Creating a Play Catalyst (ideas for long strings of free fun at home)

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

When you are a mom trying to find entertainment on the cheap, it is best to seek out fun that leads to more fun (a "play catalyst"). I remember when I was little, my mother had a stash of thinga-ma-bobs. She spread all the odds and ends out on the table, and with a glue gun, stitches, and a vision, we created "baby dolls". Then the dolls needed clothes...then later my dad made a doll house. Still later we went to the dollar store to buy wooden furniture "puzzles" that we had to assemble together. Multi-step projects are wonderful for family time; after one part is done, you can talk up the next, make plans, and continue the fun. It much easier to transition back to a night-time routine or chores if you can promise continued fun the next day.

Last summer I scoped out free fun to look forward too. Our library hosts a local reading plan during the summer that includes free programs and prizes. One offering was a puppet show in the school gym. My sons LOVED it! The puppeteer explained how he made his puppet performers, and that lead to our own try at making a puppet troupe. If I can do something without making a purchase, I go for it. I love the energy and time it takes to create, especially when it is engaging and teaching my sons.

I have an old plastic tub (just like my mother did) and I fill it with craft "junk". If a necklace breaks, I throw it in. Old wreaths, silk flowers, decor marbles, pipe-cleaners, paint, buttons and so on.

I dug out the old bucket and we went to work.

I suppose if we went further with it, we could create a box stage and write a script. Perhaps we will do that for out next school holiday. The point is to take an activity and stretch it out as far as you can. In Education, we called it using prior knowledge, or expanding upon what a person is already familiar with. We go to a puppet show, then my son understands the uses and fun of a puppet, and what a show is supposed to look like. When we went to make them from materials in our junk box, he had a prior knowledge to build upon. I fired up his memory and recall abilities and he used them to create his own new buddy.

The biggest and most cherished project we did that was a long string of togetherness was our book, A Dark Woodsy Walk. It began as silly story that we spun in the porch swing together, before he could even talk well. He asked for it so much that I got into a rhythm with the words, and began to find a repetition in the telling with each session. When he began to recite it around the house, I decided to write it down.

First, we used a big purple ring binder that we had already. We painted pictures and used nature stickers to tell our story. When the pages started to fall out it, I decided to make a photo album story book.

I got my boy dressed up as the main character, and we went outside with the plot in mind, snapping photos to use to tell the story. Then we gathered pine cones, stones, and leaves (or leave-es, as he says). We used gift tissue paper and those natural materials to make collages along with the photos and word strips. I took pictures of the collages, printed them, and ordered them in a 4 by 6 inch photo album.

We read that for awhile, and I decided I wanted to publish it so we could share the story with our family and friends. It took about a year from the first time I typed out the words for our 3 ring binder to get it published, then a few more months to reformat and publish again. It was fun and learning for both of us all along.

I am proud that I live a lifestyle that puts quality time with my kids in the top most of priorities. I am proud that we have tangible (and purchasable) evidence of our playtime that we can share to help others play too. Perhaps I feel the weight of time slipping to a guilty fault; they are only little once. I relish any opportunity to play a moment and make a memory.

Play is important - it creates moments of trust that your children can keep in their minds and hearts when they are older and don't want to play much anymore. You have to use this time to create a strong bond. When they are teenagers, they can look at those fun times and be reassured that you love them, took time with them, and that they can trust you with the tough stuff of teen-dom because you made time for silliness when it wasn't always convenient. Silliness is seriously binding business.

On that thought, I have to end this post. I might have a puppet stage to create after dinner.



For kid's craft ideas, follow me on IG and FB stories, where we are often into some fun project. @amberlinharrison for both IG and FB.

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