Free Activities For Imaginative Play

Play ideas will be included in my NEWSLETTER each month for you to try at home, sign up on Home Page.

Cardboard boxes

I want to tell you a big secret: children do not necessarily play with so-called ‘toys’ bought in a shop, they may well play more with the cardboard box it came in! Small cardboard boxes can be made into pretend letter boxes to deliver letters around the house or garden (postie!); medium sized boxes can be made into dog kennels, dolly bed’s, and train carriages; large ones – never throw them out – can be made into toy ovens for the sandpit, boats and all sorts. Now it is time for your imagination to run wild – sticky tape and scissors in hand and make box creations. They are kind to your wallet, the environment and your child’s imagination!

On outings collect tickest, then turn the sofa crushions into a train and remember your tickets for the inspector!


Nature provides children with an array of play objects for free. Look around and start gathering. Feathers make wonderful pretend pens, hair brushes, and candles in sand cakes in the garden sandpit; gumnuts can be wonderfully transformed into pretend cooking inside and out (when the child is old enough not to swallow); shells are perfect for toy money and pasta; fallen branches can be sawn and made into blocks, small for farms and big for castle walls. As the playing child holds these precious items in their hands, they are able to be creative, imaginative and feel the secrets and love of nature in their play – priceless! Follow National Park’s Code of practice if gathering nature items further a field.

The imaginative play that can happen in a sandpit is wonderful for young children – I feel that every home should have a sandpit in the garden! Include some old or opportunity shop kitchen equipment, including baking trays, spoons, utensils and bowls and away you go! Remember the feathers for candles and shells for money. Sandpits can be easily made using big logs often found on the side of the road: make a circle with them, line with plastic, then phone your local building suppliers for sand (mention it is for a sandpit as builders’ sand can be a little coarse). Cover with a big plastic sheet when not in use, so it does not become a local cat litter tray!

Adult’s works as child’s play

Another secret is that ‘adult’ work is child’s play. The negative concept of ‘chore’ does not exist for a young child. Your housework and daily chores abound in play opportunities for the young child; having your child alongside may brighten your idea of housework too! Let’s look: washing up is a wonder to a small child, with bubbles and water! Pull up a chair and give them the spoons and non-breakable items to wash (cut the dish sponge in half for little hands and use environmentally-friendly, non-toxic washing up liquid). They will get wet, little actual washing-up will get done, the floor will need a mop after – but chill out – pop them in the bath or PJs; you will have a happy child and a clean floor! If you have a dishwasher please fill the sink from time to time too!

Most children delight in helping to cook. Cooking can be fun for a young child. A little chopping board and bread knife is a must for your kitchen. Children can then help to chop and grate; their little hands are perfect for mushrooms and bananas, chop, chopping! A cook’s apron is vital. This cooking is not necessarily a special time set aside for including your child; it can be part of every day, every meal if your child is interested.

Have you a broom/dustpan and brush in the corner of your kitchen? Then you could place a miniature one next to it. Do you carry washing to a clothes-horse or line? A little basket for tiny socks and pants and a wash line set up for little hands is a great idea. The weekly shopping can be made fun with a little basket to find a special piece of fruit by your child; a plant spray and little watering can is a handy present to water plants. A very important job is helping with the mail: a wooden trolley or a special bag is a wonderful way to collect the mail each day. When your child is at a loose end, invite them to join you in your tasks. If a child asks to ‘help’ you, make the answer ‘yes’, where possible. They may not be asking so readily as a teenager! These real-life skills can be fun for children. Involving your child in this way makes your days together special in little ways.