My Tools to Inspire Creativity


For me, there is no other activity in which imagination rules so freely as in pretend play. I LOVE the way place looks after kids had a good long pretend game! The leftover chaos has an unmistakable quality of hard work combined with inventiveness and fun. (Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do not like cleaning up that mess, but I would allow it again and again!)

Children are so naturally innovative and flexible, so everything goes. I remember smiling when opening toy purse filled with plastic hotdog, money, ring, cup, plastic animal, and pencil (the stuff my 4 year old packed to go on pretend adventure). Things get mixed and matched: blocks, costumes, toys, and household items. And that is the best kind of creative play!

So what can we, adults, do to encourage creative dramatic play? Let’s start by providing children with some basic stuff.

The Best Toys are Generic Ones

Who said blocks are only for building? Simple wooden blocks are the most generic toys. They are also ones of the most versatile toys. Their plain geometrical shapes make them perfect replacement for any item in dramatic play. Need a cellphone? Use a block. A table for toy people? Use a block. A toy bed? You’ve guessed it! I’ve seen children reaching for blocks even to replace hair drier and hair brash while playing hair salon. And this is exactly how having wooden blocks encourages creativity and flexible thinking in children: simple shapes can practically be anything they wish them to be.

My other favorite is blanket (old sheet, curtain, table cloth, etc.) You might remember using it yourself in your childhood: building forts, making capes, using as picnic blanket. Here are a few more ideas: incorporating blanket as part of a landscape in a dramatic play. Blue blanket could be pretend ocean for a ship to sail, yellow or orange – beach or desert, green – grass. Actually, if you have colorful placement mats, kids can use them the same way too. In fact, even construction paper could be used to create a scene.

Most importantly, just provide kids with a blanket. They will come up with ideas.

Remember Toy Story? Different characters living in the same room and enjoying play time with the boy? Mixing and matching generic toy characters (like man, woman, child, toy animals, dinosaurs) with special characters (superheroes, Disney characters, etc.) allows children’s fantasy soar.

Grown-up Stuff, Costumes, and Household Items

Children love household items as well as grown-up stuff (purses, wallets, old cellphones, old cameras, straw hats, sun glasses, etc.) This is great for us, adults: we always have this kind of objects available. It’s also very important for children: not only pretending being adults helps them to build confidence, it’s also stimulates their imagination. Especially, if they use these items in a novel way. For example, use pot lid as steering wheel.

And don’t forget the costumes! They are not just for Halloween, and they don’t have to be fancy. Kids will make use of any combination of grown up clothes, their old costumes, and homemade accessories (here is a good time to use that blanket for a cape).

Ideas for Rainy Day

Usually kids have no problems coming up with ideas for dramatic play, but occasionally, they run out of steam. What can we do to get them back in the groove? Here are some ideas.

  • Have Christmas in July and Halloween in March. In childhood, holidays and birthday parties can happen whenever children are ready for them. So, pretend to deliver the presents and go trick-or-treating anytime. Here is the craft (video on a left) to help you to prepare for trick-or-treating pretend style.
  • Play pretend Library, Postal Office, Vacation, Birthday Party for a toy character or stuffed animal, Circus, or Amusement Park (spin upside down umbrella with stuffed animals for the best carousel in town).
  • Make it funny: dress up in a wacky way, cook disgusting stuff, sell funny products (for example Lego blocks ice cream).

Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

Listen to classical music and watch ballets (you may start with fragments). Then reenact favorite scenes with the music. Here are some ideas:

  • Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
  • Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
  • Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty
  • Respighi’s La Boutique Fantasque

You can always rely on fine art to find ideas for dress up play. Use the opportunity to discuss fashion of the past (wigs, long gowns, funny looking hats and shoes, etc.) Just check out some famous artists. Here are just a few ideas. Feel free to use your own favorite artworks.

* Click here for my other creativity tools

For creativity classes inspired by classical music and dramatic play check out the following classes. Click on each image to see a short movie.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

Creativity Tool #1: Nature *

Most kids love being outside. I don’t need to convince anyone how great and important it is for children to spend time outdoors. Neither would I give an advice on how to use nature to “teach” science to young kids. I would love, though, to share, with parents some creative ideas that use children’s experiences with nature to inspire creativity.

Looking at Nature, Listening to Nature

Every time I go outdoors, I’m amazed at all the shapes and colors one can spy in nature. And children are great at noticing and imagining things. So, share your observations: “I think this twig looks like…” Or: “This rock reminds me off… What do you think?” You can even make up a story. “Once upon a time there lived two brothers acorns…” Or: “In a big hollow tree there once lived…”

Let them continue. The story doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It should just be about noticing and imagining. You can start your story with questions: who do you think might live in this tree? How come the leaf has a hole shaped like heart?

