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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. 

                                                                                                                                 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Intergenerational Play Rocks

quote about what makes a family

Thanksgiving Gatherings

Everyone benefits from purposeful intergenerational relationships. The gathering of family and friends to share a meal at Thanksgiving traditionally involves multiple generations. What better time to share activities that nurture connections among different age groups?

 PlayopolisToys serves the citizens of play. Those children and adults who delight in entertaining themselves with engaging activities. That’s what play is. Younger and older citizens having fun together forms bonds that enrich everyone involved. Opportunities abound. Take a walk. Share stories, Read a favorite book aloud. Create something. Play a board game, preferably a non-competitive one. Or go on a treasure hunt while sitting together on the sofa.

Cooperative Games Foster Teamwork

Cooperative games require players to work together toward a common goal. By putting aside competition and working cooperatively,   everyone comes away with positive feelings. Non-readers and readers. Preschoolers and high schoolers. Parents and grandparents can enjoy playing a game together. Team work leads everyone to success. Moreover no one leaves the game gloating or feeling like a loser. 

Megana Hosein, a mother of four, is enthusiastic about the value of cooperative board games. She “loves how board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. I am always amazed to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game. This taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore my children can easily make new friends over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules. And simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.” Consider cooperative games for those times when kids of different ages and  abilities as well as kids and adults want to play together.

Thwart Stink Bugs

Ever thought about hiding bugs under a rug before stink bugs show up and stink up the place? That’s the  challenges players face with Snug As A Bug in A Rug. One of more than two dozen fun-for-all-to-play cooperative games by Peaceable Kingdom.

With three levels of play, these skills-building games grow as players become more proficient. Create a team to solve these problems. Two players will do, but there’s room for more. Designed to be played in 15 minutes, these games offer a quick solution to the challenge of keeping the peace before and after Thanksgiving dinner.

Search for Treasure

Find It games, theme-based treasure hunts in sealed clear cylinders, also invite intergenerational searches.  Moreover these Contained Adventures offer both cooperative and competitive ways to play. Imagine more than 40 tiny objects hidden among brightly colored plastic pellets. Color coordinated plastic caps seal the tube. The top one lists all the objects hidden inside. In addition, a tear-off pad helps players keep track of found objects. What’s more, every game contains an elusive hidden penny.  Whether Original or  Kids.  Or the specific interest At the Beach and Glitz and Glamour, a shiny penny awaits discovery.

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Might Hospitalized Adults Benefit From Practices Advocated by Child Life?

baby with stethoscope and teddy bear
Making Hospital Less Traumatic for Children
I’ve written about the ways child life specialists make being in hospital less traumatic for children and their parents: advocating for positions of comfort, educating patients in age appropriate ways, providing distraction during procedures and opportunities for children to engage in activities that encourage self-expression. Play is essential to a sense of well being. Amidst the chaos of hospitalization, play gives children a normalizing experience. While playing, children are in charge, an important respite from having little control over what’s happening in their lives.
 Well Documented Benefits
All these practices reduce stress, enhance coping skills, and help patients manage pain. With preparation and distraction, procedures require less sedation thus reducing the risks of side effects. Patients recover faster, readmissions decline, and both children and their parents report increased satisfaction with the hospital experience. The benefits are so well documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for child life services.
Adults Struggle Too
Granted adults aren’t children, but illness and injury leading to hospitalization are discombobulating at best. Even the best educated, well informed, well adjusted among us can easily become overwhelmed by all that’s happening. We know we need to “get a grip.” We have questions and need easy to understand answers. We need time to process all that’s happening, figure out ways to cope, relieve our distress, and manage our pain.
Patient-Focused Care for All
 Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article online entitled “Why Hospitals Should Treat Adults Like Children.” Or to be more precise, how making adult hospitals more like children’s hospitals reduces anxiety and readmissions. This insightful article is a must read for everyone interested in patient-focused health care.
 Less Stress, Better Outcomes

The author, Lisa Ward, interviewed Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of “Balloon Animals, Guitars, and Fewer Blood Draws: Applying Strategies From Pediatrics to the Treatment of Hospitalized Adults,” which appeared in Annals of Internal Medicine, 19 May 2015.

Anyone who has ever been in hospital recalls being awakened every couple of hours for medical interventions, whether checking vital signs, drawing blood, or giving medicine. In neonatal intensive care units, best practice prescribes grouping interventions to minimize sleep disruptions. That’s a practice we all can appreciate and one example of how “treating adults like children” could make hospital stays less stressful.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Children Learn While Playing

Girl with green hoodie and bubbles

Play is essential. Children learn while playing, and we adults do irreparable damage to children when we ignore this truth. By play, I mean self-directed, open-ended exploration and discovery. When playing, children use of what’s available, decide what they want to do, and put their energy into doing it. When a challenge arises, they assess the situation, re-think possibilities, and go from there. During play they develop creativity, problem solving, and executive planning skills. Playing with others, they learn vital social skills: how to articulate their ideas, to listen to others, cooperate, compromise, respect.

