Try these ideas to inspire spontaneous play in your kids:
- Transfer old kitchen utensils and pots and pans to the sandbox. Ever play in sand or dirt with a wire whisk, a cantaloupe baller, or real measuring cups? The kids will love the play treasures that come from the kitchen drawers.
- Offer up a Prop Box, especially if your kids need help getting started in play. Drop a few household items into a box or bag. (Ours had a pink dress-up box wig, two hangers, a shoebox, three pieces of paper towels, and ten dominoes.) Anything works! Kids can turn the items into a game, a play, a spy mission, or anything they wish.
- Get out the jump ropes! They're not just for jumping—they're also for making up rhymes, creating obstacle courses, playing tug of war or becoming a versatile prop for other playful ideas.
- Leave props such as a hockey stick, hula hoop, or old croquet set in the backyard and see what your kids do. Nothing like this on hand? Head to the nearest second hand shop and see what you find.
- Save birthday present tissue and wrapping paper. These make great supplies for collages and tissue paper pipe-cleaner flowers, or anything else your child dreams up.
- Set up a play box to keep in the car or stroller, and be ready for the next playground you visit. Some ideas: different size balls; chalk; a jump rope; a flying disc. What about an old tennis racket; many kids love bouncing a ball up off a flat racket. Stash some snacks and water or juice, too, so you can get out of the house without packing food, and the kids play doesn't have to end just because they got hungry.
- Create your own mud pie kit by collecting some old spoons, pie tins, and measuring cups or cookie cutters. Have any orange juice jugs or small milk cartons around? Use these as molds for mud bricks, which your kids can dry out in the sun.
- Turn any moment (a long line at the grocery store, stuck in traffic) into a silly happy one with a tongue twister. Have the kids repeat these three: "Cinnamon, aluminum, linoleum," "Green glass globes glow greenly," or "Red bulb blue bulb red bulb blue bulb" ten times fast!
- Give the kids permission to make everything messy and let them move things out of place—that will help them revel in the spirit of free play!
While you're standing back watching your kids tackle some free play, take the opportunity to jot down whatever the kids are doing, playing and saying. Whether it's a notebook or a scrap of paper, everyone will appreciate it as a keepsake
for the future.