Crafting Play – Cultivating Learning

Utilizing the magic of dramatization in learning.

Drama, drama, drama. Yup, that would aptly describe our crazy home. And I’m not just talking the pull your hair out because life is driving you crazy kind of drama, although we get our fair share of that, too.

Over here, we’ve found that drama is a great way to maximize the enjoyment and retention of whatever we are currently learning about.On any given day if you were to stop by, you would frequently find kids dressed up and playing hard. What is so cool is that while they are playing (and I make a mad dash to the kitchen to pull dinner together) they are reinforcing what we’ve been reading about.

As we read books, sometimes the kids will zero in on something and run grab an item around our home that can stand in as a prop. I’ve found that a key prop or costume piece goes a long way to cultivate this learning through play. And this doesn’t have to be crazy expensive or complicated. Oftentimes, one small item coupled with their imagination is enough to transport them into many a historical epoch.

For instance, when we were learning about the Revolutionary War, the boys noticed that each of the soldiers had a cartridge box slung over his shoulder. My youngest knew where my stash of purses were kept and remembered that little black purse that I’d held onto for over 20 years now. That’s right folks, I’m the sentimental person that has kept my first ‘purse’ all these years. That little black leather purse was a constant companion for my little guy as he traveled from battle to battle.

To this end, we oftentimes try to utilize our crafting to maximize dramatic play. That was the case when we were learning about Joan of Arc. Book after book revealed her marching into battle with her white fleur de lis banner.

So we set to work cutting up an old sheet into a pennant shape. I didn’t even bother to hem the edges. I care about those things, but the boys certainly don’t. I simply made sure I folded over the edge big enough to go over our PVC pole that the boys already had sewed a loop. We’ve even been known to use fabric glue if I’m too lazy to pull out the sewing machine.

Next, we set to work making a stamp. We had some crafting foam from an earlier craft they made at someone’s home and we re-purposed that for our fleur-de-lis stamp. I simply printed off a picture from the internet and set about cutting it out with an exacto knife. I didn’t feel quite comfortable turning them loose with that sharp little tool at that time, but the boys have definitely upgraded to using exacto knives now (with mom’s ample warnings). The boys found an unused bobbin that could be used for our handle because I’m all about not making any unnecessary trips to the store.

And then, their favorite part – stamping away!

The result? “JON of Arc” making a courageous stand to free France from the English and help Charles VII claim his throne, over and over and over again! All it took was creating a flag and letting it fly!

I am MOTHER – protector of childhood…


Childhood is so fleeting.  Seasons come and go.  Life is full of crazy ups and occasional lulls…  And yet time marches on.

And here we are, mothers.  We welcome these children into our arms and into our hearts.  We love them, nourish them, train them, protect them.  In a culture that is crazy hectic, and rarely has a filter, we get to build a hedge.  We get to give our children the gift of a childhood.  We get to pursue an un-rushed life that creates margin, so our kids can spend time being kids.  Unhindered time to develop those important problem solving and interpersonal skills, those skills of negotiation and resourcefulness.  We can give them the time it takes to ponder and take in everything they are learning about the world around them and make sense of it all – time to just be in the moment.

And in the midst of laundry, cooking, and homeschooling, we can steal small moments to soak in their play.  We take mental snapshots of the carefree days of childhood, days spent outdoors with sunlight filtering in through leaves.  We can say “YES” to pleas to collect neighborhood discards for backyard fort creations.  And we can smile as we watch them so seriously at work in the business of play. Oh the beauty of this season called childhood.

You and I are protectors of this childhood.  It’s a beautiful calling…


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How to encourage open-ended play and why it matters!

Gift ideas that inspire open-ended exploration and play and WHY open-ended play is so important.

My 31 day series continues along.  For those of you just checking in, I’m on day 21 of a 31 day series on gift ideas that inspire learning.  We love to be intentional about what we give our children and it’s been fun to have the grandparents join us in the experience.  You can read more about it and find a list of all the posts in this series here.


Call me strange, odd, or quirky, but few things delight me more than sitting back and covertly watching my children play.  It is a beautiful thing to behold that imagination at work.  As a child, I told myself that I would never lose the ability to play pretend.  I desperately wanted to retain that part of childhood. Sadly, I have to say that I’ve lost my touch, although I still have my moments.  Despite my reduced skill, my appreciation for watching the imagination at work won’t ever fade.

