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Summer’s here – that means the kids are out of school and ready to play. Depending on the age of your child – from toddlers learning to walk to school-age kids eagerly awaiting their double-digit birthday – constant supervision may be necessary but not always realistic. Kids DIY projects are a great way to get the fun started while staying safe.
Sadly, the days of kids playing outdoors until the streetlights come on are long gone. Now parents struggle with getting the kids off their electronic devices and leave the house at all.
It can be difficult for a parent to come up with creative new ways to play every day, so we came up with some ideas for you. But first, let’s explore the importance of both structured and unstructured playtime for kids.
Why Is Creative Play So Important for Kids?
Creative play is imaginative play that encourages the child’s self-expression and imagination. While creative play is meant to be fun (such as playing make-believe,) it can help develop the child’s manual skills and all their senses as well.
Children, especially toddlers, can’t yet clearly express their feelings or wants and needs. Creative play gives them an outlet for their feelings. It also gives them a place to let their imaginations run wild.
Creative play activities can involve music, dancing, gestures in addition to painting, drawing, blocking building and other activities typically expected from young children.
Toddlers in particular love finger-painting, playdough or simply ripping up paper; any activity where they can use their hands is often their favorite activity. The messier, the better. Before you nip this type of creative play in the bud, keep in mind that it helps children:
- Accept new textures
- Begin to develop motor skills such as holding crayons and other utensils
- Explore ideas that they can’t yet articulate
As a parent, you might be eager to ‘help’ your child finish the activity perfectly (i.e., draw in the lines,) but the finished result isn’t the most important part. Creating something is the important part, even if you can’t tell what exactly your child created.
Creative play encourages your child to grow intellectually, socially and emotionally. They also begin to develop skills that they will use in school. You have all the items your child needs for creative play in your house. Similar to the adage that when you buy a cat a gift and watch them play with the box, children can play happily with the simplest objects.
Paper, paint, crayons and markers are just a few things that may already be in your ‘junk drawer’ that only need your child’s imagination to come to life.
What are the Benefits of Free Play?
There are two types of creative play – structured and unstructured. Structured play is a specific time set aside for play, usually with a time limit. This teaches children how to follow routines and rules. Unstructured play is also known as free play, where the child chooses the when playtime starts and ends, as well as the activities involved.
Children need structure, but too many piano lessons and soccer games can leave a child frustrated and stressed out. Free play gives them the opportunity to release the stress and get lost in their own imagination without a time limit.
Here are some of the benefits children get from free, unstructured play:
- Provides children with an outlet for their feelings and thoughts
- Establishes the building blocks for the child to discover who they are
- Encourages active play that helps reduce child obesity
- Builds imagination and creativity
- Boosts the development of fine motor skills, decision-making skills and gross motor skills
- Encourages independence and independent thinking
- Allows children to begin to learn about leaders, followers and the importance of taking turns or sharing
- Children can discover new interests and talents
Free play can have a positive impact on children's development by challenging them to think and entertain themselves with the objects they’ve been given. Children learn the best with a hands-on, learn as they go approach. Playing dress-up, building a blanket fort or playing a made-up game are just a few things your child might choose to do during unstructured play.
What they shouldn’t be doing is spending excessive amounts of unstructured time in front of the TV or computer screens. Some screen time is okay, but only when structured with set limits. TVs and other electronics have their own role in a child’s development, as long as they are used in moderation.
What to Do When Kids are Bored at Home
“I’m bored” is something every parent hears from their children, especially during the summer break from school. Your first instinct is to find something to entertain your child with electronics or take them somewhere for structured activities. Sure, that may quiet the “I’m bored” mantra for the day, but it's not always possible to pack up & go out for the day.
Why is your child so bored?
- They’re too used to sitting in front of TV or computer screens all day or scrolling on their phones
- They’re used to you planning out all of their activities and free time
- They don’t feel comfortable playing alone
- They crave your attention
With the popularity and over-saturation of electronic devices, many children don’t know how to play in other ways. Physical and mental activities are paramount to a child’s development. Physical activity can help your child stay happy and focused.
