During warmer months it is easy to send kids outdoors for some fun in the sun and fresh air. Bike riding, tree climbing, soccer, hopscotch, and dozens of other outdoor activities provide children with hours upon hours of creative play that is healthy for their bodies and mind. Less than favorable weather such as rain and extreme cold may present a problem at times though and moms need to get creative in helping their kids to find productive play activities. In an age where video games and TV can easily become too important in a child’s life, many parents are reluctant to encourage these things. Luckily there are many alternatives for parents that want to stress productive and creative play rather than mindless screen time.
Help Them Make Believe
Pretend play is particularly important for a young child’s development. It helps them to develop their critical thinking and communication abilities. The great outdoors provides a grand stage for this type of play but parents can facilitate make believe any time with just a few clever props. A box of costumes can create hours of pretend play fun as your kids pretend they are pirates, fairies, knights, or even characters from their favorite movies and books. Homemade forts also provide an excellent opportunity for kids to imagine they are playing in a log cabin, a castle, or a tent. A simple sheet draped over a table can provide hours of fun and creative play. We have an indoor/outdoor teepee that my kids love.
Instead of toys with lights, sounds, and movement give your children some basic toys that they can use to build and create. Legos and wooden blocks are usually very popular among kids as they can spend hours creating virtually anything they can come up with. I highly recommend marble runs. My boys adore them, as seen in the photo above. Take some pictures of their creations and help them create a photo journal to record all of their inventions and accomplishments as mini architects. Post them to Facebook and help them feel like a celebrity.
Play kitchens and play food can also provide hours of creative play as kids pretend to cook their favorite meals and serve their family. Even an item as simple as a playsilk can be used as a flag, as part of a costume, as a sail on a boat, or a doll sling or hammock. Give them the raw materials and watch them create!
Forget video games what about old fashioned board games, card games, and the like? There is no time like the present to teach your kiddos to play Gin Rummy or War. A deck of cards is cheap and the fun can last for hours. Break out the dominoes and let them line them and knock them over to their heart’s content. There are also some amazing cooperative and educational board games on the market. In the former category I recommend Ticket to Ride and in the educational games category I recommend WildCraft.
Books for Homegrown Adventure
For younger and older kids it is great fun to read a book aloud and ask them to re-enact it in a play or with puppets. They can build the set, create the costumes, and then act out the part of their favorite character. If you have a video camera handy you or an older child can record these performances to let them view later and to create memories that the whole family will treasure for years.
For children that insist on TV time perhaps you can strike a deal asking them to select a movie that originated from a book and then after they read it you can all watch the movie together and discuss how the book and movie compared.
These are just a few of the ways that parents can encourage creative and productive play and leisure within their children.
For a very long time now I have looked at play tepees and thought about how much fun it would be to have one for the kids. I am not sure why but I have yet to get over my childhood fascination with tepees. I have even been checking out a camp resort that has large family size tepees to camp out in. I think it would great fun.
In the meantime though I have been living vicariously through my kids, especially my littlest guy, and his new play tepee…the Little Turtle’s Tepee from Down to Earth Toys. It is a great toy made from natural materials (cotton canvas and wood) and made here in the USA. Bozeman, Montana to be exact. It sets up in minutes and basically provides an instant play house for 1-3 kids that can be used indoors or out. And it’s no boring, ordinary playhouse. It a tepee!
Natural toys made from quality materials are always better than anything made with plastics and other materials that will end chilling in a landfill for hundreds of years, long past their useful stage. The material is untreated, un-dyed natural cotton canvas and the poles are FSC Certified Solid Wood. Toys made in the USA are also going to have less impact than those made in foreign countries and then shipped here. You are also supporting local economies and usually small family business, which is important. This is a toy made with high quality, natural materials that are planet friendly AND meant to last. It taken care of this tepee will last for years and be a play object for many different kids over the years. It is a keepsake that can be passed around throughout the generations.
I also like that it is an open ended toy that encourages creativity and unplugged fun. My kids are not immune to the lure of the xBox and the iPad but it is important to me that they also know how to entertain themselves without the bells and whistles. Play houses are perfect for that and this tepee fits the bill.
