By Becky Freeman
In my book, Peanut Butter Kisses and Mud Pie Hugs, I devote a chapter to creativity in families, describing the incredible freedom to explore and create that Stephen Spielberg's mother allowed even applauded in their family. Who knows if your finger painting two-year-old might become the next Monet? Your daughter playing dress-up and play pretending the next Julia Roberts? Even if they don't become famous, a lifetime of joy comes from the seed of creativity birthed and encouraged in our younger years.
Much of creativity – if not all of it, as a child, come in the form of creative play.
Two pieces of advice to instill creative play in your children:
1) The more a toy or activity requires of the imagination, the better
As a child I spent many happy hours creating and making homemade dollhouses. Loved it! Then I was given a beautiful, real professional” dollhouse. Soon afterward, I quit playing dollhouse. Why? Though unintentional, the joy of being involved in the creative process was taken away from me. It's the process, not the product, of play that children most love.
The Best Toys Have Always Been Free
Play dough, plastic knives and forks, cookie cutters, plastic place mats
Sandbox pails, sifters, shovels (Big bags of bird seed in an old plastic swimming pool can take the place of sand, as well.)
Dress Up Box of old clothes, hats, shoes
Water Play -- bathtub, bubbles, water balloons, small swimming pool or backyard sprinkler, stuff for making mud pies, empty detergent bottles (make great water squirters)
Craft Box -- bits of colorful paper, stickers, markers, glue, glitter, paint and a big table where messes are allowed
Puzzles and Lego Blocks, Big wooden blocks (You can sand down interesting lumber scraps leftover from a construction site. My boys loved these)
Fort/House/Store materials to create tents, pretend store (empty boxes taped up, play money and cash register), blanket over the kitchen table, couch cushions; sticks; scrap lumber and plywood in the yard; big empty boxes from appliance stores
Consider buying ready-made toys at Teacher Supply stores. They are sturdy, educational and usually have longer-lasting play value.
Puppets -- An instant puppet theater can be made by draping a sheet over a low dresser. Puppets, made out of socks and sacks, also keep the kids creatively busy!
Books! Books in milk crates on the floor are easy for children to flip through and enjoy. Cheap children’s books can be found at Goodwill, garage sales and of course, free at the public or church library! Make a Go-to-the-Library trip once a week. Make it a huge fun day (get yourself something to read as well) followed by burgers out, or an ice cream stop. Snuggle up before naptime with your treasure of books. If you are excited about reading, your children will be, too.
Some of the best, most affordable art to be found is in quality children's books!
Try to find books that offer added educational “value.”
As a former teacher, I knew what kids and teachers both wanted in a child's book. So when I wrote my four children's illustrated books (Gabe & Critter Series), I not only included a fun, humorous story, but I made sure it taught a lesson, included a fun hands-on-project idea and a page of practical “fun facts”where children could learn interesting truths about various critters.
I did the same in the Camp Wanna Banana series for older children (7-11), wanting to give the books some fun “take-away”value once the story was over.
2) Less is more
I recently read a story of a little boy who collected small cars. His aunt, wanting to surprise him, found a way to get him ALL the toys in the collection at once. To her surprise, she found him sitting on the bed, bewildered, not touching the cars. “
What's the matter?” she asked. Sadly he replied, “It's just to much to love.”
Children are easily overwhelmed with too many toys. Try putting ½ of their toys up on a shelf out of sight and rotating them. Toddlers (and mommies for that matter) do best with open“bins”for toy storage.
Open laundry baskets, milk crates and plastic buckets lined up along the edge of their bedroom walls (not stacked) work better than shelves and drawers and make clean up easy.
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