Kathy: Hello everyone. Today, we are finishing our series with retired child psychologist, Dr. Connie Eslinger, about the importance of fostering creativity in our children. Welcome back for part five of our chat Connie.
Connie: Thank you for having me, Kathy.
Kathy: Today, we are discussing some ways to foster creativity through open-ended outdoor play spaces.
Now, for those of us who love nature walks, Charlotte Mason, and the 1000 hours outdoors craze, this may sound old hat, but I think all of us are going to leave today with some new ideas for playing outdoors. So Connie, why is outdoor plays so important?
Importance of Outdoor Play
Connie: Most of you would agree that you want your kids to be physically healthy, well-rounded independent, compassionate. So what have I told you that one of the best ways to instill these qualities in your children is to inspire them to spend more time outside. In fact, children need time outside preferably every day and encouraging them to spend more time outside really has so many benefits.
It promotes good physical and mental, and better sleep. It also promotes your child’s imagination, creativity, problem solving skills. It really helps to develop confidence and curiosity, even patience and resilience. And these skills are important, not just in early childhood, but on into adulthood.
Kathy: That’s so true. So how can we, as parents, foster this creativity in outdoor play.
Fostering Creativity in Outdoor Play
Connie: Setting up an environment outdoors that will stimulate creative play. It’s really simple. You don’t need a big budget. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. All you need is a little thinking outside the box to just create some play areas that have access to open-ended materials that your children can move around and rearrange in a lot of different ways.
In fact, research has shown that children are more likely to engage and enjoy outdoor play if they have an environment that’s flexible and where materials are open-ended and can be used in multiple ways.
Kathy: Okay. So when I’m thinking of outdoor creative play, I’m thinking of, well, for one example, my daughters one day decided they wanted to have a fire pit. So they went and they gathered all the little rocks they could find around the yard, and they made a circle and then they gathered all the twigs they could find. And they put them inside the little stones they made, and then they got real creative cause they found some big sticks and a couple that were in the shape of a Y and they actually made a little spit that goes over the fire pit.
And this was all from stuff that they found around the yard. But what are some open-ended materials for outdoor play areas?
Open Ended Materials for Outdoor Play
Connie: You’ve already mentioned a lot that you can just access outside in your backyard. Keep in mind open-ended materials don’t have any set, purpose or goal. There’s no right or wrong way. They, they can be used. Or they can be combined with other materials, but, as you mentioned, the best place to start is to look around your home for open-ended materials. You can look inside your house. Things like plastic bottles, a wooden spoons bowls, saucepans, muffin tins, baskets, all these things are great for using outdoors for open-ended play.
And some other household might items you might not think about are old fabric, maybe old sheets or pillow cases even drop cloths from your garage. These items will help to inspire open-ended play outdoors.
And of course don’t forget things like string and rope to encourage open-ended play. And remember what we talked about last week, that box of loose parts you collected for playing inside– take them outside. They can easily be combined with other open-ended materials, as you mentioned, Kathy, don’t forget collect natural, loose parts outside in your backyard. The things like pine cones and acorns and seeds and sticks and stones all around your home.
This is really important. I want you to keep in mind that open-ended outdoor play provides the opportunity to use things on a really big scale. So, if you have space, think about adding somethings like wooden boxes or plastic crates. Used tires are great, especially if you can get them in different sizes. Even think about adding logs and wooden planks and getting some used pipes and tubes. And don’t forget about things like shovels and buckets from your garage. These are all things that you can add to your outdoor play areas.
Kathy: We talked last time about the book Roxaboxen and how this group of kids created an outdoor play space based on the junk they found in their neighborhood with tires and rocks and old wooden boxes and things like that.
And my girls have so much fun pretending to make little towns around the backyard, based on that. They also really like things from the kitchen that sometimes I was going to give them away. And then they were like, oh, I want to use this in the backyard, and the sandbox, and the sifter, like a, like a strainer. They love strainers and spoons. So there’s always great. What are some other ways that we can get started using open-ended materials outdoors?
How to Get Started
Connie: You’ve already mentioned one. And that is if you have a sandbox or maybe a dirt digging area, that’s a great place to get started. Think about some open-ended materials that you could add to just encourage creative exploration.
Of course, there’s always those outside materials. Like I mentioned earlier, pine cones and pebbles and shells. You can add things like flags, fabric flowers, bring your building blocks outside. Think about adding things like straws and pipe cleaners, and funnels. And if you don’t have a sandbox or a dirt digging area, you can always just create opportunities for open-ended play by filling a few tubs or buckets with some sand and dirt.
