In the previous post, we talked about the benefits of free play.  Now the question is, how do we set up free play at home that is safe, interesting, easy to set up and take down and (somewhat) mess-free for busy parents and space constraints.  All these activities allow for creativity and imagination to be unleashed.  Here are a few ideas:

1) The mahjong covered tabletops

Use mahjong paper or any clear paper for that matter, tape it to tabletops, give your young child a box of crayons or coloured pencils (paint, if you don't mind it getting a little messy), and let them go to town with these bad boys! Let them draw anything they want and praise their use of colour, shape and imagination (even if you have no clue what they drew).

I was personally at a loss for how to praise them when I don't understand what they drew.  I thought to myself, what do I say, "Nice, uh, picture… good job"?  After repeating "good job" a few times (or the Malaysian way "Wah, so clever"), it will start to sound redundant and insincere.  So I watched the teacher at Expressive Arts and observed how she handled the different things students presented to her.  Though most of what is created may not mean much to an adult because it is free and no "model" was given for them to follow or copy, she was able to make positive comments about their creations.  I noticed that she stated the obvious and made comments about their good use of shape, colour, emotion (if the drawing looks happy or wild or angry or sad)  and asked them to explain it to her.  Some things they made had a specific function (treasure box, iPad..etc.), she praised them for their idea.  For children who have not learned to write, she would ask if they wanted parts of their creation to be labelled and would write it down for them so that they can show others and others can share in the meaning behind their creation.

So here I tried to do the same with this little guy's creation.

I couldn't really make out what it is supposed to be and I could not fully understand what he was telling me.  But whatever I saw, I stated the obvious and complimented it.

"Wow, you drew a BIG shape."

"You've got nice colourful circles."

"I like all the different colours that you used."

"It looks kinda like a smiley face to me. Was that what you were drawing, a smiley face with two eyes?" (This opens up for another great opportunity for him to explain what he drew)

Haha, I'm still learning with the praising part but he looked pleased with himself that I appreciated his creation, and then proceeded to create some more.

2) The eco-kingdom

Many children have amazing worlds in their mind.  I know I did as a child (and still do). With Legos and toys, they have the ability to reenact and recreate their world.  It just takes a little more imagination to build a world out of everyday recyclable materials but the great thing about it is that it can be fully custom made - how big, how small, how tall, how long is fully up to them.  In a few weeks, I was able to collect these materials and the little 4 year old boy who is on the Autism Spectrum with some language delay loves playing with these, forming letters with the toilet paper rolls (he LOVES letters) and telling me about what he is making.

For slightly older children, bigger boxes serve as many different items as they can sit in it, crawl through it, hide under it, throw in a big blanket and the possibilities are endless! Check out these websites for more inspiration and DIY ideas with boxes.

Learn how to build a fold-away cardboard box here!

Learn how to build a cardboard box house here!

3) The recording station This is for older children and may need some demonstration and some guidance at the beginning on how to work the software but after they get the hang of it (and they might get it quicker than the adult),  this can result in hours of creation and fun.  Have a few real or handmade musical instruments (chopsticks and water-filled glass bottles/jars, rice filled mineral water bottles as shakers..etc.) and a device that can record sounds.

Ahh… gotta love Jimmy Fallon! It's so much fun that even adults are inspired to create! So below is the app he used.

4) The masak-masak (pretend play)

This is, of course, more suitable for younger children but have out items they may enjoy using.  You as parents know their interest best to set up an area where they can indulge in pretend play.  Again, you do not need to always buy toys to support their pretend play - airplanes, frying pans, shopping carts, trucks, can always be made (by recyclable materials) and a sprinkle of imagination.

5) The sculpting Michelangelo

This activity is great if your child also has sensory needs. There are countless play doh recipes online but I found and linked the easiest one that doesn't require cooking nor cream of tartar to make the preparation time as short as possible.  With a variety of different colours, your child could play and create and also probably learn about colours and how mixtures of certain colours make a new colour.

Watch how to make play-dough here!

Read on how to make Play-dough without cream of tartar here!

I hope these ideas inspire even more ideas. In the beginning, since we live in an "entertain me" culture, your children may not like it because they can't just sit there and watch these things make itself.  They have to actually think and do something which may seem like too much work for them (life is hard!).  Give them some time, inspire them with examples of your own ideas, pictures, ideas (but a model is not always needed), open their minds up to the endless possibilities they could create and most importantly, give them encouragement and praise when they come up with something that is their own.  A good piece of creation does not necessarily have to meet the adult's standards, but something they thought of and is proud of.  Try not to let the little mess that they make (or a little noise) stop you from sharing in the joy of their creation.  Let me know how it works out for you.

Let's learn together,

Eileen.