What is open-ended play and why is it important?

Open-ended play is that magical place where a child’s imagination comes alive and they use resources around them in creative and fresh ways.  It is play without a destination or purpose in mind.

It is important because:

* It develops the imagination.

* It encourages creativity.

* It encourages problem-solving.

* It is the place where children make sense of what they’ve heard and learned.

* It’s the place where learning is cemented into long-term memory.

How do we cultivate and protect open-ended play?

  1. Protect Free Time – We do this by scheduling in down-time for our kids where there is no specific agenda.  We do this by reducing screen-time and other distractions at home during this “down-time” so they can play and explore.
  2. Don’t Micro-Manage – We need to give our kids time to be bored and then use discernment on when to step in and provide direction and when to step back and let them figure it out.
  3. Provide Open-Ended Toys – My hallmark for a good toy is one that does less so the child imagines more.  A child doesn’t need a toy perfectly suited for every whim.  Instead they should learn to utilize their imagination to make the toy or stick or whatever they have fit into their whimsical world.
  4. Encourage Creative Uses for Items You Already Own –  I alluded to this in my previous point.  If your child wants to play “pirates” for instance, encourage them to make due with what they have!  Once they catch the bug on this, the opportunities for play are endless.

10 Gift Ideas that Inspire Open-Ended Play

This post may contain affiliate links.

1. Fort Materialsfort
This can be as simple or elaborate as you want.  Giving your kids a set of PVC pipes and connectors can lead to hours of pretend play.  We used ours several years ago to build the dimensions for a family’s quarters on the Mayflower.  We simply cut them down into 2-3 foot long sections and included connecting pieces.

If you want something similar that comes with inspiration, instructions and is easier to store, than I highly recommend checking out FORT MAGIC: FORT BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION TOY KIT FOR KIDS!  These look amazing and would make a great group gift for all of your kids.  I like that it is thin, flexible and much easier to store.

2. Play Silks
If you’ve been reading here long, you know that I absolutely love play silks.  They are my all-time favorite “toy.”  They are a bit pricey, but the open-ended options with them are endless.  Considering the sheer (no pun intended) amount of play time these have seen, I’d make the investment again in a heartbeat! Play silks are simply 1 square yard of silk.  But with the addition of a child’s imagination they are magically transformed into belts, dresses, capes, knight costumes, Bible costumes and/or headdresses, campfires, rivers, and the list could go on. We have about 12 of them and use them every single day!  Plus they are compact, easy to store and easy to take with us when we travel!  We love the 100% silk playsilks, but you can also get a polyester playsilk set for fraction of the cost.

3. Blocks
I wrote about blocks yesterday, but they deserve to be mentioned again.  Blocks are so versatile and open-ended, especially the big set of blocks as you can pretend the round tube blocks are microphones, goblets, etc and the others can stand in for dishes, roads, ice skates (yes, mine have played hockey on them and pretended to figure skate on the carpet).

4. Costumessoaring
In our family, we don’t rule out buying used at a thrift store.  One of my sisters bought the boys a costume collection from items she had thrifted.  We still play with that vest, extra cowboy hat, and the set of suspenders that came with that set. It was an awesome gift.  When building up your dress-up wardrobe, it is amazing how a few key pieces make a huge difference. Earlier in this series, I listed many costume recommendations.  Most of them can be used in open-ended ways.  Here are a few very general ideas to consider as well.

  • Skirts – Make or find a simple long skirt with an elastic waist.  These will really grow with your girls and last a long time. Paired with the right blouse it transforms into a variety of options.
  • Jackets – We’ve thrifted suit coats for the boys.
  • Hats – Hats are incredibly versatile.  The boys received a pilot hat for Christmas one year.  It has transformed into a sailor hat, a military hat and host of other purposes, transporting them into many realms.  Here’s some vintage blogginess about this lovely hat.

5. Open-Ended Props

  • Stick Horses – Yes, I’m mentioning our favorite stick horses again.
  • Hockey Sticks – Our hockey sticks have stepped in for guns, stick horses, fort building materials and a number of other things as well.  Who knew?
  • Baskets – Baskets are a wonderful addition for girls during pretend play too.  Thrift stores or garage sales are a great place to find beautiful baskets.

What would you add to this list?