The same way you can encourage your child to listen to nature. What is this sound? How does wind sound? Or singing birds? Or buzzing bee? Ask your child to make sounds like the ones you two discovered in nature. Most importantly, have fun looking, listening, and discovering!

Treasure Hunts and Other Activities

I bet you and your children done many wonderful treasure hunts. They are especially fun in a fall. Here are some activities to do with natural “treasures”.

  • Play pretend kitchen. Take out toy cooking set or real plastic containers and spoons and let your little ones cook some delicious meals for their favorite toy characters. Have you ever tasted acorn soup? How about some pebble muffins? Let their imagination run wild as long as they are not tasting the dishes themselves!
  • Build a house for a fairy (alternatively, any small animal, bug, or imaginary character). Use the twigs, leaves, pebbles, etc. to build a small house. No warries if the house has unconventional shape or doesn’t seem to last.
  • Play an ice cream shop. Make paper cones with old magazine pages and let your kids pretend to “scoop” the ice cream (pine cones, pebbles, acorns, etc.)
  • Bring your natural treasures home for making crafts. You can also show your kid how to press and preserve leaves and wild flowers.

There are so many wonderful crafts you can make with your child with natural materials. Here are some of the ideas I made with my students. Feel free to try making them: we had fun, and your child might enjoy making them too!

Great Books for Kids and Adults

Here are some of my favorite books that inspire creativity with nature.

Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

There are so many great paintings depicting nature. Make sure to show them to your child. Good quality reproductions could be found either in books or online. Here are just a few ideas.

Listen to the classical music for sounds in nature. Here are some ideas:

* Click here for my other CREATIVITY TOOLS

For creativity classes inspired by nature and fine art check out the following classes. Click on each image to see a short movie.

Let’s learn about musical instruments

Long before your child gets to learn to play musical instrument, he can learn about instruments and have fun with them too. Chances are, your child is already familiar with some of them and, most likely, has some toy musical instruments that he loves to play. Good! Let’s encourage it with variety of fun activities.

Books and CDs.

There are some really good books about instruments. Some come with CDs, while others just tell the story. If the book has no CD, you can still read the story and then “demonstrate” what the instruments mentioned in a book sound and look like. You can find examples on YouTube. Here are some of my favorite books.

  • Peter and the Wolf by S. Prokofiev was specifically written as child’s introduction to orchestra instruments. I love both, the one that comes with CD because it has CD and the one without it because the illustrations give reader a true taste of Russian story. The latest one (without CD) does need to be accompanied by a Prokofiev’s CD.
  • Tubby the Tuba is so much fun! You might remember it from your own childhood if you ever watched the animated film. This book could be used as the beginning of discussion about orchestra and instruments. As children fall in love with Tubby (and I promise you, they will!) and other characters, you might want to show what these instruments look and sound like. And don’t forget to tell about the role of conductor in orchestra!
  • Lemony’s Snicket’s The Composer is Dead might be fun especially if your kid is old enough to enjoy the word play, like composing vs decomposing.
MP3s and CDs.
  • Stories in Music: Peter & The Wolf from Maestro Classics is not just a version of musical story I mentioned above, but also a music lesson with all kinds of fun and educational activities included.
  • Have you ever listened to Beethoven’s Wig CDs? If not, than you are in for a treat: they are hilarious! Though, not exactly, introduction to musical instrument, your child will sure remember what piano sounds like after this one: Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Piano Classics. Did I mentioned you and your kid will lough as you listen? And don’t skip the original version of piano pieces. In fact, you can play a game with your child: ask her to to match the the “funny” version to the original one.
Make your own musical instruments.

Make them as simple as two metal pot lids for cymbals or as complicated as cereal box guitar. Here are some instruments I made with my students: the shaker and den-den drum without a handle.

For shaker you can use any container with a lid or a cap (we used a bottles and empty playdough containers). Put in beads, rice, beans, etc. The best part is to decorate them with stickers and colorful duck tape or anything that could be glued or attached to decorate the shaker.

For den-den drum we used 2 bigger size lids connected by a duck tape. Before we connected them, we laid the string over the bottom lid and then covered it with the second (top) lid. We attached big wooden beads on each end of the string. As den-den drum turned up and down, the beads hit it and produce the sound.

Let’s conduct the orchestra!

