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Encourage Preschoolers to Use Their Imagination

Encourage preschoolers to use their imagination. Although  naturally imaginative, curious, and creative, they might be stuck in a rut with their play, grasping for the same toy or game repeatedly. Energize their imagination and inspire some creativity with engaging games that allow your child to create, learn, and explore. These fun activities don’t require any pricey toys or elaborate setups. All they need are some prompts from Mom and Dad and some creativity, and they’ll be engaged in some imaginative fun in no time.

1. Build With Boxes

Tuck away those extra boxes in the garage until you have a nice stack of them that can become a creative opportunity for your preschooler. A stack of cardboard boxes can serve as the inspiration behind some seriously creative pretend play for your child. Help them connect the boxes with duct tape to create a structure, whether you are building a castle, a rocket ship, or a boat. Then, leave the rest to them. Your child can decorate the box structure, play in it, fill it with stuffed animals or dolls, and so much more. Their imagination will come to life as they build, create, and play––all while reusing those extra boxes.

2. Cook With Play Dough

Encourage your preschooler to develop some life skills early––with lots of fun, too. Make some homemade play dough or pick up your favorite dough from the store. Then, give kids a plastic plate and plastic utensils like a pizza cutter or rolling pin to allow them to play cook. You can even give them some prompts, asking them to decorate a birthday cake or make a pizza. Glitter in a salt shaker can add some sparkle to their creation, and beads, gems or pipe cleaners are fun to add to their faux food creation.

3. Host a Special Event

Let your little one get creative in planning the perfect party. All they need is the prompt, and your preschool party planner can take care of the rest. Tell your child that their favorite doll or stuffed animal is having a birthday, and they need to plan the party. You’ll be delighted as you watch your preschooler’s mind at work as they decorate the space, design invitations, plan activities, and prepare for the special event. Then, invite the family––and some toy guests too––to watch the event unfold.

4. Create an Engaging Outdoor Space

Being outdoors can certainly inspire some creativity, so you want to ensure your preschooler has access to an outdoor space where they can use their imagination. Add a few outdoor toys to that space to further engage their creativity. An outdoor playhouse, for example, encourages a classic pretend play game of family. Together with siblings, friends, or even favorite toys, your child can cook, clean, and care in their kid-sized house. Likewise, consider a play set or sandbox, which serves as another outlet for creativity. A sandbox stocked with shovels, rakes, sieves, buckets, and plastic toys allows your child to build castles, create engaging setups, and transport their mind to a new place, all from the comfort of their backyard.

5. Butcher Paper Art

A roll of butcher paper goes a long way in engaging your preschooler’s imagination. Have your youngster lie down and trace their body. Then, give them craft supplies to draw themselves and decorate them however they so choose. Or, tape a long piece of paper to your floor using painter’s tape. Ask your child to draw your city as they see it. They can draw and color buildings, cars, animals, nature elements, and so much more. Butcher paper is also great for outdoor art because it offers a large surface for kids to create. Give them some waterproof paints and paint brushes and sponges and let them create on this blank canvas, which you can tape to your fence, patio or driveway and then display indoors when their masterpiece is complete.

Imaginative play gets your preschooler’s mind working by encouraging them to approach playtime from a new perspective. When they do, they’ll be more engaged and more inspired by the play, which means you’ll have a happy kid who dives right into creative time day after day.

The social isolation resulting from the current Covid-19 pandemic frequently challenges parents to come up with engaging activities for their preschoolers. Cristin Howard who runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase. 

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Why I Avoid Licensed Products

architectural building set fosters creativity

Babies As Billboards

Here we are 17 years into the 21st century. The only constant is change and that comes at an increasingly maddening speed. Since becoming a grandmother a year ago, I’ve discovered that almost every aspect of “bringing up baby” is different now. What distresses me most is the proliferation of branded products for young children. Customers pay a premium for these products, merchandise that promotes brand identity. The beneficiaries of branded products are companies, not those buying the products.

Leading brands of disposable diapers feature licensed characters. Babies become billboards, re-enforcing brand identity, advertising specific products. Do we really want babies commercialized in this way? I don’t. Fortunately non-licensed brands of equal quality and at lower prices exist for those of us who prefer diapers advertisement free.

