Loads of playful ideas
Here’s a bank of lots of easy play ideas to make life more playful:
Sticks and Arrows
Use sticks and other found objects to make arrows for someone else to follow.
Perhaps they lead to treasure, or another surprise…
Make a fist with each hand. On one hand, stretch out your thumb. On the other hand, stretch out your pinkie (little finger). Now swap your thumb for your pinkie on one hand, and your pinkie for your thumb on the other hand. Swap over again…and again…
The Unpoppable Balloon
Blow up a balloon. Stick a piece of sellotape (a few centimetres long) onto the balloon. Slowly stick a pin through the sellotape and balloon. It doesn’t pop. Magic!
Ask your local electrical shop if they have any large cardboard boxes (or raid their recycling bin). Collect them flat and tape them up at home. Leave for children to play with in their own way. Boxes = HIGH play value.
Get a long stick, such as a garden cane. Tie a long, thin piece of material to the end of it. Play in any way you want! This type of free play object opens children’s imaginations, as there is no one way to play with the stick and material, and no adult rules!
I Don’t WANT to go for a Walk…
Instead of going for a ‘walk’, go for a ‘treasure hunt’. One person goes ahead and hides treasure (e.g. a small treat). You can say, “You are cold” (far away from the treasure), “Warm” (getting nearer) or “Hot!” (very close to the treasure). Or you could draw them a simple map of the area, where X marks the spot – or spots – where the treasure is.
If you think it is going to rain, get your coat on, go outside and lie down on the ground with your legs and arms stretched out. Let the rain fall on you for a few seconds until the ground is wet, then get up and see the dry shape your body has made. Many young people enjoy larking about in the rain.
Each person tries to find all the things on a given list, e.g. seed, stone, feather, twig, dandelion seed, red petal, etc. Older children can have a harder list, or may wish to set up their own scavenger hunt.
Everyone has a strip of toilet paper (about 4 or 5 pieces). Tuck it into the back of your trousers or skirt (or neck if wearing a dress). Now run around and try to catch everybody else’s ‘tail’ – but don’t let anyone catch yours!
Loose Parts: Great for Play
1. Go to ORINOCO, The Oxfordshire Scrapstore (they are in Oxford and Banbury) www.oxorinoco.org.
2. Get lots of play scrap for not very much money.
3. Leave the play scrap (loose parts) ready for playing with (in a pile on floor, on a table, etc).
4. Stand back. You have created a rich play environment.
Paint the World!
1. Get some old containers, such as plastic buckets or tubs. 2. Fill with water. 3. Using decorating brushes or paint brushes, paint the outside walls, pavements, paths, sheds, tables, fences…
1. You need a helper for this. Tell them beforehand what is going to happen.
2. Ask everyone in the room who would like to help with the game. (When helper volunteers, choose them.)
3. Helper goes out of the room, and everyone else agrees one object in the room, e.g. the light, or a box, or whatever.
4. Helper come back in and has to ‘guess’ what object everybody chose. The ‘magic’ bit is: the object is the one AFTER THE WHITE OBJECT. So you say, “Is it the TV?” (No). “Is it the cat?” (No.) “Is it the (white) plate?” (No.) “Is it this book?” YES! (It’s the one after the white object.) MAGIC!
Boredom is not an enemy of play – it is a friend. It can encourage us to use our imaginations, look around and think of what to do next. Boredom often leads to freely chosen play – so best not to have too many organised activities.
Tie/loop lots of elastic bands together to make a long line of bands. Two people stand apart with the ‘rope’ slightly stretched and each hold an end to a body part, starting with the ankle. Everyone else lines up and takes turns to jump over the rope. After everyone has jumped, the rope gets higher – from ankle to knee for the next turn. Then thigh, then hip, waist, under arm, shoulder, ear, head and then “high heavens”.
Paint your own face
Buy a set of face paints (for example, Snazaroo is good). Let children paint their own faces – and yours! They love the control, power and freedom of doing it, rather than just having it done to them. Develops creative and social skills, fine motor skills, increases confidence and raises self-esteem.
All stand in a circle and hold hands to form a ‘ring’. One pair breaks hands and lets a hoop into the ring, then holds hands again. Now try and pass the hoop right around the ring whilst still holding hands.
Buy a few cheap white boards from a stationery shop or the internet. Add white boards pens. Leave around and see what happens.
Masking Tape Mania
Provide rolls of masking tape for the children and young people to use to make shapes, patterns or pictures on the floor or carpet. This is a great activity for letting imaginations run free!
The Wrong Clothes
No such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes. Follow the children’s lead, put aside adult fears of rain and cold, and have an outdoors adventure!
