Idea Roundup: Creative Growth + Kids

Do you think it’s important for children to have creative and imaginative childhoods? Do you want to raise your child in an environment that supports his or her creative capacity? Here are some of this week’s best places to look for ideas that foster creative growth and kids.

Frog Design: The Four Secrets of Playtime that Foster Creative Kids

“When 85 percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it, will more focus on standardized curriculum, testing, and memorization provide the skills an emergent workforce needs? Not likely. Play is our greatest natural resource.”

Wall Street Journal: A box? Or a spaceship? What makes kids creative

“To nurture creative skills at home, parents can invite children to come up with possible solutions for everyday problems, and listen to their ideas with respect, says Don Treffinger, president of the Center for Creative Learning, a Sarasota, Fla., consulting group. A child who notices that an ailing neighbor is snowed in might shovel her sidewalks, for example. A child who is troubled by photos of Haitian disaster victims might donate allowance money to a relief fund.”

WSJ Blog: Sparking Creativity in Your Kids

“With school holiday breaks looming, many parents will be racking their brains to come up with fun activities for their children while they are at home. This might be a good opportunity to nurture a little creativity in your kids…”

Felt Cookies

Lately, a lot of play-acting around here seems to revolve around cooking. We have a slew of play food, but up until last week we had no cookies. When we wanted to bake a batch, the play dough would usually come out.  Not a bad thing — I love play dough — but while doing some research for another project, I hit on this fun and easy idea from Mirror-Mirror and Laura Bray for making felt play cookies. If you’re not a stitcher, don’t let that curb your own enthusiasm for making a batch of these.  The project is fairly simple, and could even be done with a glue gun instead of stitches if the mood strikes. These are not only great imagination-builders for your own play kitchen, but also make excellent gifts and could be a thoughtful donation to your favorite pre-school or school fundraiser.

The Prototype Batch

Since I had some felt and embroidery thread lying around, I decided to whip up a batch to see if these were worth making. A few iterations on the first batch and a couple visits to the craft store later, and I think I’ve nailed the project down pretty tight.

The very tough Test Kitchen


  • Acrylic Felt swatches like these: you can find these in craft stores for about 30 cents a piece (9″ x 12″).  Choose colors that you’d like for your cookies and your frosting. Good choices for us were tan, pale pin, dark brown, white, and cream.
  • Embroidery Thread to match the felt
  • Embroidery Thread for Sprinkles. My variety-pack includes pink, hot pink, yellow, and green.
  • Chenille or Embroidery needles. I prefer chenille needles because the eye is a little larger, making them easier for me to thread. Either way, make sure you get something with a sharp point. Stay clear of tapestry needles with their blunt tips.
  • Polyester fiberfill stuffing, such as this.
  • Pencil or fabric crayon


Fold your felt in half, or stack two pieces together, and draw your cookie shape. I made circles, but you could make gingerbread men, ducks, etc. My cookies are about 3″ in diameter. I like to cut free-hand, but you could place a cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass on top of the felt to get a clean shape.

Cut the felt out.

Make some frosting. Cut an organic circle-ish shape out of contrasting felt.

Layer the frosting on top of one of the cookie pieces. Select a color for the sprinkles. Thread the needle. Knot off one end, and stitch on some sprinkles. Add a couple colors if you ‘d like.

The back will look something like this.

Layer the bottom piece of cookie beneath the frosted top, and stitch around the cookie with a blanket stitch. Be sure to leave a gap to fill in the cookie with some fiberfill stuffing. Stitch the hole closed.

Place your cookies in a jar for gift-giving, or put them on a plate.

Happy Baking!

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Finding Nature with Kids

Outdoor Abacus. Tot Spot, Children’s Discovery Museum, Sausalito

Although I grew up in the culturally-rich and naturally-poor concrete jungle of Los Angeles, I had the good fortune of having a wild backyard at my imaginative disposal. On the hillside of our rough-and-tumble yard, my parents thoughtfully installed a playhouse filled with nooks and crannies for storing treasures and a magical trap door, hidden beneath a rug, where we could escape into a dirt patch next to an apple tree. We built forts in the overgrown bushes, picked apricots, pears, and plums from our trees, and generally invented our own little universe in the world behind our house.

In contrast, 100 yards beyond our front door lay a busy intersection, replete with a fire station, liquor store, abandoned hospital, and a bar that opened at 6 am and advertised “live girls and pool.” Until I was about eight, I actually thought they had a swimming pool in there, and imagined girls floating around on rafts just beyond the saloon doors. Sigh. Despite our less than pastoral location, having access to a backyard wonderland filled me with a love of nature that one wouldn’t expect in a city child.

Similarly, you may live in a less-than-ideal spot with few options to take your kids on nature walks or let them roam the neighboring creek, and it could be helpful to peek at an idealized utopia of nature-play to seek some inspiration for fostering creativity in the great outdoors.

Playing with Mud and Water

To get us started, in their article, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature (1), playground designer and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining their ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slides…a surprising observation in light of what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (2) and promote competition rather than co­operation (3).” (Play Outside. Public Schools of North Carolina.). Slides and swings are no doubt fun, but children will bore more quickly of these closed-ended activities than they will of open-ended play spaces like sandboxes, forts, ponds, and climbing trees that allow for plentiful interpretations.

Playground designer, Randy White shares a comprehensive and workable list of things that children prefer in outdoor environments. I’ve found that some of these ideas can be implemented on a small-scale, and that inspiration can be found for even the most lacking of outdoor spaces.  These are also great things to look for when searching for playgrounds or preschools that foster creative growth through outdoor play.

Basic Components of Naturalized Play Environments (4):

  • Water
  • Plentiful indigenous vegetation, including trees, bushes, flowers and long grasses that children can explore and interact with
  • Animals, creatures in ponds, butterflies, bugs
  • Sand, and best if it can be mixed with water
  • Diversity of color, textures and materials
  • Ways to experience the changing seasons, wind, light, sounds and weather
  • Natural places to sit in, on, under, lean against, climb and provide shelter and shade
  • Different levels and nooks and crannies, places that offer socialization, privacy and views
  • Structures, equipment and materials that can be changed, actually, or in their imaginations, including plentiful loose parts


(1) White, Randy and Vicki Stoecklin, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature. Early Childhood News magazine, March/April 1998.

(2) Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.

(3) Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.

(4) White, Randy. Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development & the Earth’s Future. Taproot, Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 16, No. 2. The Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, Cortland, NY.


Play Outside: Recommended Resources for Outdoor Learning Environments. Inspiring quotes, articles, and research for parents and early childhood educators.

Outdoor Learning Environments. National Clearninghouse for Educational Facilities. A long, detailed list of articles, videos and research on outdoor learning spaces.