Eesh, I promised these yesterday but here in Nebraska we've had 2 days of unseasonably hot days (um, over 100 degrees about 2 months early) and no AC unit in our house...needless to say the most I got done was sweating 5 lbs off laying on the couch. But now the weather has turned, the AC units are (mostly) working, and I have an appetite again. Yeah. I'm kind of a baby in the humid Nebraska heat but I really wanted to write this for you, so here I am.
Last week I gave a few tips on quality toys using the 'less is more' idea. Today I'm sharing the 5 top 'imagination' toys I can think of that are 1) easy to come by 2) easy to store and 3) give hours of entertainment and heaps of imagination:
DRESS UP CLOTHES are some of the most entertaining 'toys' your children will ever have. We use an wooden crate to store our dress up clothes (hats, masks, scarves, necklaces, etc.) though it's getting overflowing. I love this idea of a dress up hanger for it, though it would take up more room. Dress up clothes can be things you find cheaply at garage sales, good-wills, free bins and $1 sections of big stores...just make sure if you bought them used you WASH them first. Don't buy clothes that have holes, stains, or smells, obviously, but you can really get a good stash of things from estate sales (hello jewelry!) and your own 'donate' pile you're about to give away! Also ask grandparents or family members to go through their items storing in their basement and if they're willing to lend them out--grab them! My kids have received so many fun hats this way, as generations ago a lot of people were wearing them on a regular basis. Scarves are a must. Scarves can be ANYTHING! Even remnants from the fabric 'cheap' section can double as a 'scarf'.
Another thing we wouldn't be without in our household are ART SUPPLIES. We have many, many supplies on hand at all time, and sadly I don't think we use them enough. My kids love to paint, color, glue, cut, paste, stick, etc. and sometimes the mess just gets in the way. I know, though, that encouraging their creativity now will only help them later in life when we develop this , "I'm not good enough at art" perspective...where does that even come from any way? Get big rolls of white paper from a local print company who recycles or throws out the last of the rolls (still a good 30 lbs of paper!) as it's unusable on their machines! Just ask around. Some of our favorite art supplies are Stockmar block crayons (somewhat pricey compared to regular crayons you can get at the grocery store, but worth the money for little hands), butcher paper, notebooks, yarn, water color paints, freezer paper and ink, fabric, clay, and play doh. Home-made play doh recipe here and these fun crayons have been very used in our house hold.
Next comes NATURAL, WOODEN BLOCKS on our list of 'imaginative toys', simply because they are the ultimate toy for creating structures. My kids have been playing with blocks since they were about 6 months old and they could pick one up and put it in their mouths. I say wooden and natural (no paint) because of lead-based paint and quite frankly, they're nicer to look at. Plus they last forever. I fully intend to be playing with my own grandchildren with the same set of blocks, and hopefully their children too! We have two separate types of blocks (one was a gift) but we love them both for different reasons. This set from Melissa & Doug is a 'structure' set, which just means it has things like columns, arches, etc. along with basic square blocks for building things that more resemble architecture rather than a jenga game. We also have a bag of wooden cube blocks (Target, maybe?) that have different pictures, numbers, letters, and colors on them. They are great for sorting games, matching, story-making, and they even have the math symbols on them for later in school! Although a set like the Melissa & Doug can look pricey up front (we also got ours 40% off in a closing-out deal), they are well worth the money and can be anything your little one comes up with.
No, that wasn't a joke. BOOKS are highly imaginative and can be used for creating games, taking your child to another place and time, provide an excellent leisure activity and children who read can literally figure out how to do anything! I have always been very passionate about children's literature, and my own mother did a great job instilling a love of learning and reading in me at a very young age. She almost never bought me 'toys' but wouldn't refuse if I wanted to buy a book :) I have kept many of my own books from my childhood that my children are now enjoying and we are avid library supporters! I highly encourage you to read to your children at least once a day. Just focusing 15 minutes on them with a story will connect both parent and child, help your child learn to read (studies show reading to children is the #1 way to help your child excel in his/her reading**), and enjoy a form of art and creativity together! Here is a great list to start from (DON'T get overwhelmed!) to enjoy quality children's literature.
The last 'imaginative toy' is a little bit different than the rest....it's NATURE. Of course there are small ways to capture nature in your home, but most of nature is OUTSIDE and the opportunities for play, imagination, study, and connection are limitless right outside your back door. I am a big advocate in getting kids outside every day, every season (and yes, I hate humidity and heat, but I go outside any way!). Kids love to fling sticks into water, draw in the sand or gravel, upturn big rocks, climb up and slide down, get muddy and squeeze it between their fingers, bake 'pies'...and the list goes on and on. Their imagination and senses will be on overload and easily a 15 minute 'break' can turn into a 2 hour science experiment. A tromp through the woods can turn into a bird-watching/calling time, and a morning at a local sand box can be a free discovery of how things work! Take them outside, connect them with nature, and see their beautiful imaginations blossom.
**See John Holt's book, "How Children Learn"