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To check out the whole series, click here.31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

What Had My Kids Begging to Do “School” on a Saturday…

This engaging human body model is a powerful way to pull kids into a study of human anatomy. This engaging human body model is a powerful way to pull kids into a study of human anatomy.

This post may contain affiliate links.

“Mooooooooooooom.  Mooooooooooom.  What’s this?  Can we open it?”

Startled, I look up from my piles of books to inform him that we’ll get to take apart and explore our new squishy human body model next week.

Seemingly satisfied with my response, this oldest son of mine wandered off and I focused my attention on pulling my lesson plans together for the following week. It was going to be awesome. Obviously with a degree in “cutting up dead things” {aka a biology degree}, I was eager to jump into our human anatomy unit. I just wasn’t quite ready to start today. It was Saturday, after all.

But before long a different voice started calling for me and a boy ran in with that same Squishy Body model.

“Can we play with it?  Can we?  Can we?”

The eagerness in his voice had attracted the attention of the two other boys. Pretty soon I was surrounded with three sets of puppy dog eyes pleading with me to let them play, to let them explore… TODAY.

And suddenly it hit me.  I was standing on the precipice of an epic “cool mom” moment.

These boys of mine were begging to do school.  Well, they didn’t realize it was school. They simply wanted to explore our dissectible human body model, so I wisely put aside my lesson planning and engaged in an impromptu science lesson.

Boys spread out the organ chart and meticulously started removing organs as they peppered me with questions or some of their own funny theories on human anatomy – some of which were too hilariously funny to ever post on the internet!

They were hooked. That Saturday morning spent playing and exploring sparked interest in what was to come. Now they are ready to start filling in the gaps in their knowledge

And it started with this model.

While it doesn’t appear that any of my kids want to follow in my footsteps, gifts like this can still go a long way towards fostering an interest in a topic as they play and explore.  We are thankful for this gift which sparked interest at the start of our unit.  For those of you who have children who will be learning about human anatomy, here are a few gift ideas for you!

Gift Ideas for kids between 6-12 who are learning about HUMAN ANATOMY.  #sciencegifts #educationalgifts

Squishy Human Body Model Kit – As you can see, this gift was a huge hit with my boys (currently 10, 8, 6.5). We loved taking each organ out part by part, identifying it and then putting the body back together again. The skull even opens up to reveal the brain!

The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body – My kids love these books and we all enjoyed reading this book at least twice in the last two weeks…
Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia – This book is amazing.  There are so many fascinating nuggets of information.  I like that they use real bone names.  I also just re-read through it (not word-for-word, but almost) and was delighted to find no references to evolution or any of the strange standards that are becoming more prevalent these days.  It was just straight science presented in an engaging way.

My Bodyworks: Songs About Your Bones, Muscles, Heart And More! – This was another gift that we are all enjoying.  These catchy songs will help you learn interesting facts about how the body works in an engaging way.

A beautiful way to learn about the human body in the early years!

Learning About Human Anatomy for 4-7 year olds!

This brings back sweet memories of my first foray into learning about human anatomy back in 2010.  This book and puzzle formed the backbone for everything we did.  We’ve pulled it out again this year for the younger one’s as my friend and I have begun our co-op again.  It’s been a hit and the older boys still love piecing it together.  I shared about these two resources when I wrote about the idea of learning in layers.

Me and My Amazing Body – an engaging book that gives you a great overview of different body systems.  It is perfect for 4-7 year olds, although my 3 year old has asked me to read it several times now too!

Hape – Your Body – Boy 5-Layer Wooden Puzzle or the Girl Version – This puzzle is beautiful and gives a hands on look at the layers within the human body.  More pictures of it in action at our home here.

My Bodyworks: Songs About Your Bones, Muscles, Heart And More! – These songs are so engaging, I think they’d be beneficial for the younger one’s as well!


This is my 12th installment in a series on educational gift guides.  Click the button below to check out the rest of the series!

31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

Kings, Queens and Knights, Oh My! Gift Ideas (Day 2)

Inspiration for medieval themed gift ideas for kids! {31 Days of Gift Ideas that Inspire Learning}

This post may contain affiliate links.

Oh the middle ages… What kid hasn’t fallen under the spell of this mesmerizing period in history. It is alluring for boys and girls alike. Today for my first themed gift guide, I want to share some ideas of some amazing gifts that will capitalize on their interest in or pursuit of learning about this period in history.