Next time your child is bored, instead of the parent coming up with an idea of what to do, give that responsibility to the child. Make a spin wheel of ideas provided by your child and give three spins. The child has to choose from one of those three activities. Or you can write the ideas on slips of paper and let the child choose from a hat.
Ideas could include:
- Build a fort in the living room with blankets
- Write a letter to the Grandparents
- Draw and cut out paper dolls
- Dance to their favorite song
- Walk the dog
- Ride a bike
- Make a kite and fly it
- Paint a picture of the family members
- Tell a story
- Play dress-up or make-believe
- Make sock puppets with spare socks
- Make a collage from family photos or photos from a magazine
- Read a story
- Build a lemonade stand
- Play outdoor games, such as Tag, Mother May I or Simon Says
- Open a pretend store using items in the house
- Build an obstacle course in the living room
- Plant a terrarium in eggshells
- Play board games or card games
- Use chalk to play hopscotch on the driveway
- Play kickball or baseball with the neighborhood kids
- Make a birdhouse
- Give dolls or stuffed animals a tour of the house
- Use clay or playdough
Some of these activities require parental supervision, but it can be much-needed bonding time with your child. If the child is older, you can give them a list of chores to do when they’re bored. Reward them with a fun sticker or age-appropriate prize when they're done.
Fun Indoor DIY Activities for Toddlers
Toddlers have very short attention spans and are always on the move to the next thing that catches their eye. Here are some ideas for indoor play with Toddlers:
Create a train using cardboard boxes. Cats aren’t the only ones who like boxes. Be sure to pain the caboose red!
Toddlers also love getting messy. Putting shaving cream, bubble bath, or bath paint toys in a bathtub is a great way to keep them busy while introducing them to new textures.
Use pasta to create a macaroni necklace or a macaroni painting.
Blanket forts are fun at any age!
Hit a balloon back and forth.
Kids DIY Nature Projects
Nature DIY projects encourage kids to go outside instead of staying cooped up indoors. Not only is the physical activity of an outdoor project good for reducing child obesity, it gives a mental boost, too.
Here are a few ideas of DIY Nature Projects for Kids
Homemade Cacti Terrarium
Kids love to get their hands dirty and this is a parent-approved activity. You’ll need a glass mason jar, small rocks or gravel, potting soil and a small cacti plant.
How to make the terrarium:
- Line the bottom of the mason jar with small rocks or gravel.
- Add a layer of potting soil.
- Dig a small hole for the cacti.
- Use gloves to carefully press the cacti into hole.
- Firmly press soil around cacti.
- Spray with water to keep soil moist.
- Put the lid on and keep the cacti terrarium in a shaded spot that gets some sun.
Cacti can dry out if left in direct sunlight, so check every week to see if the soil needs water.
You can also use eggshells as a flowerpot by following the planting instructions on the seed package.
Paint rocks for your garden
Kids love painting and they love rocks. Combine the two and throw a rock painting party. They can paint anything they want on the rocks. You can use the rocks to line your garden or bring them inside for windowsill decor.
Acrylic paints work best on rocks. The rocks should have a smooth, clear surface. Smaller rocks are harder to paint so make it a game to search for the biggest ones!
Create a diorama using leaves, pinecones and other things in nature
A diorama lets your child use their imagination to recreate a nature experience. Pinecones, leaves, rocks, etc. can all be positioned inside the diorama. Use an empty shoe box and child safe glue to create this masterpiece!
Use tape to create a racetrack in the living room and race cars.
The saying goes “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” but for toddlers, play IS work. They are learning during every waking moment. Free play only strengthens their individuality, motor skills and creativity.
Whether you’re the parent to a toddler or a school-age kid, you’ll likely hear “I’m bored” more than you'd like. Now you have a response ready for the whining – having the child choose an activity from a hat or spin a wheel. Parenting is hard, but it can also be a lot of fun if you engage your child in activities without the pressure of overly-structured play that feels more like errands.