Two or more people can play this. It’s a bit like volley ball. Instead of a net, draw a line down the middle of the area (or make a line with a skipping rope). Blow up a balloon and take turns to hit the balloon over the line. If the balloon lands on the other team’s floor area, your team gets a point. Make up any other rules you want, such as allowing one or more hits of the balloon.
Go to a wood or forest. Find a tree with a V-shaped main branch. Drag long sticks over and prop them onto the V, all the way round to make a wigwam effect around the main tree. The wigwam can become a fantastic springboard for play.
Hide Under Boxes!
Get a large cardboard box, and hide inside it (open end at the bottom).
When you hear footsteps come nearby, move a little bit – wobble or shuffle. Or you can jump high to give people a shock!
Stand in an open doorway, with your arms at your sides. Raise your arms until the backs of your hands are against the door frames. Press your hands against the door frame as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds. Then step into the room – your arms will rise up of their own accord! Magic!
Take some mud. Add water and mix. Tear up an old sheet. Paint with a brush, or even better – your fingers.
Fill buckets (or any other large containers) with water. Get some water sprays, water pistols, paint brushes, small containers and other bits and bobs, and play. Or have a water fight with hoses!
Make a Treasure Map
Tear round the edges of a piece of paper, then crumple it up into a ball. Open it out, then take a used teabag and wipe it all over the paper to give it an ‘aged’ effect. Once dry, create your map – it could be a pretend treasure island map with marshes, paths and mountains, or it could be a map of a real place, and your friend has to work out where the treasure is by the ‘X’ marking the spot!
Play with Your Food
Make pictures or patterns with food. Spread butter, humous or peanut butter onto a round or square cracker. Add food such as cress, olive circles, grated cheese, cucumber pieces, slices of tomato or whatever else you want.
For example, if you are making a face, use a round cracker, add cress for hair, olive circles for eyes, a piece of tomato for a mouth, and so on! It is amazing what healthy foods children will eat if they have had fun with it first!
An additional idea is to use Matzo (large rectangles of biscuit, a bit like water biscuits) to make pictures. We have made some works of art on Matzo, and again, even children who don’t like vegetables are very likely to eat it with gusto!
One Minute Game
For people who can count up to 60. One person has a clock or timer that shows seconds. When that person says, “Go!”, everyone else guesses when one minute exactly is up. When you think one minute is up, you say your name. The timer tells everyone at what time they said their name (or they can just say who was closest.)
Cooking with Fire
Some garden centres sell a small portable fire pit for about £50, great for homes, childcare, schools… Cook: soup or pancakes or popcorn or marshmallows or bananas with chocolate in foil or sausages on a wire rack or vegetable kebabs or bread dough…etc!
I Can Camcorder
Give the children a camcorder, and show them how to use it (or do it with them if they are younger). Let them film whatever they want. If needs be, you can give them some ideas to spark their imaginations:
create a show and film it
film people doing funny or silly things
make puppets and film a puppet show
film a child’s eye view of the house/ play setting/ garden/ field/ or wherever you are.
Melted Wax Patterns
Use your old wax crayons to make melted wax pics. Use a pencil sharpener to make shavings of wax in different colours. Put some onto paper, place another piece of paper on top and iron to melt the wax (children love doing this themselves with supervision).
Use a maximum of 4 colours for each picture, as too many colours can turn murky brown!
Blindfold yourself for 20 minutes and see how it feels not to be able to use your eyes to see. How does it affect your other senses, such as hearing, taste and touch? Draw pictures, perhaps something that a friend suggests. Get your friends to talk in funny voices and see if you can guess who they are. Or people can hide and you can try to find them.
Change a room into something else – such as a spaceship, a cave or a shop.
Space ship – cover part of the walls in foil or silver paper, add round windows painted black with stars, put food into small containers, hang stars, planets and moons around…what else? A cave – get some old dark material, drape it over a table, use torches, make animal noises…
A shop – that’s easy!
Fill balloons with different substances, then tie them up and get others to guess what might be in them.
You could try rice, flour, water, tomato ketchup, air, dried lentils, mini marshmallows, stones…
Jump! Splash! Drip!
Play is easy – but sometimes letting children play fully is harder. In this wet weather, what about embracing puddles – actually allow…
full splashing; running through; jumping and feel the joy of being a little bit wet, a little bit dirty and a whole lot happier!
Put you hand on a table, palm down and fingers curled so that just your fingertips and wrist are on the table. Your thumb is number 1, index finder is number 2, etc. Now someone asks everyone to lift off certain named fingers – such as, “Lift off 2 and 4. Now lift off 1,3 and 5. Now lift off 5,4 and 2.” And so on. Hard?