First off…  Medieval Costumes for Kids.  Costumes enable your child to transport into that period of history.  Kids don’t NEED costumes.  All they really need is an active imagination, but I’ve found that a few key costume pieces and accessories can pack a powerful punch and make for great gifts!  I usually try to get one or two items that are specific to that time in history and then also find items that can be used for other historical periods as well.  As this series progresses, you’ll notice overlap of some of my favorite items!

Gift Ideas for Your Knight

Gift Ideas for your Young Knight | part of a 31 day series of gifts that inspire learning

I have three boys. Battles, bravery and chivalry captivated their attention long after we first delved into this period of history in our studies. Part of that is because it is just a fascinating period of history and part of it is because I was strategic in gathering some amazing gift ideas for them.

Knight costume – this Melissa & Doug outfit is fabulous.  My nephew has it and loves it.   This knight costume comes in S, M, and L, making it easy to buy for your little or your big guy! Costco also carries some great knight costumes at this time of year.

Knight Armor Set – We have three of these sets and my 10 year old still squeezes into it for battles!  They’ve used it when we learned about the Armor of God, morphing it into a Roman soldiers garb.

Playsilks – we love playsilks.  I’ve waxed eloquent on them before.  We use them for all kinds of things.  With three playsilks, you have a knights costume – front/back and belt! They also make for great capes that boys and girls both love!  If you don’t own any playsilks, I highly recommend you remedy that, pronto!  We love the 100% silk playsilks, but you can also get a beautiful polyester playsilk set for less.

Foam Swords – I’m partial to form swords and yes, I buy them in bulk.  They don’t last forever, but it is impossible for the kids to hurt each other with them.  Occasionally you can find these at the Dollar store or in the dollar bin at Target.

Castle Tent – This pop-up castle tower tent is amazing.  It’s always a hit with both boys and girls.  I love that it is easy to take down and store flat!

The Making of a Knight – A captivating book that follows a young boy through the process to becoming a knight

Kitchen Knight  – This is one of my all-time favorite illustrators.  The story will inspire your boys to chivarly and brave deeds.  If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll want to pour over this book again and again.

Any of these combined together are sure to win a boys heart and capture his imagination. {31 Days of Gift Ideas that Inspire Learning Series}

Robin Hood DVD w/ Errol Flynn – a “must-watch” for boys and girls alike!

Bow & Arrow Set – What is a knight or Robin Hood without his bow and Arrow.  You do have to be careful with these and they tend to break after a while, but my boys will play with the bow even long after the arrows have all snapped.  I did call the company and they sent me out a replacement set of arrow free of charge a few years back.

Robin Hood Hat – Your kids don’t necessarily need a full costume.  Sometimes a simple hat is enough to do the trick.  My boys have used their hat for Robin Hood play, Peter Pan and for dramatizing the life of William Tell!

Stick Horse – This wooden horse is a staple in our house.  We own three of them and they’ve withstood countless hours of rough boy play.  I had my concerns when my mom first gave these to my boys.  I had visions of them turning them into weapons.  In the 4-5 years that we’ve owned them, I’m proud to say no one has been clubbed with these wooden stick horses.  These are a true gem.

Imaginative play is the place where a child’s information acquisition comes to life and is cemented into long-term memory.  Any time we can engage the imagination our children cement into working memory all of the wonderful things they are learning about.  Another toy that accomplishes this in a beautiful way are toy castles.  There are so many options out there and tomorrow I plan to give you a castle comparison of the best castle sets on the market.


Gift Ideas for Your Princess

Boys aren’t the only one’s enthralled with this period of history. As the oldest of three girls, we adored studying this period of history. The books available, the idea of princesses and kingdoms, beautiful calligraphy and side-saddle horse riding captured our attention. And the dresses…. Oh the dresses.

As girls, we loved watching Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and feasted on the many outfits of Maid Marrian as we tried to fashion our own from our dress-up collection. Of course, my boys also love the movie, but for the adventure aspects because they could care less what Maid What’s Her Name is wearing…

It’s time for Dress-Up!