Another bonus is that this toy is educational and can open doors to learning opportunities about other cultures and living history. A tipi is a Lakota name for a conical tent made from animal skins and wooden poles and used by the nomadic tribes. This toy could open the door to all sorts of historical learning, which I love.
I also like that it is fun to use inside the house and out. When the weather takes a turn for the worse (it already has here in Ohio) then the tepee can be transferred indoors and used there. It is super easy to take up and down (it takes seconds literally) and it has a nice canvas tote for storage so it can be easily tucked away in the garage or basement when not being played with. The ease with which you can get it out and set it up and also take it back down and store it are super important to me because we don’t have a lot of room in our house (about 1100 square feet). Anything hard to put up and take down would quickly be a pain in the you-know-what. If you have a decent size car this would also be no problem to take with you to the park, camping, grandmas’s house, etc.
Below you can see it indoors, in the Florida room …
The tepee also came with stencils so you can jazz it up if you want. We may do that later on. Also it came with a traditional game that uses sticks and rocks. Yet another great intro into living history. All around this would make a great gift for the kiddos if you are looking for open ended natural toys that will encourage creativity and that will provide maximum benefit for your dollars, since this is one that will last.
The manufacturer’s website.
I have mentioned dozens of times how crazy I am about the game Wildcraft. It is a game for the whole family that teaches about herbs and natural healing. Read my complete review here. It is just a perfect way to integrate fun with learning and my whole family just loves it. Plus we have lots of time to play (and learn) during the cold winter months here in Ohio! It just gets us excited for spring…
One obstacle for many though, is price. It is something I have had to come to grips with myself since the cheapo games from big toy companies can be had for $10 or even less around the holidays. I recently saw one popular mass produced game selling for $1 this season. Quality games though can cost 5 to 10 times the price of a mass production game, though Wildcraft does not actually. It was created by a Dad who just wanted his kids to play something more valuable than Candyland and it is sold direct from his family to others. There is no big toy manufacturer behind it. So much love and creativity went into this game and it really shows…
The regular price ($39) is actually very reasonable but I still keep my eye out for the annual sale that comes around the holidays and I just received word of it this morning. From now until Friday November 16 you can get Wildcraft for only $19.99 AND you get a host of cool bonuses including:
* Winterize Your Kids: Optimizing Health with Herbs, Diet & Common Sense” This is an 80 minute audio class with Aviva Romm M.D., author of many herbal books about natural child care.
* 2013 Herbal Wall Calendar PDF
* Herb Fairies Book One! They are also including the recipe cards and journal pages! If you’ve been waiting since May for Herb Fairies to reopen, here’s your chance to get a head start.
* A FULL issue of Herbal Roots zine.
* The revised “Herbal Gifts” eBook by Rosalee de la Forêt.
* A class with What the Robin Knows author Jon Young on how to mentor your child in nature!
This game is the perfect Christmas gift and a good way to get lots of extra goodies for yourself or for others. Enjoy!
Sadly at the height of summer this year it was just too darn hot to spend much time outside. I started to think I was back in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona rather than in Central Ohio. It was so hot that my kids ended up playing video games and watching TV way more than normal. The temperatures were too high and the normally cool, soft grass was dry and crunchy. Our lawn still hasn’t recovered. Ugh.
The weather of late though has been wonderful and I am hoping for a mild Fall so that we can make up for lost time…and spend lots of it outdoors, playing. One activity that brings back memories of my own summer fun is croquet. My grandmother had a vintage set that I played with for hours upon hours with my younger brother and cousins. So I was excited when Down to Earth Toys offered to send us a croquet set for us to review and enjoy. The store has been selling high quality, natural toys for years and we have enjoyed several of their products over the years, including this wonderful SpellMaster.
The croquet set was just what I remembered. All wood, made with classic bright colors, and oh so fun to play. My kids and I were excited to give it a try. Even if some of us didn’t quite dress for the occassion:
We had to read through the instructions together first to see how to play (since I did not remember) but after the first game we played together my own kids ended up doing what I always used to do when I was a kid…invent their own game/rules. Whether you play a structured or game or make up your own it always fun to hit balls through an obstacle course.