You can also help your child “practice” playing toy or homemade instruments. Pretend to be a conductor using a pencil as conductor’s baton. Practice to start (baton goes up) and to stop (baton goes down). Practice to play fast and slow, loud and soft. Highlight the new words or the words associated with new skills, like orchestra, baton, loud, soft, fast, and slow. From my experience, children really like to pretend being an orchestra (even if it’s and orchestra of only one musician!)

For creativity classes inspired by classical music check out the following classes. Click on each image to see a short movie.

The Nutcracker Ballet and Beyond

Most of American children know The Nutcracker as a ballet, while some are familiar with a movie thanks to Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But how many heard of the original story by E. T. A. Hoffmann? Why not to start a child’s introduction to Nutcracker with the book itself? Or better yet, with the story of the nutcracker doll. In fact, young children may enjoy many different activities with everyone’s favorite Christmas character.

Nice to Meet you, Nutcracker!

Show a nutcracker doll to a child and explain what is it supposed to be used for.

If you have any nut in a house, show how the nutcracker is supposed to crack the nut, but explain that nowadays nutcrackers are mostly decorative. Tell that nutcracker dolls have been first made in Germany and were often given as gifts for Christmas.

Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

I know, the original Hoffmann’s tale is for ages 10 and older. However, there are many good adaptations. Here is one of my personal favorites adapted for younger readers by Janet Schulman.  I loved the illustrations and the fact that the book introduces the story rather than the ballet’s plot. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Tchaikovsky’  ballet. I just think that the story has it’s own value and might be introduced for its own sake.

If you think the book is too long for your kid, or some parts sound too controversial, you may always skip them or retell the story and show the pictures. You and your child can even create a game that would help you to reenact the plot and practice retelling the story.

Let’s Make The Nutcracker Story Come Alive!

There are two core settings in a book: Stahlbaum’s house and Candyland. For the base of each setting you may use cardboard cut out from cereal box. Your child will help you to glue colorful wrapping or construction paper on top of the base. He might also have fun decorating the base with drawings, stickers, bright buttons, confetti, sequins, or any other colorful items you can find in a house. Don’t forget the Christmas Tree: your child (or you) may cut it out of construction paper and decorate it as well. You can find images for the characters online, print them, cut out (alternatively, your child might do the cutting). The last part is to make your Christmas Tree and characters “stand”. First of all, you can make them sturdy by gluing them to the card board and then cutting out again. My students and I made standees by cutting rings (about 3 inches tall) from paper towel tube, making two vertical cuts on both sides of each ring, and inserting the tree and the characters into the cuts. If this construction feels flimsy, feel free to make it sturdier by using scotch tape and small playdough containers underneath standees. Or better yet, create your own standee!

Voila! You and your child are ready to play and retell The Nutcracker and the Mouse King!

Finally, the Ballet!

Does your child know what ballet is? The answer is easy if she is taking ballet lessons. Still, it doesn’t mean she had a chance to watch a professional ballet. In this case (or if the whole idea is entirely new to her), start from the beginning. I bet you can show her some short segments on YouTube. You might also tell, how P. I. Tchaikovsky wrote music for Hoffmann’s tale, but changed it a little bit.

You may use the same game that you and your child created for retelling the story for reenacting the ballet’s plot. Just add additional setting: Winter Wonderland. Create it the same way as other scenes and let it snow with cotton balls or torn pieces of Kleenex.

Play the game with Tchaikovsky’s music. Your child might also want to reenact some scenes. Girls might enjoy dancing like snowflakes or flowers, while boys might enjoy fighting with the Mouse King.

Finally, when you decide to watch the ballet, make it special. Even if you can’t go to theater, you can still bring theater home.

Nutcracker is NOT Just for Christmas!

And don’t feel disappointed if you never got do any of Nutcracker activities because of holiday’s hustle and bustle. Don’t postpone until next holiday season. Kids’ imagination will transform any season into Christmas season. Just do it!

For creativity class inspired by Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker check out the following classes. Click on the image to see a short movie bout the class.

Inspire With a Story

Tell Them (or Retell) a Story

Have you recently told your child a bedtime story? A going-for-a-walk-time story? A having-breakfast-together-time story? A waiting-for-a-doctor’s-appointment-time story?

The truth is, there is no wrong time to tell child a story. Especially, when it comes to retelling stories. Yes, telling family stories is great. But I want to talk about retelling children stories, fairy tales, or even stories for older kids that you don’t think your child is quite ready to read yet.

You may ask why bother if you could just read her a book. Here is an excellent article that addresses just that issue. While article talks about teachers, the parent (or grandparent) can, absolutely, do the same. In fact, it might help to establish an additional bond between a child and adult. Since you are the one who knows your kid the best, you can adopt a story to make it a little less scary, a little funnier, or just add or omit some details. This way the story becomes so much more special: it’s designed by you with you child in mind.