Here are some beautiful dresses to consider:

Gift Ideas for your Little Princess that will promote learning through play!| part of a 31 day series of gifts that inspire learning

1. Guinevere Costume
2.. Renaissance Maiden Costume
3. Renaissance Queen Costume
4. Renaissance Damsel Dress
5. Pretty Maiden Dress
6. Crimson Princess Costume
7. Purple Renaissance Queen Costume
8. Enchanted Princess Costume
9. Panne Velvet Costume

Gift Ideas for girls learning about the Middle Ages! Spark the Imagination! ~ Part of a 31 day series of gifts that inspire learning

Did any of you ever play with paper dolls when you were young?  My sister’s and I spent hours playing with paper dolls and the Dover Historical Paper Dolls were our favorites! A great way to explore the customs and dress of the medieval ages in a fun and painless way would be to get your daughter a set of these Medieval Costumes Paper Dolls.  The details are exquisite and the imaginative play options are endless!

Do you have a child who would love to learn the medival art of caligraphy and illustration?  This combination would inspire her and equip her.

Inspire your girl {or boy} by giving them the inspiration and tools to explore the medieval art of illustration and calligraphy!
Marguerite Makes a Book – This luciously illustrated book gives you a peek into the process of illuminating manuscripts.
Quill Writing Set
Learn Caligraphy: The Complete Book of Lettering and Design


Whew.  Tomorrow I’ll give you a tour of some fabulous toy castles as we round out our exploration of gift ideas for the Middle Ages.

Here are a few blog posts from our medieval adventures:

Knights-in-Training {free chivalry printable}
10 Adventure Books to Inspire a Boy’s Faith



Want to follow along so you don’t miss a single post in this 31 days of gift ideas that will inspire learning?  Enter your email address below. {Your privacy matters.  Emails are never sold and only used to receive blog post updates.}

To check out the whole series, click here.31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

Sometimes they take you literally & other adventures in the imagination

Adventures in Imagination

The imagination is a powerful tool.  Of course, sometimes it can have some funny results.  Take my two year old, for example.  I was craving soft pretzels a couple of weeks ago and delighted my family by actually baking during our summer heat.  The boys devoured theirs on this Saturday morning and romped back outdoors because they are young and don’t mind our intense summer heat.  Greta took a break from her “snack” and proceeded to run around while I snagged a couple of quiet moments to sit on the couch and read my book.  She flitted into the room toting a plastic pistol. {That kind of thing happens when one has 3 older brothers.}  I stopped her after she took aim at me, explaining that we don’t shoot guns at people.  In an attempt to engage her imagination and send her off into that imaginary adventure {so I could return to my reading}, I told her that guns were for shooting food.

I forgot that she was only two.  I forgot to clarify what that meant and explain the concept of hunting for meat.  But my prompting had the desired affect.  She pranced off into pretend play land.  I didn’t get the chance to return to my reading, however, because it wasn’t long before my hubby called from the kitchen to inquire why our daughter was shooting her pretzel.

Encourage Ingenuity — It’s Frugal!

Speaking of the imagination, in this culture of instant access to all kinds of resources and inspiration, we can sometimes fall prey to the lie that we must buy our kids lots of things to aid them in their pretend play or that we need these amazing supplies to engage their imagination and foster the learning process. I know I can easily fall in love with that beautifully made, detailed costume.  But our children regularly remind us that they don’t need much.  In fact, with the imagination, they can convert just about anything into a useful plaything.

Any guesses as to who my little guy is trying to impersonate here?  They’ve come up with all kinds of creative costume solutions to fuel pretend play of one of their latest obsessions.

Imagination doesn't need fancy toys

As I look forward to our new school year, I’m reminded afresh that when it comes to our dramatization and projects that we’ll be doing this year, that many times less is more.  Encouraging their creativity and ingenuity can be of far greater value than providing them with that amazing manipulative, costume or educational toy.

Related Posts:

The Power of the Imagination

10 Toys  that Ignite the Imagination

Power of the Imagination

Imagination propels kids painlessly into worlds of creative output & problem solving. Let's guard this time to play, to pretend, to become.

It was a crisp Thanksgiving afternoon when my two young sons came bounding up to me as I joined them in my in-laws backyard.  Eyes shining bright they each grab a hand and pull me forward.

“Pretend, mom.  Just pretend, ok?”

And then they reveal THE lamp post.  This is no ordinary lamp post.  Long gone are the memories that their Pa collects these babies.  No, this is THE lamp post from Narnia.  And just like that we step out of the wardrobe and into the magical realm of Narnia.

Before me are King Peter and Edmond.  They beckon me to join them.

