Parents of children of all ages are always on the lookout for creative activities for their kids to not only help cure a bout of boredom, but also challenge their minds. Oh, and of course get them off of screens!
As a parent, I can tell you a dream activity is one that is easy to start and requires little to no prep work or excessive supplies, isn’t very expensive and can be played with regularly and independently. In other words, mom and dad can be in the background doing something else and can be hands off while the kids play. Is there an activity that meets this requirement?
Lets discuss the benefits of creative activities for kids.
The best creative activity for kids is building and construction type activities. This is more formally called constructive play.
What is Constructive Play?
Constructive play is basically just using materials (doesn’t have to be a toy) to build or create something new. Typically in construction, this involves sorting, stacking, assembling and molding.
This term was coined by Jean Piaget, a psychologist known for his work in child development. Jean Piaget believed that constructive play, which is open-ended (basically just playing around) and not instructed by a parent or teacher, helps a child with cognitive development and acquire creative skills. Here is an article called The Importance of Constructive Play if you would like to read about this further.
Creativity can develop over time as children generate their own ideas and find solutions to problems they may encounter in constructive play. Children can basically create their own designs, make their own rules and play at their own pace.
Examples of constructive play include:
- Building sandcastles
- Playing with playdough
- Building blocks – wood, plastic or any other material
- Water play (water tables)
- Other materials in nature like sticks and stones
- Building forts with blankets and chairs in the house or with snow outside
- Building small structures using playing cards (advanced)
How Building Activities Help with Child Development
Problem Solving – there are certainly challenges involved with building activities. Building a structure isn’t easy once it rises in height. You can’t just keep building up without a stable foundation because everything will eventually come down. There are frustrations that children have to work through. There could be meltdowns! But it encourages them to come up with creative ways to find the right pieces and positioning to make it work
Imaginative Play – children are designing, manipulating or molding this structure on their own and from their own imagination; incorporating different parts or pieces such as wheels and other moving pieces. Basically a child comes up with a design idea and develops it from start to end.
Improves Motor Skills – Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists. Grasping, manipulating and building help exercise these muscles and can help younger children with other skills such as writing.
Learn Persistence – structures fall, pieces don’t fit properly, and if there’s a 5 car garage build on the carpet, at some point in time mommy has to vacuum! Being ok with rebuilding or trying something again that wasn’t working out is all part of learning to be persistent.
Builds Self-Esteem – when children finish building the toy or structure that they set out to make, it is such a sense of accomplishment for them. This helps build more confidence to try to make more complex things and challenge themselves further.
Goal Setting – Once children make up their mind about what they aspire to make, it gives them a goal to try to reach. This is a practice that will serve them well and allow them to challenge themselves as they grow.
How is Building a STEM Activity?
Math – when building with multiple pieces, children are exploring shapes, sizes, counting and symmetry
Science – building structures helps children learn the concepts of gravity and balance, as well as cause-and-effect
Engineering – the entire process of designing and building structures one step at a time and resolving issues along the way is engineering. Through this process children eventually learn how to design and build a solid structure by understanding the need for a stable foundation or base, reinforcing the structure etc.
Building is a Great Activity for Any Age
Parents often ask what some good activities are for 10 year olds and children into their teens because it can be more challenging to find activities for children of this age range to do at home. They are more likely to gravitate towards screens and parents have to set limits on that amount of time.
What I love most about building activities is that this is even something that adults can enjoy. It can be a very relaxing activity. There are so many benefits for people of all ages and it can be enjoyable to all.
Set building challenges for older children. Once they have a goal they need to reach, it may motivate them to take the time and effort to get into this type of activity and learn to enjoy it.
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Building Projects for Kids
Currently our favorite building materials are:
Legos (of course the obvious!)
Legos and K’nex have kits that allow for children as young as 3 to get started. The pieces are larger and therefore much easier to connect. Lego has a brand called Duplo for the younger age group, around 3 to 5.
Show Older Kids More Complex Projects
With all 3 building materials, projects can become more complex with age. I found that after age 7, my kids needed more than just sitting with their bins full of pieces to start creating. They needed some inspiration. They needed to set their goals higher with more complex projects, with a little guidance and direction.
So we started to show them pictures and videos of structures and objects they could make using these building materials. They were so impressed and motivated that it reignited their drive to design something that they didn’t’ think was possible to make.
Visit Live Exhibits
Seeing live exhibits is another great way to show older children what they can aspire to make. I guarantee a child will look at a model and say ‘I’m going to make that one day!’
We were lucky to visit The Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is there that we were introduced to Keva blocks, which basically look like the same blocks used in the game Jenga. We were all in awe of such amazing structures that could be built using these simple blocks of wood.
Learning How to Follow Instructions
There are usually some guidebooks with instructions included in the K’nex and the Keva block sets to help build some more complex structures and objects. This helps children build on a host of other skills such as simply following directions. It teaches them to carefully go through each step, find the right pieces, position them properly, redo mistakes they may find and then move forward to reach a goal.
If there aren’t any guidebooks included, there are instructions online. Although you may be trying to do these projects to help stay away from screen time, the step by step instructions given online are also great for kids to follow.
Lego, K’nex and Keva block/planks can get pricey. I would stick with the simple sets as you can get more creative with them. Consider it an investment.
Building and constructing activities can even be relaxing for adults so it can be a great family activity as well.
Looking for more ideas for creative activities for kids? Check out this T-shirt design activity.