Five Imaginative Ways to Make Indoor Play Exciting
By: Lydia Bryant, CTRS
Summer is here and being outdoors is on everybody’s mind, but what if you cannot get outside? Some summer days have dangerous heat indexes, and many kids with disabilities are especially at risk in high temperatures. Thunderstorms may be particularly unsettling to kids with sensory issues, and unbearable humidity is no fun for anyone. You may wind up inside for a rainy day, or your child may be feeling a little under the weather (no pun intended).
On days like these, you’ll have to get creative to make indoor play as exciting as outdoor. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless when you and your child use your imagination to create a world of your very own, right inside your home.
Breakfast can be a great opportunity for your family to discuss what activities they might like to do that day. If there is rain or extreme heat in the forecast, plan for an exciting imaginary play day inside. Start by getting creative with your breakfast food! Use cookie cutters or FunBites to create different shapes. Food coloring can change the color of typical breakfast sauces or syrups.
Encourage your child to manipulate and configure food in different ways. Who wants boring old pancakes when you can create a picture bursting with shapes and colors? Ask your child what their food collage could represent: an animal, a plant, or an abstract picture. This is one time when it’s okay to play with your food.
Entertainment is everywhere in a child’s life, and sometimes we have to get extra goofy to match the high-energy TV shows and YouTube videos filling up a child’s day. So if you have to wear a funny hat or speak in a silly voice to get your children excited for a story, do it! Choose a book that is age-appropriate and read it ahead of time. Brainstorm different questions to ask or actions to do during reading to create an interactive experience. Consider using puppets to read the dialogue of the book or take turns reading different characters.
Harold and the Purple Crayon and Where the Wild Things Are are both stories that dive into the use of imagination. Or you can read a nature-based book about animals, outer space, or underwater life. Remember: a book is what you make it, so don’t be afraid to get goofy and loud when reading to your children.
3. Play School
Playing “school” is a great way to get bodies and minds moving while keeping those creative juices flowing. Although summer is traditionally a break from school, giving kids the opportunity to be “teacher” is a great way for them to learn how to control their environment or practice executive functioning skills. Help your child decide what the classroom may look like, and who the students will be (you? siblings? stuffed animal friends?). Help to set a schedule for the “day” and determine what supplies are needed. Will you be having circle time, studying math, or reading a book?
If you child doesn’t connect with the idea of a traditional classroom, provide an opportunity to be a teacher or a coach in areas he/she is passionate about or interested in, like baseball, dancing, or yoga. This opportunity for role reversal allows you to observe how your child interprets the world of adulthood, while also using his/her imagination.
Building forts is a classic indoor family activity. Use your imagination to expand your ideas of “forts” by using sheets, pillows, and chairs to make nests, burrows, or caves for varying animal homes. Fortamajig (right) is a great product that can be used to make your animal nest as well. These fabric sheets come with Velcro loops to ease fort construction (and demolition!)
Have your child choose an animal nest to create. Once you have built your animal homes and are resting comfortably inside, talk about what your animal might like to eat or spend time doing. Give your animal a name (i.e. Bobby the Bird). Does Bobby have a family? Is Bobby a grown-up bird or a baby bird? What kind of bird job does he/she have? Encourage children to use descriptive words when talking about their animal.
5. The Magic of Music
Spend an afternoon listening to music. Using your phone, radio, or CD player, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the different sounds of music—pop, classical, hip hop, rock, jazz. Have your child explore the sounds of music and describe how he/she feels while hearing the different types. Music is a great way to explore emotions, and providing your child with the words to describe those feelings will help build his/her vocabulary and expressive skills.
End your day of play by recapping the ways in which you and your child have used your imagination throughout the day. Praise him/her for being creative and imaginative. Embrace your child’s active imagination, and know that it is a strength that leads to creative problem-solving skills in adulthood.
Always try to match the enthusiasm of your child! A high-energy parent or guardian creates opportunities for deeper connections with children and models valuable play activities. And remember the words of Albert Einstein the next time you maybe indoors this summer: “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”