In these woods, I answer only to the name of Susan.  I have a bow (yes, pretend it has a string) and I know how to use it.  But these brothers of mine are quite protective.  Edmond insists on taking up the rear to keep me well protected between the two of them as we traipse through the bit of woods we have here.

The boys battled.  We hunted for food and roasted wild turkeys.  The boys debated whether or not deer bones or turkey bones could make the same caliber of stock as chicken bones.  I smile, thrilled to watch them work out some of the nutrition lessons we’ve learned.  We scaled the old crumbling walls of Cair Paravel while the boys discussed battle plans.  And we went in search of beavers.  Pa finds us and tells us of a real beaver family that lives in the creek by our woods.  He shows us the tree they’ve felled.  Eyes grow wide as our imaginative play hits a stroke of concurrent reality.

The imagination is a powerful tool.  Once lit it propels kids painlessly into worlds of creative output and problem solving.  It kindles the formation of their own stories and is a delight to behold.  It is magical to enter into alongside them.  I’m reminded again to guard their time – this precious time to play, to pretend, to become.  I’m inspired afresh to find great books on which their vivid imaginations can feast upon.  I’m thankful that they grab my hand and pull me into the magic and wonder of a child’s imagination.  I am Susan.

Related Posts:

Unleashing the Imagination

Not a Stick!

Screen-Time – Brain Wasting Opportunity

Indoor Reading that Inspires Outdoor Exploration

10 Boy Toys that Ignite the Imagination

Geeking out on this Architectural, Engineering Toy

BionicBlox - Encouraging the architect, engineer and builder within!

Add THIS to your Christmas list!

With three boys, lots of toys make their way into our home during birthdays and at Christmas.  But not all of them end up sticking around.  I’m always on the lookout for toys that stand the test of time, provide lots of open-ended play and either unleash the imagination or challenge them mentally.   We love playtime around here and guard our time closely to preserve time for open-ended exploration.  It’s just one reason why we limit screentime around here and another perk of homeschooling.

Play is so powerful – it is not only relaxing, but it is also a painless way to learn.  Unless you are rolling in dough or have unlimited space, parents need to be choosy on what kinds of toys they’ll bring into their home.   A toy we recently discovered that totally fits the bill is BionicBlox – now Brackitz.   We received some similar blocks last year for Christmas and fell in love with them, so when the opportunity came up to test these out, we jumped at the chance.

The concept is simple.  small wooden planks and connectors.  We’ve worked with wooden planks, but the connectors added such a fun dimension to their building capacity.  To start with the boys sought to copy some of the pictures that came in the bag.  It was fun to watch them wrestle with figuring out how to make a structure that wouldn’t fall apart.   Each time they pull these out they try something new.  Today, Keegan and I were playing again with them.   As I put a few together, Keegan thoughtfully watched me and then trotted over, bringing an extra plank.  He noticed that my structure lacked stability and devised a solution to remedy that.

BionicBlox - creativity inspiring, open-ended play! BionicBlox - creativity inspiring, open-ended play!

Why We LOVE Bracketz:

Promotes problem solving.

Builds and awareness of geometry

Provides opportunity to flex architectural and engineering skills.

Strengthens gross-motor skills.

Promotes creativity.

It’s open-ended so the kids don’t get easily bored.

The connectors are compatible with Citiblocs, Keva or Kapla blocks!

It’s compact and easy to store! {Do I hear a “Hallelujah” out there?}

  BionicBlox - The perfect educational toy to build the mind!BionicBlox - Soar high with these engaging STEM toys for kids!

This small capsule of blocks and connectors takes creativity to a whole new level.

The only problem?

We need more of them.  Thankfully, Christmas is right around the corner.


Disclosure: I received this product for free and was compensated for my time reviewing it. All opinions expressed are my own.

10 Boy Toys that Ignite the Imagination

10 boy toys that ignite the imagination and lead to hours of creative pretend play!


The imagination is such a powerful tool.  A child at play is a beauty to behold.  What looks like mere child’s play is actually learning at work.  Because imaginative play is so important, I love to select toys that encourage this kind of play, this solidification of learning…  So today, I want to share with you 10 toys that my boys have loved and have encouraged their imaginative play.  I selected these toys because they are typically used in open-ended ways which make the possibilities in playtime simply endless.


