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A child’s imagination has no limits – so when my four year old daughter chose to dress up as The Mixed-Up Chameleon for book week, we were faced with the realization that we were going to have to put this costume together ourselves. Some of the pieces were already in the dress up box (hooray), but we were going to need to use our imaginations for much of it – an elephant’s trunk, a fish’s fin, a seal’s flippers, a turtle’s shell and more.

I challenged my daughter to think of ways we could ‘recycle’ and ‘revamp’ things that we already have in the house to create the chameleon’s missing features.

After I suggested covering her dinosaur tail in red fur for the fox’s tail, she was off finding things around the house to paint, cover and reuse. At that moment, I realized that this was the best kind of game – good old-fashioned dress ups combined with arts and crafts, all while problem solving and using her imagination!

Studies have shown that kids learn best at play – which you may have already found in our articles – learning should be fun and child’s play for learning.
So we’ve compiled a list of 5 smart ways to be creative with kids – most of which you are probably already doing at home with your child, but you might get a few more ideas to revive some of the existing activities!

1. Paint a Pattern

Combine painting with a preschool-math lesson! Draw a grid or table on a piece of paper (a few vertical lines and a few horizontal lines). Then ask your child to paint inside each box a different color, with an overall pattern in mind. For example, they could paint every second box (or row or column) in one color and another color for the rest.
For a little more complexity you could paint the centre box one color, then paint the outside boxes that have a common side with the first box in a new color and so on. Then look out for patterns in the final product.

Hint: You could number the boxes and assign a color to each number

Here are some more ideas for pattern activities.

2. Water Baby

Another smart way to be creative with kids is in the bath or outside (weather permitting). Stock your child with water and buckets and cups of various shapes and sizes and discuss with your child how one unit of water appears to be more or less depending on the size and shape of the vessel.

Ideas:

• Pierce holes in the bottom of a styrafoam or plastic cup and fill the cup with water.
• If you can spare a sieve or a funnel from the kitchen, this will provide loads of entertainment.
• Fill a recycled cleaned bottle with water and add a few teaspoons of glitter. Your child will be mesmerized watching the water currents in the bottle.
• 3. Color a Flag

Using our flags worksheets, draw the outline of a particular flag and ask your child to color it in – using paint, pencils, crayons – whatever your situation permits! This will give your child a hands-on opportunity to get familiar with the flags of the world. You might want to start with the flag of your own country, or family’s heritage to give the activity relevance.

You can get your child more familiar with other flags of the world! Go to Flag Song from 5 Smart Ways to be Creative With Kids

4. Model and Make

As well as developing fine motor skills, playing with play-doh or modelling clay gives your child the chance to use their imagination and be in control.

With their own utensils and materials, this is your creative kid’s opportunity to take charge of ‘the kitchen’ as they prepare dinner and whip up a lovely play-doh pancake or pie for you. Or they might create a jungle for their toy animals, or a house for their toys. Whatever they decide to do, they will surprise you.

You might suggest that your child make a face for you – is it a happy face or a sad face? Discuss what features on the face make it happy or sad.

If you want to slip in a small math lesson, ask your child roll or shape ‘beans’ or ‘coins’ to play shops! Use this new found currency to get your child to count out – you can make it as easy or difficult as you like!

5. Keep and Recycle

Hold onto the next egg carton or cereal box and let your child’s imagination run wild. ‘What can you make with this?’ ‘What is bumpy and knobbly?’ What will you be making today? A crocodile? A caterpillar? A mail box?
You might need to get your craft box out for this one – scissors, glue, colored paper, plastic eyes and pipecleaners are some basic essentials.

Challenge your creative kid to use only things they can find around the house or outside (you might need to veto some items!). Recycling is also a good way to show your child how to become more environmentally aware.

Summary

There are always clever ways to slip seemingly studious activities into your child’s play time, but rest assured – as long as your child is discovering, using their imagination and even getting their hands dirty, in one way or another they are learning.

And although we might be a little less ambitious with book week next year, I’m sure there will be only one mixed up chameleon at our preschool next week, proudly beaming “I did it myself”.

Here are some more ideas for learning-based play activities around the home:
Preschool Math – Weighing and Measuring

Shapes – Games and Activities

Educational Toys and Activities as reviewed by Guru Parents