PlayopolisToys has pinned article after article to our Pinterest board Children Learn While Playing offering research demonstrating the value of play and lamenting its decline. Among these pins is a reprint of a speech by child development specialist Nancy Carlson-Paige, the author of Taking Back Childhood. An educator with 30 + years experience teaching teachers, she sums up her dismay over current practices that leave children little time to experience the benefits of unstructured, “free play”  by saying, “…never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.” Yet we do.

In “How “twisted” early childhood education has become – from a child development expert,” Valerie Strauss, writing in The Washington Post, reprints the speech Carlson-Paige gave when accepting the prestigious Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. Read what she had to say. If you’re a proponent, your passion for play will be validated.  If you’ve never given much thought to the issue, you’ll find plenty to think about.

Then settle in and find out what children learn from traditional open-ended play with blocks and bubbles, puzzles and play dough, and so much more.

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Cooperative Games

Now is the time to explore ways for everyone to enjoy spending time together while schools are closed for the holidays. Fewer hours of daylight and dropping temperatures force us indoors where we’re all too likely to retreat into the digital world. Engaging in a shared activity hones our social skills, enhances our sense of connectedness, and builds memories. What can be challenging is finding something that children and adults enjoy doing together.

Cooking and crafts are easily adaptable so that all ages can participate together. Putting together puzzles and playing a board game are other options. Cooperative games level the playing field as everyone works together to achieve a common goal. From preschoolers to centenarians, all players “put their heads together” to solve a problem and come away with positive feelings. Everyone wins. No one leaves the game gloating or sulking, negative feelings that would surely cast a dark cloud over winners, losers, and everyone else in the house.

Megana Hosein, a mother of four, is an enthusiastic proponent of the value of cooperative board games. She writes, “I love how cooperative board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. It always amazes me to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game, and how this taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore, new friends can easily be made over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and with adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules and simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.

Cooperative board games are an ideal alternative to digital devices. Social engagement and sharing a pleasurable, interactive activity benefit everyone, young and old alike. What better time than the holidays to make memories by playing games?

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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How to Make Coloring Inclusive

Children build skills while playing. Think cause and effect, eye-hand coordination, fine and gross motor, cognitive, language, problem solving, social and more. PlayopolisToys sells toys that engage the senses and invite open-ended, child directed play.

Children learn while playing, each at his or her own pace. They explore what’s at hand, whether a puddle of muddy water after a rain or blocks. They devise, execute, assess, and adapt their plans based upon their experiences. When playing with others, children sharpen their social skills, learn to communicate, negotiate, and cooperate.

Because play builds bridges among children with diverse abilities, PlayopolisToys sells toys that appeal to and work well for a wide range of abilities and preferences. Inclusive play reduces social isolation among children with disabilities and raises awareness and acceptance of individual differences.

A classic childhood activity for enhancing fine motor skills is coloring. Raised line drawings for coloringColorSENSEation features 12 raised line drawings perfect for use with crayons, markers, watercolor, or tempera paints. Each spiral-bound book includes the printed word and Braille for each design, along with a plastic page protector. Raised lines enhance spatial awareness and give structure. Beneficial to both children and adults, ColorSensation develops eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, language, color concept, and spatial awareness skills, provides visual and tactile stimulation, and enhances social engagement. Ideal for the visually-impaired, these spiral bound coloring books benefit anyone working to develop fine motor control or who simply learns best through touch. With ColorSENSEation coloring becomes inclusive and meaningful for a wider audience.


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Making Music – Rhythm Instruments for Young Children

We know how quickly music gets children moving, grooving, and skill building. Percussive rhythm band instruments invite kids to explore different ways to make music. In the process, they hone fine and gross motor,  auditory discrimination, and social skills. All while having fun.

large box drum for hand drumming


Rhythm Box II is an adaptation of a Peruvian cajón box-a drum designed for sitting on the top and drumming on the front with both hands. Rhythm Box II rewards experimenting with sound. Attached to the inside of the front panel is a section of wire mesh that alters the sounds made by drumming.





Plastic maracas for small hands




Egg Shakers and Mini Maracas are our two most popular shakers. Latin Percussion makes the best weighted and best sounding shakers. The eggs are easy to grasp and shake, and their Mini Maracas, called Chickitas, are perfectly sized for little hands and properly weighted for crisp tone.