1. Play Silks ~ I’ve written about these beauties so many times.  They are the ultimate open-ended, imaginative play inspiring toy in my opinion.  If we had to up and move and could take only one toy, these would be it!

2. Cowboy Boots ~ With three boys in the house, our cowboy boots have been well used and not just for cowboy play.  A good pair of boots can ‘make’ just about any costume – soldier (every era), farmer, explorer, etc…  With luck, you might find a pair at a thrift store.   We’ve completely worn out our smallest pair which went through nearly daily use for each of our boys.  They make a great birthday or Christmas gift, so even if you can’t thrift a pair, I think they are well worth the price to add them to the pretend play arsenal!  They also look nice for regular wear too.

Costumes help feed the imagination!

3. Costume Jackets ~ We are huge fans of costumes over here.  I hit the jackpot a few years ago when I found two Captain Hook costumes at our homeschool support group clothing exchange.  These red jackets get worn at least weekly and came in handy when we were studying the Revolutionary War last year.  Patrick Henry made his favorite speech in this jacket and there were many a battle between the patriots and the redcoats…  Again, I check thrift stores and keep an eye out during the fall for sales on costumes that I think would make a good addition to our costume bins.  It doesn’t even have to be something complicated.  One of my Oma’s old cardigans and a police shirt stand in for patriot coats!

4. Hats, Hats, Hats!  Hats go a long way to light up the imagination.  I’ve found that my boys will get quite creative and use hats for a variety of different imaginative play situations and have grown to think of hats as so critical that they’ll make up their own in a pinch.  We own two different kinds of Tri-corner colonial hats the fancy one I just linked to and an ordinary ‘work-horse’ one here that has been stomped on and get used for Revolutionary War era play and pirate play.  Cowboys hats are worn frequently.   The Newsboy cap I found when Xander was in the Cheaper by the Dozen play has seen a lot of use too! Again, thrift stores are a great place to find hats and occasionally I’ve found some good ones at Oriental Trading Company.


5. Stick Horses ~ These wood stick horses are played with every day because everyone needs a horse, right?  We had fabric ones before that the boys wore out.  A few years ago, my parents bought the boys each one of these wooden ones.  I was initially a little worried about them possibly being used as a weapon against each other, but they’ve all had a decent amount of respect for their ‘horses’ and each other and haven’t hurt anyone. 🙂

Stick Horse and costume is the gateway to anywhere! imagination2 Just about anything will be made into a sword or gun...

6. Swords, Guns and Arrows oh My…  For some reason, I had an idea that I was going to limit weapons in my home.  When my oldest was merely two years old, he caught a glimpse of an old b&w World War 1 movie that my Opa was watching.  Just a quick glimpse resulted in him converting his powder blue teddy into a machine gun…  I quickly realized that even if I didn’t supply them with toy weapons, they would make them one way or another.  We’ve allowed toy weapons and have talked about chivalry, proper use of toys and such…  We are constantly picking up foam swords from the Target $ bins when I see them and this plastic armor set has been used when learning about the middle ages, as Roman soldiers when acting out Bible stories and put to use when we were learning about spiritual armor.  Duct Tape and hot glue are our very best friends in elongating the life of these beloved toys. Pop guns are another FAVORITE.  We got a screamin’ deal on them one year and bought one for each boy in our family. We’ve loved ours and again, they are simple and open-ended enough that they get used in all kinds of settings.  And of course our bow & {suction-cup} arrow sets have been used until they fall apart too!  This company has great customer service and has sent out replacement arrows when the boys have broken theirs.


7. X-Drum ~ Now this is a toy that surprised me.  A few years ago, the boys received a rhythm kit that contained this drum.  They enjoyed making music, but the design of this drum has lent itself to countless open-ended play uses.  The boys love to slip a playsilk or belt through the handles and strap it to their waist.  They’ve played marching band many a time after seeing The Music Man.  They’ve also used it to be drummer boys going into battle and have used it as a Viking and knight shield.

Beautiful and multi-use wooden stacking bowls imagination6

8. Colored Wood Stacking Bowls.  I love Waldorf-inspired wood toys and these gorgeous bowls top the list.  My babies and toddlers love to stack them and find hidden ‘treasures’ that we’ll place under some of them.  My preschoolers have played lots of sorting games and they have come in handy as my boys have played all kinds of imaginary games – including ‘house’.  For all of their macho, rough and tumble tendencies, they also love family and play ‘house’ with surprising frequency.  If bright primary color aren’t quite your thing they come in natural stain, cool or warm colors.

