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Inspire your child to engage in imaginative, creative play with a few simple tips.

How to inspire creative play in young children.

Children are innately creative.

Imagination is innate in children. When left to their own devices, they will come up with fantasy stories and engage in imaginative, creative play. However, modern distractions get in the way.

Entertainment is the polar opposite of imagination. Imaginative play simply cannot happen with a noisy, flashing object in front of their face.

A Respite from Imagination Distractions

My children are more active and have more fun in a natural park climbing rocks and rolling down hills than on a playground. They engage in more imaginary play in an empty room than they do in a room full of toys.

When distractions are removed kids are left with nothing but their imaginations.

We are not media-free. My kids play on the computer. They have their own tablets. They watch TV. We have noisy, battery-operated toys that drive me absolutely batty.

I make an effort to use media and toys conscientiously and purposefully. I also make sure that we have time far away from anything media related.

This is when their imagination is sparked.

A Place for Creative Play

Kids need a place for creative play that is free from distraction. In our house, it is the children’s bedrooms. You won’t find TVs, tablets, or toys there. They have their beds and a few dolls. That’s it.

Pillowcases become chrysalises. Bed sheets become caves. Blankets become magic carpets that can travel the world. 

Maybe your kids have a tree house, a basement, or the backyard. Wherever it is, clear the space. Give them some breathing room.

Create a place where they can process what they’re learning. A place where they can play pretend, act out their dreams, and work through their feelings. A place free from outside distractions so that they are forced to look inside to create their own entertainment.

Our undistracted, unstructured play time has evolved over time. My oldest rarely engaged in pretend play. He was obsessed with dinosaurs when he was 3 and 4, but he wasn’t using his imagination.

He would sort his dinosaurs, line them up, recite facts about them. He was more interested in describing them than playing with them. 

Then one day when the weather was nice and I was nursing his baby sister so I told him to go play in the yard. He walked into our empty, overgrown yard and became a paleontologist.

He picked weeds all along our fence for weeks. Weeded the entire back yard! As he went, he’d bring me the plant and tell me what dinosaur he’d found. At first he found real dinosaurs and identified the parts. Later he found dino hybrids and entire new species!

That’s when it struck me. All of the dinosaur books and toys we had weren’t inspiring his imagination. They were distracting from it.

Take away the distraction and suddenly I had a creative and playful son uncovering amazing things right in our backyard.


Time Away for Creative Play

Whether it’s sending them to their empty rooms to play pretend or going to a park with nothing around but the scenery, I consciously make time for undistracted and unstructured play.

We don’t go by a strict schedule, but we do have a family rhythm. There’s a time for TV and games, parks and playgrounds, “go play with your XYZ,” and there’s a time to just “go play.”

Getting all three of my children to play together, regularly, unsupervised, without toys or other distractions was difficult at first. We practiced.

I played pretend with them, following their story lines, and adding where I could. Eventually though, they didn’t need me anymore. Now they have their own imaginary worlds – playing Mommy and Daddy or Teacher and Student. The baby is always the one in trouble!

Inspire Creative Play

√ Make a Place

Create a space in your home or yard that is free from all creative distractions. No toys, games, video. A space just for imagination.

No room at home? Venture outdoors to explore natural playgrounds and parks and revisit them often.

√ Carve out a Time

It’s easy for us to fall into a pattern of busyness – running from activity to activity with only TV and meals in between. Make a little time away from distraction every day. Even twenty minutes of distraction-free time makes a difference.

√ Participate

I’ll be honest. Playing pretend with my kids isn’t my favorite, but I participate anyway. About 90% of the time their stories don’t make any sense to me. It feels like trying to sing a song when you don’t know any of the words. That’s okay.

Follow their lead. Let your child create the stories. Follow along with their silly songs and sing your heart out. You may not recognize the connections they are making, but they’re growing – even in the silliest imaginary play.

√ Limited, Not Off-Limits

We limit media, but it is not off-limits. Like everything it has its time and place. It’s as much part of their lives as it is part of mine. However, we all need time away. Make sure you still have some breathing room around the work and entertainment.

√ Purposeful Planning

Planning is a big part of my life. It keeps everything running, if not always running smoothly. Plan for unstructured play time – just like planning meals, field trips, and lessons. Creative play time is just as important.

I hope this post helps you create a time and place for undistracted creative play. Tell your kids to “go play” with just their imaginations. Relax for a moment and know that their silliness is creativity. They are experimenting and processing and growing.

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