Once Upon A Time Before Widespread Licensing of Toys

Toys have suffered a similar fate. Once upon a time, Lego designed products for unscripted, open-ended play with themes reflecting general interests of its audience. Never miss open house at the neighborhood fire station? Select from individual fire trucks to a fully equipped fire station. Although designed for building specific play props, bricks used to build a fire station could also be used to craft something altogether different. Build a cityscape complete with streets and vehicles, even an airport, design and build skyscrapers, housing, school, and parks. Add a neighborhood landmark. Children built whatever came to mind and created their own story lines as they played.

Sets included diagrams for building the item pictured on the box, and that was what children usually built first. Gradually the pieces from one set joined those from others to form a sea of multiple and varied building components which served as a catalyst for open-ended, creative play. The search for just the right piece sharpened visual discrimination.

Licensed Products Script Play

Now Lego holds numerous licenses, and play is more apt to reflect related story lines than to evolve from the imagination of children. The toy comes with a script. Yes, the child is free to adapt the toy to fit other narratives, yet by its nature a licensed product limits creativity. Using his imagination to spin his own yarns is more creative than following a script.

How Non-licensed Toys Benefit Children

Toys that invite children to “put on their thinking caps” and engage in a process of experimentation, discovery, and problem-solving allow children to follow their muse and reap the rewards. They gain competence and confidence as they acquire and refine skills in comprehension, language, and mathematics, eye-hand coordination, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Creativity, executive planning, and problem-solving blossom as children design and construct ever more advanced structures.

Texo = Open-Ended Building

While numerous open-ended design and construction toys are available, a particularly versatile one is Texo, an award-winning 3-dimensional building system from architect, author, and designer Lester Walker. This building system allows children to progress gradually from basic color and shape sorting, matching, and identification to simple puzzles and stacking of interconnected shapes and finally to advanced architectural models. Plastic rods and solid wood planks coupled with the geometric precision of molded plastic connectors enhance the design and construction potential. Imagination dictates what gets built. And creativity blossoms.

In the forward to the activity guide accompanying Texo, Walker shares his vision. Form and function are the foundations of architecture and design. Children learn at an early age about these principles through playing with blocks and construction toys and through their natural curiosity which leads them to explore, replicate and shape their environment. Texo – which is Latin for weave, twine together, plait, construct, build – is a toy I’ve designed to help children gain a richer understanding of form and function through a scaleable toy, one that at its most basic level is about stacking, sorting and sequencing, and grows in its complexity as a child grows, becoming something they can use to explore principles of architecture, design and engineering. Enjoy!

Play is, by definition, an enjoyable experience. Freed from scripts, children create their own as they explore possibilities. Providing the children in our lives with ample opportunities for open-ended play and watching them flourish benefits and delights both sides of the equation.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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We Built A Sensory Table. Now What?

With a sensory table, play possibilities are endless. Let your imagination be your guide. Consider both dry and wet experiences, what’s available, and how much time you have for “setting the scene.” Start out simple and observe the children at play. Trust them to know what to do and to let you know when they’re ready for new sensory play experiences.

Sand is a must. So is water. Both provide hours of open-ended play and learning. Start by putting out containers of different shapes and sizes. Add scoops and spoons, both solid and slotted, sieves, sifters, shakers, and pitchers, funnels, measuring cups and spoons. This is a time for adaptive use of both kitchen implements and toys. When used in sand play, stacking and nesting cups invite filling and pouring and can be used as sand molds.The cups demonstrate differences in volume and mass among the graduated cups. Basic mathematical concepts.

For water play, tea sets encourage pouring. Learning to pour liquids without spilling is a challenge requiring concentration and coordination, fundamental skills needed for developing more complex ones. Being able to pour without spilling gives a child independence: the ability to pour himself something to drink when he’s thirsty. When offering someone else a drink, he’s demonstrating social awareness. Learning to estimate how much liquid is in a pitcher and figuring out how to divide the contents evenly among glasses develops mathematical awareness. Without question, children learn while playing.


 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Baking Our Holiday Gifts

If you’re making gift jars, carefully follow the recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies we shared last week. If not, here’s the deal, this recipe invites “playing around” with the ingredients. You can use your imagination and create your own version of the recipe. I always double the nuts. That’s a given. A cookie is not a cookie to me without nuts, and the more, the better. Although I most often use pecans, I’ve also used almonds, black walnuts, English walnuts, macadamia nuts,  and hickory nuts. A fact about hickory nuts.They’re not commercially available. You’ll have to find someone with a tree.  Delicate and delicious, they’re maddeningly difficult to crack open and remove from their shells. Unless you’re a squirrel.

