CREATIVE PLAY AND IMAGINATION TIME
Before social distancing, my toddler went to daycare, we had visits from the grandparents, we went to the library and the park, we set up play dates with our friends. Now, he has us (his parents and his baby brother).
One of the primary roles I now have as a parent is to play with my child. Creative play has become one of the main ways to keep my son entertained and engaged in learning (without even knowing it). I absolutely love to see his little mind coming up with scenarios and acting them out. It also challenges me to tap into my own imagination and to try to see the world the way he does so that I can play along. We’ve chased Stormtroopers and Darth Vader around the house, looked for pirates and buried treasure, searched for as well as hidden from our shadows, and with a little help from his father and inspiration from Peter Pan, flown with the help of “wonderful thoughts and pixie dust.”
I’m sure we’re not the only household that has seen an increase in the amount of screen time they allow their child(ren). And I’m sure we aren’t the only family who feels guilty over this change. One way to extend the experience of watching an episode or movie is to come up with ways for your child to engage in creative play based on what they watched and, when possible, find ways to connect what they watched to their actual world. You’ll probably notice your child may even do this without any prompting.
After we watched Peter Pan, I noticed Rhys suddenly pointing out his shadow more and even trying to “catch it.” He also seemed more curious about pirates too. So, one day, I asked him if he wanted to pretend to be pirates and go on a treasure hunt. We made a pirate hat, an eye patch and used a paper towel as a telescope (which he did not want to decorate despite my trying to encourage him to do so.) I then made a very simple map that led from his bedroom to the living room where I’d hidden a bag of fruit snacks in a box with an X on it (for “x” marks the spot). The next day, he wanted to go outside with his telescope and hat to look for pirates. Apparently there is one living in every house on our block.
Though my son doesn’t see it as anything but fun, our time doing creative play isn’t only playtime though. It’s also a great way to encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and even introduce the basics of writing and storytelling to him. One way to do this is to help your child create their own story book in pictures. If I notice Rhys is talking a lot about something, I might ask him if he wants to print pictures to make up his own story. A couple weeks ago we did this with trains and a couple Disney princesses. We found photos online, printed them, I cut them out, and then Rhys glued them down in the order he wanted them to be in. I then asked him to tell me about the pictures as best he could, which at this point was him saying “Ariel and Rapunzel go on Choo Choo” (or rather Ah and Pun on choo choo).
As a child gets older, they can do even more with this activity. They can cut out the pictures themselves; they can draw them; they can write their own captions; they can tell you about the story in their own words. Kids are never too young (or too old) to see how their minds might extend an original piece of work.
I don’t mean to make it seem like it’s super easy to play pretend with a child though. It isn’t!! After about 10 minutes of chasing (insert character of the day) around the house, I’m honestly bored. I don’t see the world the way he does – the black bag in the back of the closet is just that, a bag. But I can remember the magic of being a child and how nothing was what it seemed. I want him to have that magic even if he doesn’t, at this point, have other children to help him create those worlds with him. After all, with so many things different in the world right now, and no one knowing how long it will be like this, our imagination is a welcome escape.