Soapy Water Slide
Put down a large sheet of thick plastic or tarpaulin. Add some water and washing up liquid and put down some rubber swimming rings – and push each other along!
“The children at our after school club love collecting sticks, then painting, decorating and sticking things onto them. They often ask if they can do stick painting!”
Jules, PAWS After School Club
Make some paper circles. Leave them on the table or on the ground or on the floor. Try different sizes and see what play comes from them.
Make up some jelly mixture and add some jelly worm sweets or jelly snakes.
Play with Cream to make Butter
It’s so easy to make butter… Put some double cream in a jar, and shake for about 20 minutes until it separates into butter and buttermilk. Drain it and squash it until all the liquid comes out, then put in fridge. It lasts for a few days, or a week or so if you add a little salt. Make butter sculptures, then eat it!
Wrap up Children
Use newspaper to wrap up children and/or adults like presents – either individually, in pairs or as a group! Make sure you leave breathing holes! Make bows and streamers out of coloured paper to decorate the parcels.
Put on some music and see who can dance the: funniest, silliest, fastest, coolest. You can try dancing: standing on your head, lying on the floor or with your eyes closed (careful!)
Design a Play Space
Use paper, a smart phone, a computer, junk modelling or any other medium to create your ideal place space. It could be indoors or outdoors. What will it include? A hideaway? Things to climb? A place to relax? Musical instruments? Any art materials? A hill? A stage? Tunnels? A boat? What else?
Tell Rude Jokes!
Children love some rudeness, and adults can join with some mildly rude jokes!
No – YOU’RE a poo!
Get on the Trampoline
If you have a trampoline, get on it with the children! You can race, chase, sing songs (especially good for action songs like ‘See the little bunnies’ – change the animal each time – even older children like it!), acting out plays and telling stories.
Put up a tent in the garden or the park. It could be a den, a spy look-out shelter, a house or anything you want.
If you have a garden or other space, camp out for the night! Remember your torch and a midnight feast!
Bring the great outdoors inside by going out and collecting fallen leaves, seeds, etc. Make collages. Crush the items to listen to the sounds and smell the aromas. Spread the items on the floor – you could sort them or make a giant pattern. Draw the items with a variety of materials. Play with them!
Melted Wax Paintings
Use a pencil sharpener or grate proper wax crayons onto one half of a piece of paper. Fold the paper over, cover with newspaper and use an iron to melt the wax. Try adding glitter, etc for different effects.
Spaghetti and Marshmallow Towers
Use raw spaghetti and marshmallows to make the tallest tower you can. Or make anything – people, cars, animals, whatever you want!
Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!
Clay Fairies and Other Creatures
Buy (or dig) some clay and make some fantabulous creatures and fairies with it. Stick them onto trees when wet, so that they look like tree-dwellers.
Loose Parts for Play
What are Loose Parts?
‘Loose parts’ are items and materials that children and young people can move, adapt, control, change and manipulate within their play. They provide a high level of creativity and choice, as there are endless possibilities for how they can be played with. When a child is playing with sand, it can become anything they want it to be, whereas many toys lack such flexibility. Studies show that children and young people prefer to play with loose parts such as water, sticks, sand, ropes and boxes than traditional toys and play equipment, because they can use their imagination, and have greater control in their play. The saying “Children prefer to play with the box than the present inside” has truth in its origins—the box is an example of a loose part, and loose parts have a very high play value for children.
Simon Nicholson came up with the ’Theory of loose parts’ in 1971. He said than in any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the numbers of variables in it. Nicholson suggests that a beach is a good example of a loose parts environments, with plenty of moveable and adaptable materials, such as sand, water, rocks and shells. Loose parts are the reason that most children can play for hours on a beach.
Where Do I Get Loose Parts?
In nature—e.g. pine cones, shells, twigs, grass, stones, straw bales
At home—e.g. cushions, blankets, junk, buckets, play clothes
Buy some—e.g. sand, logs, paper, hoops, old tyres, bubbles, ropes
From a Scrapstore—there are many Scrapstores, which sell playable waste from companies as play items. It is extremely reasonably priced. ORINOCO is the Oxfordshire Scrapstore, and is situated in Headington. Look at their website for opening times www.oxorinoco.org or call them on 01865 761113. There are also scrapstores in Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, High Wycombe and all around the UK.
How Do I Use Loose Parts?
Children are drawn to new, interesting and novel items—and have an innate ability to decide what to do with loose parts in their play. Leave a pile of scrap, let the young people know they can use it, and keep adult intervention to a minimum. Loose parts are springboards for play, and are essential for creating a rich play environment.
Play Equipment Hire
OPA Provide a range of equipment for hire please see the brochure below.