encouraging imaginative play!

during my first few years as a new mother, i filled much of my spare minutes hunched over parenting books –how to bring my kids the greatest joy, how to talk to my babies and then my toddlers, how to have a tidy welcoming home with little ones, how to get a baby to sleep 12 hours at night (lol), how to do this and how to do that. don’t do this, do a lot of that. wait, do more of this. yet the next book cautioned and advised to never ever do more of that.

while so much of it was very helpful, my biggest take away as i read the contradictions from book to book and tried a few of the proposed methods –realizing some worked and some didn’t, was that there wasn’t one way to do any of it. which is why there isn’t just one parenting manual we’re all given upon leaving the hospital after birth. josh and i discovered this rather quickly, since our first two little ones, while just 16 months apart in age, respond differently to literally everything. and now with 5 little ones here under our roof, we’ve learned we must teach and respond, support and encourage, praise and discipline and even vocalize and show love 5 different ways.

but one thing has remained constant and true over here as josh and i parent our little ones case by case each day, and that has been doing our all to foster the creative spirits all children arrive in our arms possessing. little ones with big imaginations and minds that aren’t yet inhibited by the social pressures or norms society grabs ahold of, without yet knowing or understanding how heartbreaking and devastating our world around us at times can be. just like each child is different, i know every home and family situation is different, too. but i do think there is power in helping our kids be kids, which really comes down to letting our kids play.

you don’t need a big fancy playroom or a massive treehouse in a backyard to foster an imagination. you don’t need a million toys or the proper dress-ups and accessories, either. my kids will find a way to make a blender tool from our kitchen into a sword, an umbrella into an aircraft, the underneath of mama’s desk into the cave entrance of a mountain, a blanket as a cape. it’s the beauty of being a kid! finding a way, using their imagination to fill in the gaps and just go with it. and i’ve noticed, as i’ve stepped out of the way and just let them figure much of it out on their own, the magic really starts to happen.

it’s been thrilling to see our baby girls (17 months old today! WHAT!?) begin to be included in all the play that happens in our apartment with their older siblings. that’s not to say our playtime is free of arguments or occasional tears and accidental boo-boos, but as they work together, i not only see a beautiful bond being built among siblings, but i see also beautiful minds coming into their own as they create, think, try and figure things out, and create some more.

and while i totally don’t believe in having all the proper costumes for all the proper activities (firstly, where would you even store them all?!) just a quick plug that a lot of costumes will be largely discounted this coming week in most shops and online stores as halloween wraps up so it’s a great time to snag anything that could work for daily playtime in the year to come. :) our kids have worn these astronaut suits since they were astronauts for halloween several years ago.

a few other little things i’ve found helpful in fostering imaginative play around the clock with little ones:

  • if you do have a costume bin, have it readily out in their main play-space so they can access it on their own. (i know i prefer ours to be out of sight because it looks so messy, but it defeats the purpose when it’s hidden away.)
  • the same goes for other creative gadgets like art supplies — i’ve noticed all five of my kids gravitate towards our art table to color and write and build when i have their art supplies at their height where they don’t have to ask me to get the crayons or paper down (i do put the paint supplies higher these days because i need to supervise that with the baby girls right now), but more creating takes place when the supplies and place to create are all set to go and accessible at any hour. here’s a tour of our playroom where you can see more of how i organize the art supplies.
  • i don’t have anything against televisions, but we’ve never had one. i just know myself too well to know it’d always be on in the background of our home (i love me my shows!) and i fear it’d be a main attraction in our space. while there is nothing wrong with tv (we have tablets with plenty of specific shows and movies and educational apps we’ve chosen for occasional screen-time for our little ones), i do think it’s beneficial for everyone in the family to limit the time a television is on when something else could be happening in that space.
  • this one is trickier for me, but i’ve been trying to let go of having our space be so crazy tidy. i want my kids to be kids and that means making messes and not giving them the pressure of feeling like they have to do a big pick up every ten minutes. i’m not talking about letting the entire apartment get dirty (there is a difference!), but not everything needs to be in its proper place all day long.
  • in the spirit of letting kids be kids, we let our kids be kids everywhere. it’s meant saying “why not?!” when they ask to wear their dress-ups on the streets of manhattan, to taking said dress-ups with us on trips (anyone remember when we ran into a dragon and a couple of knights at a castle in switzerland?!)
  • reading and reading and reading to them some more! and when doing so, pausing on all the pictures in the picture books and having them discover what is happening by the pictures alone, and maybe even discovering or building on the story by exploring the pictures in a detailed way.

the boys went to space the other week in the playroom and beatrice and madalena readily helped prepare their mission for take off. i pulled out the camera because i still hadn’t taken any photos of the girls in their little astronaut suits and i’m so glad i did. we got them for the girls earlier in the summer and they love wearing them and feeling included with their siblings so i’m glad i finally got a few photos before they outgrow them!  a very big photo dump below because you know i can never share just one or two.