Tambourine shaking improves wrist rotation

Available open or with a head, tambourines jingle too. Those who like to hold a tambourine around the rim, slip it over their wrist, or shake it against their legs need an open tambourine. Those valuing versatility choose a tambourine with a drum head. That way they have a choice: shake, shake, shake, or drum the head with fingers or open palm.





Percussion instrument for making sound of thunder




Thunder Tube issues an irresistible invitation to explore sound. Create the sound of rolling thunder and other wild and wacky sound effects. No batteries required. The sound is all in how you move your wrist.





 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Making Music

Making music is a universal activity easily adept at building bridges among people of diverse cultures, ages, and abilities. As a solitary pursuit or a group activity, whether we’re listening or performing, music enriches our lives through its power to engage, relax, energize, and improve our intellectual, motor, and social skills.

Some music relaxes our bodies and soothes our minds. Other music gets us moving: clapping our hands, tapping our toes, dancing. We find ourselves humming a tune or singing along. Thoroughly engaged and enjoying ourselves, we’re improving our motor skills and developing spatial intelligence. While sharing a musical experience with others, we’re honing social skills too.

Rhythm instruments introduce young children to the joys of making music. Latin Percussion, creator of quality percussion instruments for professionals and amateurs, adults and children, divides percussive instruments into four categories: drums, shakers, blocks and wood tones, and bells, jingles and whistles.

*Drums create rhythmic melodies.

*Shakers articulate melodic rhythms and add shimmering, buzzing sound quality to the music.

*Blocks and wood tones create the fundamental pulse of the music, indicating meter, stress, and feel. These tap, tick, and clap sounds have been likened to a heartbeat.

*Bells, jingles, and whistles are leading tones that add punctuation to a musical piece.

Quality rhythm instruments are well constructed, sturdy and produce clear, true tones. Children develop auditory discrimination as they explore sound through hearing and making music. Through exposure to different styles of music and different instruments, children develop musical and cultural awareness and appreciation.


PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Why Open-ended Play?

Consider open-ended pretend play. When a girl dresses up as a princess, she creates her own story. She may combine elements from other costumes that appeal to her and create a unique identity. Add a toque, and she’s a princess chef. Or is that a chef princess? She also may pretend to be a character from a movie she’s seen, but she’s not operating exclusively as that character or from that point of view.

On the other hand, when she wears a licensed princess dress, she’s assuming a role and following a “script” as she plays. The character may be admirable, but in adopting a persona, the child misses an opportunity to create her own. Scripted play imitates. Open-ended play imagines and creates.

Self directed engagement with toys designed for open-ended play enriches and expands possibilities, opening avenues not previously considered. And develops creative, self directed, curious-to-know-more learners. Creativity enables us to look at situations differently, to think outside the box and find solutions to problems.

Classic among open-ended toys are blocks, in all their innumerable forms. Quintessential, simple, and irresistible, wooden blocks invite play.
While playing children develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, cognitive, language, and when playing with others, social skills. They sharpen spatial awareness and creativity and learn about balance, gravity and symmetry. All without instructions.

Initially such freedom can be discombobulating, for children and adults alike. The best response is to do what feels best, from standing back, observing, and pondering before engaging to jumping right in. Both approaches have their advocates. What’s imperative is engaging, losing ourselves in the process of discovering what works and what doesn’t, and dividing solutions to problems that arise.

Recently an assembly of marketing students was asked, “What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says play?” The unanimous response was “FUN.” Play is both fun and fundamental to learning. The more we engage in activities that both delight and challenge us, the greater our satisfaction.

wooden curve building blocks


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Emotional Intelligence

From birth some children are easy going and easily soothed. Others arrive “kicking and screaming,” seemingly demanding we address their needs posthaste. Whatever their dispositions, infants are dependent on adults for nurturance. When someone responds consistently and lovingly to his/her cues, the infant learns that needs will be met and feelings respected. This creates attachment and builds trust, both essential elements in emotional well-being. Sadly many infants are not consistently nurtured, a situation that makes developing healthy relationships with others challenging.

And many well nurtured children have disorders that make social interaction difficult. Those with autism spectrum disorders have to learn social skills that come more naturally to others. Making eye contact, learning to interpret facial expressions and body language, and participating in a conversation are challenging and require patient, consistent encouragement from family and friends.

Role playing social situations helps build social skills; stories and games can too.

Eggspressions combines a storybook and six expressive wooden eggs to create a role-playing activity that helps children identify six basic feelings, communicate effectively, and collectively solve a problem. By sharing their feelings and working together, players figure out a happy solution to a challenge.


 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play