Being a grandmother brings back memories of time spent with my own sons when they were preschoolers. Then, as now, time was more plentiful than money. Being forced to be creative in our playtime was a good thing.
Expensive toys often spend the largest part of their time lying in the toybox or closet. Have you ever wondered why they are not being used? If you rotate their toys, you may notice that your children play with the toys brought out of storage for a little while, but after the novelty wears off, it must then be put up again or even given away.
A lot of toys do not hold the interest of a small child. Many toys wind up and do their own thing while the child just sits by and watches. The poor youngster doesn’t even feel needed. The learning processes are developed in a child only when he is able to use his own creativity or imagination.
Children love to work with their hands. Give a child time to play in a sandpile with old margarine tubs, kitchen utensils (sifters, spoons, etc.) and he can create anything – forts, farms, trains, churches, or just plain mud pies.
When my children were small, unless we had to go somewhere, I didn’t worry about them getting dirty. They loved it. In fact, on nice warm days, they could water the dirt and have extra fun with mud. This kind of dirt play is not only enjoyable for children, it also develops small muscle coordination and their imagination. Playing outside makes them more aware of all the good things God has created for them to enjoy.
Just as children love to play in dirt and sand, they enjoy play dough or clay. I found homemade play dough lasted much longer than the purchased kind. Cookie cutters and plastic items from the kitchen are great things to use with play dough.
Children love to create something of their own and the more they do this, the better image they have of themselves. So one of the keys in their creative playtime is to let them do it -it will certainly be original and that is what they want. When a child is old enough to know not to eat glue, they can even create their own books and puzzles. With a little supervision, they can make something they can be proud of. Let them cut pictures out of old magazines (or these can be precut if they don’t handle scissors well yet) and they can paste them onto sheets of cardboard that have holes punched in them. Let them dictate to you how each page should read and you can write the caption underneath the picture. Help them put it together with pieces of yarn and suddenly you have a young author in your home.
The same thing can be done with puzzles. A picture pasted on a large piece of cardboard cut into big pieces can create a lot of pleasure for your child, especially if the picture is of something familiar. You can even make a frame for the puzzle from another, larger piece of cardboard and trace off where the puzzle pieces go.
When my children were crawlers and toddlers, I installed childproof openers on the cabinets I didn’t want them getting into and put all plastics and tin utensils in the remaining cabinets. While I worked in the kitchen, they would entertain themselves stacking the plastic bowls, banging tin dishes together and even crawling into the empty cabinet for a hideout. I remember one time in particular when my oldest son was about seven or eight months old, his grandparents, his Dad and I observed as he stacked pots and pans together matching the right lids to the proper pans. He struggled with a drip coffee pot until he got all the parts together again the right way which took him a good ten minutes. During all this time, he was concentrating so hard that he didn’t even notice that he had an audience!
Furniture boxes make a great play house. Placed on the patio or a corner of a child’s room, this could become his private domain. The possibilities are endless – a hideaway, a spaceship, an office like Dad’s, a kitchen, etc. Cut out a door and a window or two and let your child do the rest. If you don’t have any boxes, let them create a hideaway underneath the kitchen table. Spread a large blanket over the table transforming it to whatever their imagination desires.
Camp out in the backyard. I remember when we did that with our young sons. My husband spread a blanket over two lawn chairs and fixed a pallet underneath for the boys. We slept on cots beside them. We had snacks outside that night and even took our portable television outside on the patio. The boys loved it and slept soundly. I still had access to my kitchen and an indoor bathroom.
A lot of throw away items hold charm for a child: old wooden spools, spray can tops, and plastic bottles (not pill bottles), and boxes of all sizes. Uses are limited only to the imagination of the child.
The most important of all is time a parent spends playing with his child. Even though a preschooler needs the companionship of children his age, no one can take the place of one of his parents. This stage does not last forever, so take advantage of it as long as possible. There will soon be a time when your child will not be as interested in your company as he was as a small child. As these are important formative years, recognize God made the preschooler somewhat possessive of his parents in order to use this golden opportunity to influence that child for good.