It’s okay if you are not comfortable in retelling stories at first. Choose something simple, with repetitive story line, like The Gingerbread Man. By the way, many folktales have repetitive story lines. Make it personal, make it fun, and include your child in this process. Say together, “You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!” It doesn’t have to be a new story either, it just have to be FUN!

What Message Retelling is Sending

Among other benefits, retelling creates a family tradition of story sharing. As child grows older and sees retelling as a natural thing to do, he starts retelling stories too. This is a great way to practice so many important skills: vocabulary words, speaking in front of audience, and using imagination, just to name a few.

So, don’t wait for the bedtime. Retell story anytime!

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through Elementary school visit my group on Facebook

Introduce Your Child to Fine Art on Your Own!

What if you love art, but your child seems indifferent? What if you homeschool and would like to introduce your kid to famous paintings, but not sure where to start? Fear not, there are so many amazing books for young children just waiting to help you with this task.

I have to confess: as a child I was not interested in art at all. My grandfather had a great many art books and postcards with reproductions of famous works of art. He often tried to share with me his passion, but I always found more interesting things to do. Then, he bought me a set of postage stamps depicting famous works of art and a stamp album. I’ve got interested in collecting stamps, and he kept buying them for me. Not all of them depicted fine art, but many did. And somehow, these became my favorite ones. While arranging my stamps and flipping through pages of my album, I got to know and like fine art.

Yes, it is possible to kindle an interest in a child through familiarity. Remember, familiarity breeds liking effect? The tricky part is to find the way to familiarize a child with fine art without creating disliking. Of course, there are always classes and museum exhibitions for children. I absolutely encourage you to take advantage of these, especially now, in Covid world, when many museums provide free workshops online.

I also want to share with you a great variety of art books for children. I hope you’ll be lucky to find many of them through your local library (that’s what I did). If not, you might pick and choose some of them to add to your personal book collection.

Art books That Teach through play.

These are the books that often have words like spy, spot, or find in their titles. They employ gaming techniques to arouse child’s curiosity about work of art. Here are my favorite author’s and titles.

  • Unlikely Pairs by Bob Raszka is a great book to introduce the concept of “belonging together” to young children. Young kids totally get most of the pairs in this book. And, by the way, there are other Bob Raszka’s art books for kids that you might want to check out.

ART BOOKS with projects.

These books not only introduce fine art, but also supply the projects in a style of presented piece of art.

Fun stories about art and artists.

There are many great stories about fine art and artists for young children. Here are a few things to bear in mind when choosing this kind of book.

  • At young age it’s less important for children to know the name and the biography of the artist, but more important to be able to relate to an artist. (Poor old Matisse! His was not strong enough to paint, but he could use scissors to create his cutouts. And by the way, we can use scissors to make cutouts too!)

  • If the story doesn’t provide the original work of art, I suggest finding it online and showing to a child. Often, illustrators create their own take on famous painting or sculpture, but children deserve to see the original one (even if it’s a reproduction on a computer screen.)

With that said, here are my favorite art stories for young children:

Click here to check out my Creativity Classes Inspired by Fine Art

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Inspire Creativity With Materials

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to stock up on
amazing art supplies available right there in your house!

All this wrapping and unwrapping of presents brings into the house shiny, colorful paper that is perfect for crafts. Just cut the most beautiful ones into storable sizes and keep it for crafts. Alternatively, cut out fun patterns and let your kids glue them to decorate items of their choosing.

I love tissue paper, especially, the colorful one! The best part is that it could be wrinkled and even ripped a little and still be used in variety of art projects. Just smooth it again, crumple, or tear for the most ingenious results.

Throwing away bows and colorful ribbons left after opening the gifts should be a big no-no. Not only they can be reused for future gifts, but they are fun to use in art projects. And if you are not sure how, just give them to your children: they will come up with ideas!

I LOVE inspiring kids’ creativity with materials that surround them both inside and outside. I created classes to do just that! They are available online only for Outschool students. Click on the picture to learn more about them.

Good Books, Beautiful Books.

We all know about books’ benefits for children. But have we ever thought of importance of illustrations? Not only pictures in books help child to grasp the plot, they often serve as his very first encounter with art. Long before visits to museum, picture books are there to entice visual pleasure. The one who understood it best, was Eric Carle when he founded  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

What does it mean for us, parents? It means the books we choose for our little (and not so little) ones may not just develop their minds, but help them relate to the world around them, express their emotions, expend their imagination, and do so much more!

