15 Toys That Encourage Imaginative Play
When people ask what toys are good for creative play, the best answer would be, of course, no toys. Obviously it’s not realistic to not give children toys. While I love experiential gifts (like activities or performances), toys have their place too.
Yet some of my proudest moments as a parent are when my children make their own playthings. My daughters have fashioned quite a collection of colored-pencil paper dolls (the latest batch are covered with glittery curlicues), and for birthdays and Christmas, they will sometimes make toys or puzzles for their little brothers.
I put a high value on creativity — and a less harried lifestyle — so my kids have a lot of free time to come up with stuff like this. Another way to encourage imagination is to give a child an open-ended toy, one that requires the child’s input to come to life.
I think of imaginative toys like a healthy meal, as opposed to a junk-food snack. Like a simple toy, a healthy meal might take more time to make and it might not be as alluring, but eating it makes everyone feel better in the long run.
Here are some ideas at 15 Toys That Encourage Imaginative Play at Parentables.
Are You a Free-Range Parent?
As enthusiastic as I am about free-range parenting — where parents let go of overblown fears to give children the freedom to explore – I would probably give myself a B- on the Free-Range Parenting scale.
I don’t let my children walk to friends’ houses, I don’t leave them at the playground (have you heard of Take Our Children to the Park…& Leave Them There Day?), I barely let them near the oven, and in general, I feel like an over-protective mama.
Yet, I am convinced that weaning myself away from anxious helicoptering and towards relaxed overseeing is the way I should be going. I want my kids to learn how to navigate the world so they can handle the ever-more complicated situations that they will come across.
I want them to feel comfortable, not scared, when it’s time to walk to middle school on their own. I want them to know I have confidence in their ability to be responsible, to take care of themselves, to respect others, and to do the right thing. As many studies have shown, when we expect a lot from children, they rise to the occasion.
“Statistically speaking, you would need to keep your child standing on the road outside for 750,000 years before they would be kidnapped and held by a stranger overnight. To keep seeing things only in terms of risk even when that risk is minute is weird,” [Skenazy] said.
“Today is statistically the safest time in human history and yet we act … as if the whole world is filled with paedophiles and perverts and runaway cars.”
So even though I am not a poster parent for Free-Range, here are some things I am doing to help foster my kids’ self-reliance without taxing myself with worry:
1. Letting them walk to school by themselves
I occasionally let Sofia (10) and Virginia (8) take the 10-minute walk to school by themselves. Of course when we were young, this was the norm: I used to walk a whole mile to kindergarten by myself.
Even though I love the time to connect when we walk together, sometimes it’s helpful when they can walk on their own — and they appreciate the vote of confidence.
2. Letting them walk to an after-school activity
Sofia (4th grade) has one after-school activity, and her ballet class is two blocks from school in her teacher’s house, which she walks to on her own (then I come pick her up).
Sofia was a bit wary at first, but now she enjoys this shot of independence and feels proud of her ability to handle it.
3. Letting them play on the side streets by our house
This year I let the girls go pick wildflowers in the two blocks around our house. They have also gone to the tree-swing on the corner, and explored the surrounding streets to take pictures of cherry blossoms. It’s not anything like running around the neighborhood until dinnertime like I used to do, but it’s a step.
This freedom is exciting to them, and they always come back flushed in the face, excited to show me their finds.
4. Teaching them to cook dinner once a week
After the third time Sofia told me that she wished I would make her “dream salad,” one that included iceberg lettuce, grated carrots, sliced tomatoes, canned corn, and Ranch dressing (so much for my spinach concoctions!), I offered to let her and her sister make dinner a few times a month. OK, it was also spurred by side comments that I got to do the fun part (cooking) while they had to do the yucky part (setting the table).
Last night, Virginia inaugurated the tradition by making farfalle with ham and cream sauce, and an iceberg lettuce and corn salad. (What is it with iceberg and kids?) She ordered the groceries, cut up the veggies, stirred the pasta, heated up the bread, and did pretty much everything except tipping the pot full of the boiling water into the sink. I was there, of course, every step of the way, instructing and coaching. But how else would someone learn to cook?
Virginia was engaged in the whole process, and her siblings reinforced her achievement. Her older sister, often criticizing, actually said, “Wow, this looks good!” Mark, the four-year-old dessert-fiend, even cleaned his plate.
I think letting children cook is in tune with free-range, because it’s allowing children to take (age-appropriate) risks in order to learn about the world, have fun, and grow.
How about you? Figure out where you stand in this post:
How I’m Creating an Edible Front Yard (and You Can Too)
Back in January, one of the goals I set for this year was to create an edible front yard. But it wasn’t just about taste and beauty: it was about creating an activity in nature that my children and I would find enticing. Before we had a garden, it was hard to get my kids outside, partly because it was hard to get me outside.
I’m happy to report, it’s really working! Everyone loves watering, and we all get into discovering which new seedlings are popping up, and how many fruit globes are forming. I know that this is just the beginning of a (possibly bumpy) road: I have been fairly warned about wrestling all sorts of critters for our loot — birds, bugs, raccoons — not to mention the suffocating humidity and the summer vacation droughts, but — so far, so good.
You can see more of what we’ve been doing at Parentables in How I’m Creating an Edible Front Yard (and You Can Too).
Are you participating in Screen-Free Week? Much to my eldest daughters’ chagrin (who wants more computer time), my children’s screen time is so limited, there is not much to cut. But I like the message behind the event: unplug and play, daydream, create, explore, and spend time with family and friends.
We all could use a little more of that.