The set itself is very high quality and will last for years and years, as most wooden toys do. I know my grandmother’s set seemed indestructible. My brothers and cousins and I all played with it for years, every single summer. It lasted right up until she died and it was auctioned off. I wish I snagged it back then but it didn’t occur to me that I wanted to create those same wonderful summer memories with my own children, until later. That is why I think this set has so much value in my eyes…it helps us to recreate the fond croquet memories so many of us have from our own childhoods. Of course it is also great for teaching hand eye coordination and good sportsmanship. Kids of all ages, even small ones, love to play.
This hardwood, six-player croquet set includes six maple mallets with 32″ handles, two 24″ goal posts, nine indestructible heavy steel wickets, six 3-1/4″ polymer balls, a canvas storage bag and complete instructions. Down to Earth has toys made in the USA so you are supporting American businesses when you buy.
The price ($144.00) seems kind of steep at first but I know that set will get much use over the next few years and unlike so many conventional toys and games I know it will last for many, many more. I have no doubt that someday my grandchildren could be playing with this set on my lawn and creating fond memories of summers at grandma’s house.
Do you have croquet memories from your own childhood?
It’s spring break around these parts and summer is not too far away now. I find that public schooling often feeds feelings of boredom because kids are super scheduled all day and when they come home they still want “activity”. Few of us though want that activity to revolve around video games and television so educational toys have become increasingly popular among parents in recent years. There are a couple of reasons for this. Some parents believe that educational toys will not only “jump-start” their children’s learning, it will also help them retain skills that might otherwise go unused when school is out. Homeschoolers use educational toys as part of the regular learning process because earning through play is an amazing thing. Also, parents with disabled children have found that some educational toys help their children in a number of different ways.
Below are a few examples of educational toys.
1. Puzzles – Yes, puzzles are considered to be educational because they help kids (and adults) improve their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and their problem-solving skills. It can be a great for learning and family bonding to work together on large puzzles. If you know of any other families in your area who are puzzle enthusiasts you can swap puzzles to keep costs down. Some good ones to try are Geo Puzzles that teach geography and 4D Human Anatomy Puzzles that teach anatomy.
2. Building Blocks – Of course you have the classic blocks that have letters of the alphabet on them as well as numbers, those are always educational. But playing with unmarked blocks helps young children learn about three-dimensional shapes, spatial relationships and what it takes to build something. Therefore, these toys are considered to be educational too. For a fun spin on this try a wood marble run. We also love Tegu Magnetic blocks.
3. Musical Instruments – Do your kids love music? Many children enjoy music and enjoy learning how to play various instruments so give them the opportunity if you can. Playing musical instruments helps children improve their memory skills, become better disciplined, develop a sense of achievement, and build confidence in their skills. You can often find affordable instruments on Craigslist and at yard sales and auctions. We found a gorgeous flute in a velvet lined box once for only $20 at a yard sale!
4. Model Toys – Many people, both young and old, enjoy putting together models (boats, cars, airplanes, etc.) and learn a lot in the process. Children who put these objects together learn about the object itself as well as how various pieces fit together. if you want to keep it green then go for wood models like this Titanic model (my oldest boy would love this!) or this 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer. You could also use materials you have around the house to make sailboats and then take the kids to a nearby creek to sail them. Educational and fun.
5. Science Toys – Science toys are great educational toys. It doesn’t matter if a child is learning how to build a motor, make a geode, or see how electricity works, these toys can help teach it all.
But what if you have young children? Below are some of the best educational toys for babies and toddlers.
1. Markers, Crayons, Paper, Etc. – Your toddler will learn a lot by playing with various types of art supplies. Other examples include watercolors and molding clay.
2. Activity Tables – You can make your own activity/sensory tables for toddlers and babies. They hold their attention and help them learn at the same time! Put out some paint colors for them to mix, sand for them to pour and play in, and beans/rice for them to sift through and find hidden items in.
4. Wooden Toys – The first benefit of wooden toys is that they are BPA free, unlike most plastic toys. The second advantage is that they are incredibly durable and have been shown to last decades! I love these wooden sailboats and pretty much anything by Plan Toys.
5. Sticks and Rocks - Nature’s toys are good toys. My own kiddos always find something to do with sticks and rocks including sword fighting and building little forts. Last week we even painted some of the ones in our yard so now we have rainbow rocks and sticks. Using one’s imagination exercises the brain.
What are your favorite educational toys for kids?