children to work together while continually coming up with new ideas to bring together the drawing. Great activity for a restaurant or waiting room.

 

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