What are we doing instead of watching Netflix? My friend Justine over at the Lone Home Ranger, mentioned that they've been having regular dance parties.
Singable Songs Collection and Baby Beluga), Elizabeth Mitchell (specifially, You Are My Little Bird), The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Shins (which she refers to as, "the Chins"), and James Cotton. As the day progresses, the dance parties get more elaborate and often involve tutus, wings, and countless stuffed animal friends.
When we're not dancing, I just let her play. I'm pretty hands off. Sometimes she'll spend most of the morning happily pretending to cook and serve imaginary meals or putting her babies to bed. Other times she'll request assistance from me to put on a pet show (again, she's big on the stuffed animals right now) or to play grocery store or library. She loves to pretend to be the librarian and check out books by scanning them up a spoon. She makes a little beeping noise when she scans each one.
Sometimes my daughter's imagination catches me off guard. I'm amazed by the ideas her young brain comes up with all on it's own. She doesn't miss a thing. She's constantly observing and absorbing the world around her. Her experiences guide her imaginative play.
Not to long ago, while on a trip to the aquarium, she hopped up on the empty stage where they present the wildlife shows and began to act out a bird show. She held out her arm like the trainers and pretended to fly the bird to it's perch. Later she walked around with the imaginary bird on her arm so we could all admire it. She told us about the bird (he had a name and everything) and when we got home she emptied out a container of blocks so he could live in it. She fed him little pieces of spinach and let him out regularly for bird shows and to exercise.
Another day I found her in the living room standing on a small chair picking apples from an imaginary apple tree. I couldn't think of where she would have seen an apple tree (they don't do well in this climate) until I realized we'd been reading Harold and the Purple Crayon. At one point in the story Harold draws an apple tree. I think that must be where she got the idea.
I'm truly in awe of her imagination. I want to do everything I can to encourage her imaginative play. I want her to hold on to that creativity as she grows up.
Here's what we (my husband and I) do to encourage imaginative play:
1. Turn off the TV. Most of the time our daughter's viewing time is limited to commercial free, education programs. She still becomes a zoned out zombie when there is a show on and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. She's much more content playing alone (or with me or with friends) when she hasn't been watching TV. Even when she's been watching educational programming she's less likely to be motivated to come up with a game or even to want to go outside and play. She just wants to sit and whine about wanting more TV. So, turn it off.
2. Play Along. When L. first got her play kitchen she cooked us breakfast every morning. We sat where she told us to sit and ate our imaginary food with great enjoyment. When she puts on a bird show and tells us to catch the parrot, we catch the parrot. We get excited when she bakes us a birthday cake and wants us to blow out the candles. We sing happy birthday with her even though our birthdays aren't for months. Having a positive reaction from an adult will reinforce creative behavior.
3. Offer Ideas. If she's in a bad mood and says she doesn't know what to do, I'll offer suggestions. Why don't you bake me a cake? Let's read some books to your babies. Why don't we have a baseball game? Do you want to put on another pet show? Often she'll respond with her own idea. Let's go to the zoo instead. I need to take my puppy for a walk. Bert needs to go outside and swing.
4. Go Places. Free day at the local museum, story time at the library, the zoo, the aquarium, a trip to the grocery store, or the neighborhood park all expose kids to new things. When my daughter has a good time outside the house, she recreates that experience at home. Sometimes she does it all on her own and sometimes she takes a suggestion from us and runs with it.
5. Tell Stories. As a family we read a lot but there is nothing L. loves better than having us tell her a story. There's definitely a difference between reading a story and telling a story. My husband started it. It doesn't even have to be a complex story, it could just be the story of what we did that day, but she loves it. Then we ask her to tell us a story. Sometimes she'll just repeat the story we just told (as best she can) but sometimes she'll make up a whole story of her own. A lot of the time we can't understand all of it...but as fast as she's growing up I'm sure it's only a matter of time.
Getting messy should also be on the list. I was trying to keep my list to five suggestions but I firmly believe that getting messy encourages imaginative play. If all else fails and L. doesn't want to play pretend and she doesn't want to go outside and she's still whining and crying to watch Sesame Street something messy will always distract her. My daughter has never turned down an opportunity to get messy. Our favorite (and easy to contain) messy activities include her table-top beach, homemade gak, and finger (feet) painting.
What do you do to encourage creativity and imagination? What are your kids favorite screen-free activities?
This post is part of Teach Me Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.