And, you know this already, water play is a great activity to encourage creative thinking during outdoor play. I’m sure your kids love playing with water, but I want to challenge you to think of some different ways you can encourage your kids to use water. Think about some of the materials you just mentioned earlier, Kathy, adding funnels or sieves or pieces of plastic tubing.
Think about adding some colored craft foam, maybe even some driftwood or shells, even rocks. And of course, one of the favorite things kids love are those colored glass gems. One of my favorite things to do to encourage open-ended outdoor play is adding water to your sand or your dirt digging areas. So, let me just share a few ideas to kind of get you started.
If you have access to some wooden logs or planks, or even tubes, you can add them along with some cars and trucks or other vehicles and encourage your children to build waterways and roadways. You can gather some leaves and sticks and stones and some plastic animals to encourage your kids to create animal home.
But one of my favorite activities is mud play. There are so many things kids can do with mud beyond just making mud pies. You can find simple recipes online for creating your own mud paint. In various colors, or you can even create magic mud using baking soda and vinegar along with colored Tempera. But, if you don’t have a large outdoor space and all you have is a very small space, you can always create an outdoor loose parts area.
You can have your children help you search for some smaller ideas, smaller materials inside and outside your house. And then, be sure to watch your children playing outside with loose parts because as they begin to use their loose parts and their open-ended materials outside, you’ll gain some ideas of other things that you can add.
Kathy: That’s great. And for those that are in apartments or places where they don’t have backyards, don’t forget, you’ve got parks that you can go to. And there’s a couple of parks in our particular neighborhood that have streams in them. And it is so fun to go play in the streams. The girls look forward to the times that we go for nature walks over in those areas.
One time they gathered up sticks and bark, and they made their own boats to float down the stream to see who’s would win. Another time they had fun playing Pooh sticks. If you’ve ever watched Winnie the Pooh and everybody got a stick and they stood on the bridge, and they tossed their sticks over to see whose was going to go underneath the bridge first.
So there’s lots of simple ways to do outdoor play whether you have a yard or not. And sometimes going to those places outside of your yard is whenever they seem to get even more creative. So what are some other considerations for outdoor play with open-ended materials?
Connie: My advice is if this is new to you, start small. Just make a few changes, add a few things at a time, make a wishlist.
And think about ways you can obtain some of those materials, whether it’s inside your house, your yard, a visit to a park, a recycling center, maybe, or go to garage sales, ask your family members and your friends. And don’t forget about tree cutting services. Next, be sure to give your children plenty of time to explore creative play with open it and materials outdoors.
We get so busy in our lives, in our culture today that we kind of forget some times about letting our kids have plenty of time outside. But research has shown that as kids have extended time outside to play with materials, especially open-ended materials, their play becomes more complex, more detailed, more involved as they just use them and combine them in new and different ways. Something you might not have thought about is storage with loose parts. So you may want to think about that and have a selection of storage items in perhaps different sizes, maybe just baskets or wooden boxes or plastic containers of some kind or even plastic trash cans.
And finally, this is a hard one for many parents. I want you to keep in mind that open-ended outdoor play may mean more mess, but more mess also means more fun.
Kathy: Absolutely more fun. And you know, one of the things I would think about whenever I think of gathering my materials a lot of times at Christmas time, parents may buy like something to read, something to wear, and something that kids really want for fun. And I always add that list something they can do out doors. So one year we got them swings. One year we got them scooters. But we always try to think, I mean, simple things like bubbles, things that they can do outdoors. And so as you think ahead to Christmas, go ahead and start thinking. Maybe it’s just again, getting a box and getting some fun things you can take out doors to play with this next year.
Thank you so much, Connie, for joining us for this five-part series, it has been a joy chatting with you about all these ways to foster creativity.
Outdoor Play and the Preschool Years
Just a reminder, if you are planning to homeschool your preschooler next year, I encourage you to check out my Encompass Preschool Curriculum. It is one fat notebook filled with everything you need to teach preschool booklists, reinforcement worksheets, and lots of enrichment activity ideas like some of the ones we talked about today, and you can find it in my store on cornerstone confessions.com or on Amazon. Next week, we kick things back into full gear for fall and begin talking about one of my favorite history curriculums that is appropriate for nearly every age– the Mystery of History. So if you are still on the fence about what to choose for history this fall, or if you’re looking at ideas for the future, this is one episode you won’t want to miss. See you then.