5 Ways to Create a Playful Escape for Children

Playful Escape for Children

If you’re familiar with the early childhood experience at all, you may have heard the expression, “Let them be little.” Childhood is such a fleeting time in human life that it is important to preserve it while it lasts. One way you can do that is to create playful escapes for them to use their imaginations. When kids have a safe, playful space to explore and dream, they have more opportunities to develop creatively.

1. Turn Outdoor Spaces into Places of Wonder

One of the easiest ways to create a playful escape for kids is to get them to spend time outside. The outside world is wide, open, and filled with a shifting environment. When indoors, while you can certainly find ways to make fun spaces, your options are more limited. The four walls can only do so much, and material objects can only transform so many times. Outdoors, it can feel like things are always changing.

And you have so much to work with outside. At parks or schools, playground equipment can become a castle, and swing sets can turn kids into airplanes. Kids can play school in the park and play knights and ladies at school. Add trees to the scene and suddenly they’re Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Or maybe they’re Tarzan or Mowgli, making a home in the jungle. The possibilities are endless. 

2. Visit Nature Preserves and Trails 

Go beyond the parks and schoolyards, and kids have even more to work with. Regular visits to nature preserves and nature trails make for even more exciting escapes. These spaces often have plants, trees, and wildlife around all year long that kids can check out. Depending on where you live, preserves and trails are also often free, or at least cheap, to visit.

As you wander trails with kids, encourage them to use their imaginations. What do they see, and what could those shapes and figures be? Give them time in nature to just sit, perhaps under a tree, inside of a rock formation, or out in an open field. Of course, if they want you along with them, join them. Ask them to picture themselves in a fairy tale or other story. Or perhaps they’d like to make up their own story!

3. Take Baskets and Journals Outdoors with You

Kids love to tell stories, so always bring a small basket and a journal along with you when you head out to explore. Encourage them to forage for wildflowers, rocks, and other cool things they find outside. They can bring these things home and create a playful escape somewhere in the yard or even in their bedroom. Bring the outdoors inside, and they can imagine themselves like Max in “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Journaling what they see, smell, taste, and feel will also encourage them to tell stories. If they can’t write on their own yet, have them draw pictures of what they see. Have kids narrate a story about the location you are visiting, and you can write it down next to their pictures. In this way, all of nature can become a playful escape. 

4. Read Aloud from Fairy Tales 

Speaking of Tom Sawyer, Tarzan, and Max, reading aloud is a wonderful way to help kids create imaginative spaces anywhere they go. Indoors or outdoors, they can pretend they’re their favorite characters. Sadly, many parents, teachers, and even librarians stop reading to kids out loud once kids can do it on their own. This approach is a mistake; kids benefit from reading aloud well into their teen years.

Plan to read to kids daily from picture books with adventurous, highly imaginative stories. Younger kids love “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Story of Ferdinand,” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” Older kids adore Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. Pick your favorites and share these stories with the kids. After each reading, ask them questions and engage them in the story. Ask about their favorite characters, and have them brainstorm what would happen next.

5. Set Up Magical Sanctuaries Indoors 

Finally, just because kids find more opportunities to play and explore outside doesn’t mean the inside is off-limits. You can of course create magical spaces where kids can explore and imagine inside. The problem with the indoors is it can feel like the four walls are closing in. Kids can feel trapped and get cabin fever, desperate for an escape — in the form of video games, devices, or the television.

You can shift this habit by encouraging the transformation of the space into something new. Build forts with kids, throw pillows on the floor, and drape blankets overhead. Construct small houses with large cardboard boxes. Or just decorate the walls of one room with wild paintings and hang mobiles from the ceiling. You’ll be surprised at what’s possible once you shift your perspective.

In the end, you can help kids create a playful escape. Every step you take toward developing a child’s imagination is a step toward a more capable adult. The more creative kids are, the more they can think outside of the box as grown-ups. And the world could certainly use more grown-ups like that.

Read Also: 3 Science-Backed Strategies for Athletic Excellence

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