How Climbing Trees Builds Creative Thinking

Have you ever climbed a tree? Do your kids like climbing trees?

This has never been high on my list, even back in the nursery school days, but my 3 year old N has climbing in her soul and will climb just about anything: rock climbing walls, trees, jungle gyms, furniture, fences, etc. She seems to gravitate especially to trees that offer a challenging climb, and I like it because it gets us out into the fresh air and builds strong minds and bodies.

I love good ol’ fashioned play like this, and thought we could all use a visual reminder of how important free-range outdoor play is for kids.

outdoor play kids

The spirit of play is at the heart of imagination, creativity, and innovation. In playful environments, we’re prone to divergent thinking (generating numerous ideas about a topic) and are more inclined to push the limits of what’s possible into the impossible.

Climbing trees may not seem like highly cognitive work, but let’s take a look at what might be involved…

tree climbing kids

First of all, you have to map your idea (a will to climb a tree) with your reality (how will you climb that tree?). And then you have to send signals from your mind to your body to problem solve the execution. Our neighbor’s poor flowers were pelted by too many little climbers who have deemed this the most climbable neighborhood tree, so you might also have to navigate around the mini-flower-shielding fence that’s now in your way.

You might have to make room for a friend, which can build emotional intelligence and help develop spatial reasoning.

You might not yet be ready to climb a tree, but you’re building your confidence by climbing things that are within the zone of proximal development. Go you!

tree climbing kid

And when you reach that branch that always eluded you, the feeling of pride is beyond belief. You’ve accomplished something that only you could accomplish. You’ve tested your strength and your limits, and proven to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to.

I always watch my children closely and offer a lot of support when they first take on new physical challenges, but since my goal is to empower them I will step back once I get the cue that they’re comfortable without my assistance. I was talking with a friend today about free-range parenting (maybe you’ve heard of this movement?) and I follow this parenting philosophy to a great extent. I’m very involved in my childrens’ lives and everyday experiences, offer them a great deal of compassion and emotional support, but I’m raising them to be confident, independent thinkers who can make decisions for themselves without a lot of supervision.

I’ve partnered withGoGo squeeZ, the first squeezable, re-sealable, no-mess, 100% fruit, no-sugar added apple­sauce based snack for kids in the U.S, as a Playbassador, which means that I have more reasons to share fun outdoor activities that celebrate play and creativity. All opinions in this post are my own.

GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of “always play” and is putting this belief to work through the “Pass the Play” campaign with the goal of bringing the simple joy of play to those who need it most across the country.

Word Drawing Game

Do your kids like to draw? Do you ever play drawing games?

The other day my kids and I were cleaning out the garage. Well, really it was me while they loitered, moved things around, and made a lot of noise.

My 3-year old found an old, but never-before-opened game of a Cranium. She adores opening new packages and ran into the house for a pair of scissors.

Once the box was open and she was done exploring its contents, she asked if we could play. I love how open-minded and full of enthusiasm children can be.

If you look at the packaging I think it recommends this game for age 18 and older, so it wasn’t exactly age-appropriate, but we played a version that she enjoyed and I think it could work in some capacity for kids of all ages.

drawing games preschool

I searched through the deck of cards for something that she had some chance of drawing (and understanding). Which meant “no” on Devil’s Food Cake, Card Shark, and Wicked Witch of the East, and “yes” on Mermaids, Bubble Bath, and Potty (short for Potty Training).

My daughter can’t read yet, so this is how we played…

I pulled out a card and read it to her while she looked on (and maybe picked up on how letters form words). Then she drew it, to the best of her ability.

This part was the most fun for me, and in some cases frustrating for her. In the picture above, she was challenged to draw a mermaid and asked me if she could look at a picture of one. I pulled up a drawing of Disney’s Little Mermaid, she gave it her best effort, exclaimed that it looked nothing like a mermaid, and this exercise ended with, “it’s your turn.”

Then I drew one (a potty) while she guessed what I was drawing. Despite years of drawing classes, my drawing barely looked like a potty and it took her forever to make a correct guess. I think it helped her to see me struggle, showing that we can’t always create the things that our brains envision. At least I hope that’s what happened.

Back to her…she got to draw bubble bath…

drawing game preschool

Again, I was so curious to see how she would tackle this challenge. She chose a blue crayon….

drawing game preschool

Drew some water along the left side of the paper and bubbles on the right side. Ah, a bubble bath! We played a total of about 5 drawings before she was done.

If I were to do this again, I’d make my own cards with words of things that are in her drawing vocabulary: flowers, people, rockets, and rainbows. And I’d include a few things just outside of her drawing ability: house, bike, tree, bunny.

But venus flytraps and Hawaiian shirts may have to wait another 15 years.

More drawing games

Art Dice: A fun tool for creating randomly-created art. Also good for teaching shapes, colors, lines, etc.

Slide Drawing: A roll of paper and some crayons turn a slide into more than a downhill ride

Drawing Shadows: Play with sidewalk chalk on a sunny morning or afternoon

Organic Shape Monsters: You just need some string, a drawing tool, and a big imagination.