So, how to choose a book that would provide child with both, great literary and visual experience? One way, of course, is to rely on our own taste or childhood memory. Another way, is to look for books awarded Caldecott Medal, although, there are many great books with amazing illustrations that never got awarded anything.

Here are just a few suggestions of my favorite authors who, often, are amazing illustrators as well.

  • Chris Van Allsburg, the author of Polar Express. Make sure to check his other incredible books, like Zathura, Jumanji, Just a Dream, and The Sweetest Fig. For older children (yes, picture books are still important even if your child is reading chapter books!) check out The Stranger, Queen of the Falls, and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (this one could be used to provide writing prompts for creative writing or just for making up stories.)
  • Maurice Sendack, the author of Where the Wild Things. Here are less known books by this enormously talented author and illustrator: In the Night Kitchen, The Sign on Rosie’s Door, Chicken Soup with Rice, and my favorite, Little Bear series (although Sendack only illustrated them.)
  • Laurent de Brunhoff. I love Babar. Even though, the original 6 books, like The Story of Babar were written and illustrated by Laurent de Brunhoff’s father, Jean de Brunhoff, later books continued in the same style as original ones.
  • Steven Kellogg. From The Mysterious Tadpole to the tall tales like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and many more, his books are always bright and upbeat.
  • Patricia Polacco wrote and illustrated such a remarkable variety of books! My favorite one, though, is for older kids (here we go again, I love picture books for older kids too!) Pink and Say.
  • Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, a great duo, produced well known and loved James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others. I invite you, though, to check out their books of poetry, like Vile Verses.

Give Them an Experience as a Gift

We all heard advice to give experiences rather than stuff for holiday. During the holiday season, the tickets to The Nutcracker ballet might be an obvious gift choice. But if you think the ticket price is too steep or afraid your children are too young to sit through entire performance, you could create The Nutcracker experience right in the comfort of your home. Here are a few simple ideas.

  • Choose your favorite version of The Nutcracker that could be rented or streamed. The timeless ones by George Balanchine or Mikhail Baryshnikov (my personal favorite) are always great choices.
  • Make a bright invitation and pack it in a nice box as a gift.
  • Tell your kids the plot or read the the story of the Nutcracker. Here are my personal favorites: The Nutcracker adopted from original Hoffman’s story (more suitable for older kids) and the shorter version based on a ballet (works well for younger children.)
  • Make your own tickets or ask kids to make them.
  • Dress up nicely like for a night out.
  • Prepare your room to look like “a theater”.
  • Children may “sell” the tickets and pretend to be ushers.
  • Watch with them as much or as little as they will be able to enjoy or break it into parts and finish on another day.
  • Have fun!

More Gifts for Holidays: Family Games

Let’s Move Together!

This year, many of our kids spend more time in front of the computer then before. So, let’s get them moving with family games.

Wonder Forge Cat in The Hat I Can Do That! Game. I have yet to find a young kid who would resist this game! Unfortunately, it’s currently only available on eBay (or similar sites). However, the same company created a new game that seems to be alike: Wonder Forge Marvel I Can Do That! Game

Wonder Forge Marvel I Can Do That! Game full of fun challenges + a little bit of counting to know who won.

Have you ever played Hot Lava in your living room? If you need help to set it up, check out this game: The Floor is Lava – Interactive Game for Kids and Adults

And how about family game of charades with kids as young as 4? Just choose age appropriate cards from the stuck of Pressman Charades for Kids and watch them go!

Goliath Games Phlat Ball  is not just for throwing outside, although it’s a lot of fun. Try playing Hot Potato with it and enjoy all the giggles you get when it pops!

I have to admit: I am a big fan of carpet skates! If you have a carpet in your house, these Simtec Fun Slides Carpet Skates might be just the ticket to make your guys moving on a rainy day.

More Great Choices

Magnetic Tiles seem to be hot nowadays, and they well deserve it! But what about other old favorite building and manipulative games? Here are my two cents.

I love mosaics, especially mushroom pegs. They are great for development of fine motor skills, promoting creativity, and so much more. Check out this one: ArtCreativity Mushroom Peg Puzzle for Kids with 10-Challenges.

And don’t forget about geometric shape pattern blocks, like 155 PCS Wooden Pattern Blocks Set Geometric Shape Puzzle, and geoboards, like JCREN Wooden Geoboard 8×8 Mathematical Manipulative Material Array Block Geo Board. Both types of games provide multiple opportunities for practicing shapes and problem solving skills. And kids love them too!