Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas Series Part 2: Cultivating Creativity

It's that time of the year when the kids are making their wish lists for Christmas and we find ourselves busy shopping for them and coming up with ideas for others.  As my kids get older (and we have more of them!), I have found that there are only so many toys we can really have.  Most of the time they think something looks like fun, but play with it very little a month or two down the road.  While we do our best to fulfill as many of those wish list items as our budget can handle, I like to add to it as well.

As I've mentioned before, I love to provide props and materials for the kids to use their imaginations.  This can be dress-up, imaginative play schemes, or art projects.  (As I sit here typing, my oldest son is dressed as a Bulls player playing a basketball game downstairs, the Princess is a ballerina dancing so beautifully, and the little guy is Snow White complete with Minnie Mouse ears!).  Today I thought I'd touch on these areas, list our favorites, and give you some ideas for creating a space to spark those imaginations!

We have quite the dress-up collection.  For a few years, we asked for Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes for my oldest son's birthday and Christmas.  They have held up beautifully and all of the kids can enjoy them.  We have no gender stereotypes in this house!  We have the police officer, train conductor, pirate, chef, and train conductor all of which have had plenty of use.  Once our little Princess came along, we bought some of the Disney princess dresses and some heels and crowns to accessorize.  Clearance Halloween costumes are always great to add to the collection inexpensively.  Given that our oldest son is a sports fanatic, we also have various athletic team jerseys, uniforms, and helmets so he can elaborate on his ideas.

A kitchen and props are a must-have in my opinion.  We bought a simple plastic kitchen set when our oldest was almost two.  That year we also received a small table with a few chairs, some dishes, and basic play food sets.  Over the years, we have acquired the Melissa and Doug cupcake and cookie sets, some vegetables that velcro together to be "cut," a breakfast, pizza, ice cream, and picnic set, as well as a cute mixer that has batteries, cash register, and microwave.  We have plenty of utensils and I have added a waitress apron and some paper scraps for writing down orders.  A grocery cart is a great way to turn your kitchen into a grocery store and you can add some cleaning supplies (a broom, duster, vacuum, and handhold broom) to allow for some housekeeping.

I also think it's important to have a building area and vehicles so the kids can make a city.  A basic set of wooden blocks are great and if you have the space the cardboard blocks are awesome, too.  You can find inexpensive car rugs that they can drive their vehicles on.  We also have a train set, wooden buildings, and a little car town that have given us hours of entertainment.  Provide some Matchbox cars, some construction vehicles, and trains and your kids can go to town, literally!

Last year our daughter's big gift was the Melissa and Doug wooden castle.  It is very durable and we bought some Disney princesses, furniture, and horses to go along with it.  Having a house and/or farm set also brings out their imaginations.  We just have the basic Fisher Price house and farm that provide enough of a setting for them to create their own scenarios.  Keep a bin of people and animals nearby to make it simple for them to engage in these activities.

Finally, creating an arts and crafts center is a must and these things make inexpensive gifts!  Now that we have more space, our newest project is to create a larger space for them to work.  We plan to buy a kids rectangular table and some chairs so they can spread out and have fun.  Stocking your area is the fun part!  You'll want to provide some basics:  crayons, washable markers, watercolor paints, glue sticks, child-safe scissors (yes, let them work with these!), construction and drawing paper, coloring books, watercolor painting books, and play dough and tools for creating like cookie cutters, rollers, and plastic knives.

There are endless supplies you can add to the basics.  If you have space, an easel is great not only for painting, but for drawing as well.  Pick up some brushes and washable paint, add a smock or old shirt and let them have some fun!  A craft center can have an endless supply of materials for projects.  Here are some of my favorite things to have on hand:  google eyes, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, paper bags, paper plates, cotton balls, poms, foam shapes or plain foam, stencils, popsicle sticks, feathers, felt, magazines, construction paper scraps, stickers, contact paper, and if you dare, glitter (or glitter glue).  I also have a glue gun, scissors with different edges, and velcro on hand just in case.  If you have a little space, you can keep some items like toilet paper or paper towel tubes, kleenex boxes, and paper shred on hand, too, for creating.

To organize your supplies, purchase a some plastic shoe boxes with lids to put those items in that you don't want accessible to the kiddos.  You may need a deeper one with a lid to store paint and play dough.  You can find a cabinet that closes with a shelf inside to store many of your supplies.  If your kids are young or you don't want them in there, you can put a child-proof lock on it to keep them out!  In our new space, I plan to have many supplies readily accessible.  I would like to buy plastic letter trays to put construction and drawing paper in.  We have our markers in an old oatmeal container that we cut down and decorated and frosting containers make great crayon holders.  I would like to add a shelf to store the play dough, paints, and craft supplies so that everything is in one place, but I can regulate the use of those messier materials.  I also plan to paint a 2X4 and add some clothes pins to hang their masterpieces or you can hang some string and use clothespins to showcase their work as well.

These activities are a lifesaver during those cold winter months when we spend a lot of time indoors.  You can find many ideas for simple craft activities online, but let your kids take the lead sometime by setting out some materials and let them go to work!                

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