PVC make for great open-ended boy toys

PVC pipes make for great open-ended boy toys!

9. PVC Pipes.  These aren’t necessarily toys and I’m not even sure how we acquired them, but we have a couple of PVC pipes of varying lengths and diameter.  The boys LOVE these and use them for spears, cannons, a looking glass and a telescope!  If you don’t have any, you could try the dumpster at a construction site or buy a piece at Lowe’s.


10. Wood Blocks.  And finally wood blocks!  They enrich all kinds of pretend playtime!  We love our basic big blocks and our citi-blocs.

These are the primary creativity, imagination boosting toys we love over here. 

What delights your children and fosters their imagination? 


How To Turn Passive Learning Into Active Learning

We need a varied approach! 5 great ideas to help convert passive learning to more active, engaged learning!

Whew! We made it to day 10 of this series on Boosting Brain Power. Are you still with me??? We careened through some of the basic necessities for brain boosting: water/nutrition, sleep and exercise. Then we explored the magic of movement and why multi-sensory learning is so vital. I shared how important music and active, rough and tumble play is and how harmful too much screen-time can be. You stuck with me though that one and then went crazy over the Brain Breaks that I shared.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we don’t have to stick to the traditional school model of learning. We have the flexibility to break free from the school mold and embrace a home where we learn. We can embrace this kind of multi-sensory, experience rich environment.  A few years ago I wrote about experiential learning and the famous research by Edgar Dale showing the rates of retention with various types of learning. Here’s how it breaks down.

How to turn passive learning into active learning and boost retention!

The more involved a child becomes with the process, the more they learn.  We want to embrace an active approach. So for this last day in my 10 day series, I’m going to share with you 5 ways to convert passive learning into active learning…

  1. Standing Instead of Sitting ~ Remember how I wrote about the importance of movement. Look for opportunities to learn ‘standing up’. You could take your kids for a walk and review what you learned that day. I know for me as a girl growing up, I needed to march around the kitchen table reciting my multiplication tables. 2×2 is 4, 2×3 is 6, and so on… Getting my body moving enabled my muscle memory to kick in and remember those previously allusive facts. I’ve taken to this same technique with Xander recently and it works!
  2. Talking vs. Merely Watching ~ We want to encourage our children to ‘be the teacher’ and explain what they’ve learned to you, their little sister, dad when he gets home, a grandparent via Skype or in a co-op situation. Encourage a home where dialogue is valued. It keeps the brain engaged and fosters critical thinking. If your child starts to get squirrelly, have them stand up and give a ‘speech.’
  3. Writing in Addition to Reading ~ Taking notes and encouraging our children to extract meaning from what they are reading about helps make meaningful and lasting connections in the brain. The information will stick so much more than if they had merely listened to or read material. Teach your children to take notes!
  4. Project-Based Approach ~ Give them a problem to solve and encourage collaboration either with you, a sibling or a homeschool friend. This activates critical thinking and movement helps solidify and bring to fruition the ‘information’ that your child has acquired. The possibilities are numerous. One of my favorite projects was when my sister and I pulled together an Egyptian feast for our girlfriends. We planned the menu, the décor (trying to make it feel as authentic as possible), a skit and other aspects. It was a great culmination of our semester long study of ancient Egypt. Another example is beautifully depicted in the movie, Dolphin Tale. Did you see it last year when it came out? I love how the boy goes from being uninterested in just about everything to becoming fascinated with helping to rehabilitate the dolphin. This pursuit had so many educational benefits and most importantly woke up his God-given desire to know, understand and learn about the world around him! I’m intrigued to read this book on Project Based Homeschooling
  5. Imaginative Play ~ This is the apex of learning and an area where homeschooling gives an edge! Instead of wasting time standing in line, going from class to class or waiting for the next assignment to be handed out, we can give our children time to PLAY. Play incorporates movement, emotion and information as they use their imaginations to act upon what they’ve learned!  It’s so important, I’ve written about how it affects creativity, how to maximize open-ended play, how it lays a foundation for deep understanding.  It’s important, so make time for it!

I hope you have found this helpful.  It is inspiring to see how simple it can be to embrace a natural life-style of learning and promote brain boosting opportunities at the same time!

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