Instead of semi-sweet, substitute milk chocolate or dark chocolate. White chocolate goes well with macadamia nuts. I’ve used butterscotch and peanut butter chips at different times, but what I do most often is omit the chips altogether and use dried fruit.

Favorites have been raisins, cranberries, cherries, and diced apricots.The key to success is to rehydrate the dried fruit before adding to the other ingredients. To do this, put the fruit in a heat resistant bowl and cover with boiling water. After 15 minutes or so, drain off the liquid and stir the fruit into the dough. Skipping this step results in too little liquid in the dough and dry cookies. Dried fruit draws moisture from the other ingredients. You definitely do not want to go there.

When I visit my mother, I use her old big green Tupperware mixing bowl and make two or more batches at one time. These cookies freeze beautifully, and absolutely everyone looks forward to raiding her freezer. When unexpected guests arrive, we take a bag of cookies from the freezer, arrange them on a plate, and by the time, the coffee brews or the tea steeps, the cookies are ready to eat. That’s about as simple and delightful a way to spend time with family and friends as I can imagine.

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Infant and Toddler Toys to Avoid: Beware of Branding

Our exploration of quality play started with Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination. Now TRUCE shares even more reasons we ought to avoid toys and other items based on TV shows…

Even though children want toys that are based on characters from TV shows or movies, these toys encourage consumerism, unhealthy food choices, and limit your child’s imagination.

Serena received a Baby Elmo stuffed animal as a baby gift and her parents had placed it in her crib where she had slept with it every night since. Now at age 18 months, when she and her mother are in the grocery store, and she sees Elmo’s face on a box of unhealthy snack food, she cries when her mother will not buy the product.

Toys, clothing and foods often use a TV character, like from Disney or Sesame Street, to capture young children’s attention. Why is this a problem? Whenever kids see it, they want it because it’s familiar. These kinds of licensing agreements, which support branding efforts, can lead to unwise buying choices, unhealthy eating habits and nagging.

to be continued next week…

With permission from the Child Life Council,  PlayopolisToys is pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section. TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play?

Our last blog entry addressed the question Why Is Quality Play So Important? Now that we’ve defined the essential character of quality play, let’s move on to explore What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play? The answer goes beyond my suggestion that you Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination.

A quality infant and toddler toy can be used in many ways.

A quality toy can be used in more than one way and will grow with your child. For example, a set of nesting blocks can be used for many things: filling, dumping and stacking when your toddler is young, and as car garages, towers, for sorting, and homes for animals as she grows!

A quality infant and toddler toy engages the senses.

Young babies learn by using all of their senses. They like play that involves materials with a variety of texture, as well as lots of physical contact, singing and dancing. For older toddlers, play with sand, finger paint and shaving cream provides opportunities for learning using touch, smell, sight and sound.

A quality infant and toddler toy allows children to use their imaginations.

Look for stuffed animals or dolls that aren’t from a TV show, or other media, to allow your child to create her own play ideas. Developing creativity and problem solving skills is important for life long learning.

A quality infant and toddler toy lets children make decisions about their play.

A quality toy does not do something for the child. Instead, the child finds pleasure and satisfaction from doing something to the toy. For example, a soft and simple doll can do whatever your child imagines, while a battery-operated doll that talks limits what your child might pretend.

What does this kind of play look like?

When you child builds with blocks, she is learning many important skills such as: creativity as she creates a unique structure of her own design; physical development as she develops fine motor skills; and thinking as she explores relationships among object size, shape and balance.

When you share a book with your little one, you are developing social and emotional skills through parent/child bonding; language development and literacy skills as he learns new vocabulary, enjoys hearing stories, and learns to “read” the pictures to see what is happening; and creativity as you are supporting the development of his imagination.

With permission from the Child Life Council,  PlayopolisToys is pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section. TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Play Can Be Solitary or Social

Play can be solitary or social. Whether alone or in the company of others, play enhances development, encourages creativity and imagination, and provides opportunities for children to assess situations and solve problems.

Children need to learn to entertain themselves as well as play well with others. Both are valuable skills that take time and practice to perfect. Toys that work well for a child either playing alone or with an adult or other children are the most versatile. Balls fit this category, and one brand that works particularly well is Oballs.


These multiple award winning balls are lightweight, easy to grab, crush, catch and throw. Oball invites finger exploration and experimentation as children who never before could grasp a ball find themselves easily holding and exploring these 4″ diameter balls. PVC and latex free, Oballs  are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play