Hole inspiration: Draw around holes cut into a sheet of paper (The Artful Parent)

Challenge Drawings: Cut out shapes of paper and see what you can turn them into (The Artful Parent)

Pick and Draw Art Game: A deck of drawing cards reviewed by The Chocolate Muffin Tree

A simple way to learn how to Draw Circles from Lessons Learnt Journal

Stuck in a waiting room? Save this fun waiting room drawing idea (Mama Smiles)

Do you have a favorite drawing game or post about a drawing game?

5 Easy Steps to Invent a Recipe with Kids

Do you like to cooking with kids or do you yearn to cook with your child? Today we’re sharing five easy steps to invent a recipe with kids, which will get you into a creative cooking mindset. Think Master Chef + little kids = a fun afternoon.

But you might wonder, “why would I want to invent a recipe when I can easily follow a recipe?” The answer is that inventing recipes instills children with confidence to invent their own solutions to a problem, encourages independent thinking and problem solving skills, and teaches children how to find their way around a kitchen.

5 easy steps to invent a recipe with kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

Cooking with Kids: Invent a Recipe

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

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Land Art with Children

We were invited by Rashmie of Mommy Labs to join Forest Fiesta, an online celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) with her and about twenty other arts and education bloggers. This year’s host country was India, and Rashmie came up with the inspired idea to act as our Indian blogging host. Thanks, Rashmie! When you reach the end of this post, you can click around and see the forest creations made by my friends and their children from around the globe.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, is Forests. According to the UN, it’s the “most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.”

And with that, I’d like to share our positive environmental action with you…

Before heading out, we spent some time looking at pictures of inspirational land art, with a vague plan to make something monumental from nature.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day at a nearby farm that has a beautiful forest of trees and a creek that runs through it. I packed a little investigator bag for N, and she was delighted to find a magnifying glass in it. Aside from the photo, it didn’t get much real use, but it was a fun way to begin our adventure into the forest…

We took a hike through the trees and marveled at the patterns made by the sun and leaves.

Once we got into the forest, we noted the abundance of moss. Both of my kids loved feeling it’s texture. I adore the look of moss and lichen, so we brought a little bit home for this year’s fairy garden.

N spotted these colorful leaves caught by a log in the stream, and she asked me to take this picture.

We played with the creek’s current, and sent leaves and flowers down different parts of it, noting the various speeds at which the objects moved.

And then we stumbled upon the bridges! Forget nature for a minute — these bridges make LOUD sounds when you run across them! N took her shoes off, made herself right at home, and must have run across these bridges for almost an hour!

Meanwhile, Baby Rainbow enjoyed the experience of digging into the dirt and leaves. And this is when the abundance of leaves gave me this idea…

…to build a leaf path! Do you see it there? N was careful to walk around it as she exited the bridge.

She stopped periodically to help me gather yellow leaves and lay them down, but mostly she wanted to RUN! I think she’s a kinesthetic learnerWhat kind of learner do you think your child is?

When hikers approached to cross the bridge we’d sit down together and engage them in conversation or eavesdrop on their conversations, and this was where the fun came in.

A mother with two boys walked by, did a double take when she saw the path, and then stopped to take a photo of it. Her boys ran over and we overheard a loud, “cooooool.” (Score — I think we managed to execute a “positive environmental action”)! We chatted with a couple of women who asked us who made it. We did! And if we’d heard of the artist Andy Goldsworthy? We had, and he was actually our inspiration! They also mentioned that they were impressed with the scale of it, and never would have thought to stop and make something like this themselves. (Small children make us slow down and do crazy things, no?!).

N loved the interactions and attention that we brought to the environment and ourselves through this action, and it prompted her to make her own piece of land art…a circle!

If you’ve made land art or have a favorite link to share, I’d love to hear about it (and you can add a picture to your comment)! I was actually surprised that i didn’t find a lot of land art by kids online. Maybe this will be my next Creative Challenge?!


This post is shared with It’s Playtime


Flour Sifter

We have a make-shift sensory tub that often makes its way into the middle of our kitchen where we conduct experiments, make “cakes and pies,” and mess around with the feel of stuff. Some of the things we’ve filled it with are dry beans, oobleck, jello, vinegar and baking soda, and rice.

I’m always on the lookout for neat-o objects that might challenge and delight my child, and when I saw this flour sifter in the market I had a feeling she’d love it. And she does. Loves it. I’ve used it maybe once (I guess I’m not picky about eating lumpy cake), so if we were to mark ownership based on usage, it’s definitely hers!

I set her up with a couple plastic containers full of flour, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a soup spoon, and a crank-style sifter. Once she got to work, she poured a few cups of flour into the sifter and started cranking away, making some great crusty ol’ noises.

She dumped out the flour dregs that didn’t spin through.

And then she had a pile of flour ready to mold into a tiny mountain. This process repeated a handful of times, just long enough for me to do some dishes and start dinner.

What other kitchen tools do you play with?

This post was shared with Art for Little Hands