just noticed beatrice has a doctor syringe in her hand here! ha- look out boys! looks like we are getting shots before blast off!

i know this looks dangerous but this is how my boys play! chairs ON THE TABLE because this was their rocket. :)

samson on the (hand-drawn cardboard) controls!


conrad asked for the umbrellas and then this happened with the chair turned upside down. it was a space shuttle!


madalena apparently walking in her little space bubble on…. the moon?!

i see you, samson!

first time for pigtails in space, no?!

i love how madalena scrunches up her nose these days when she smiles!

happy play time!

and as so many of you often have the best tips and ideas along these sorts of topics, PLEASE leave any other tips in the comments below of how you foster imaginative play in your own homes with your little ones so we all can benefit from your advice!

  1. Patty Anderson

    When our girls were little (both in high school now!), I would go to estate sales and thrift stores to find fun hats, gloves, dresses and even costumes. They really enjoyed dressing up. We would have “fashion shows” and they would pretend to be all sorts of things. They absolutely loved it.

  2. Samantha

    Naomi! I so agree. We are a play family in a world where play is less encouraged and activities take over! I want my kids to feel like our home is their home. We have a “play room”, but we have baskets, books, drawers and cupboards in each room where they can explore/play. I recently created a more useful art space, as to allow them to get things as they needed and it has been a hit. We do have a tv, but only one. I never have it on during the day. Mostly, for nighttime for mom and dad or wknd movies. We grew up with limited tv and it encouraged my imagination so much. Thank you for sharing your adorable family!!

  3. Zoë

    Where’s Eleanor?!

  4. Fernanda

    Love the photos and the tips… we do have a TV, but time it’s not on all day here. I think when there’s a lot to play and imagine, they barely ask for the TV. We also have a costume bin, but ours is basically with animals costumes because my son loves it too. Costumes are always the best, I love it. This year for halloween my soon didn’t even want a new costume, he wanted to wear something from his bin.


  5. Sandra Luz

    I love how your children embrace imaginative play!! My boys are always collecting sticks, rocks, seeds, ‘sea glass’ and bringing it it the house. It was so difficult for me to let go and have our kitchen look like an arboretum but they wore me down. And I’m glad they did! I know this type of play is very healthy for them.

  6. kj lewis

    One of my children is super imaginative on his own, but my next child used to always ask me what she should okay or draw or pretend. When I realized it was happening, We started taking turns deciding what to play or draw. She started by closely mimicking what I had just chosen, or choosing the same thing again, but as time passed she got more and more creative on her own! I agree with books and books and books, as well as a healthy amount of praise and excitement when they show you what their imaginations have come up with, so they can start to see the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with being unapologetically creative!

  7. Allison

    After my little one watched me with her new little sister, she wanted to do nothing but pretend like me. So we got her two little babies (she now shares one with her) and it is so fun to watch her push them in the stroller and feed them in the little high chair. W are with my parents now so we don’t have our own space in general, but I encourage pretend as much as I can. I love seeing the pictures of your little ones playing, inspires me with mine.


  8. Jocelyn Bedoya

    Hi Taza,

    I think imagination is such an essential part of being a child and hopefully it never stops as you grow into an adult! Loved this post!

    I was curious, when do they get to have screen time on their tablets? We have a set time each day and for a certain amount but are still honestly trying to figure it out. Love to hear other parents’ ideas!

  9. Carmen

    this is so great! where did you get the toddler costumes?? would love to get one for our little one

  10. I don’t even have kids but I love reading your blog! Honestly, a lot of this post applies to “parenting myself” as a grown-up. Such as: making sure my books, journal, and non-screen activities are not hidden away so I can grab them for fun instead of my phone. Or, remembering that my house doesn’t have to be perfect and if my kitchen table is occupied with a painting project we can eat in the living room for an evening, and it’s totally fine. I think it’s an awesome reminder and I love reading your thoughts!

  11. Sondra

    I would say that joining in the fun (but not orchestrating it) is the hardest for me but so very rewarding! The kids love when I play dress up too and lose myself in the magic of their imaginary play. It is hard to shed the feelings of being self Conscious but the silliness is worth it.

  12. Jess

    Would love to hear from other one child families on how they encourage imaginative play. Our son is becoming such a perfectionist Virgo at just 4 yrs old and places limits on himself. He’s much more into though if me or my husband or all 3 of us play, but sometimes mama’s gotta clean or cook or work. Any ideas??

  13. Pilar

    Hi! Amazing post! Where did you buy the costumes? Keep up the great work :)

  14. Claire

    What a wonderful post! Play has been found to be linked to social development and also language development, so this is such a great message to be sharing. I love that you let your children lead and come up with the play ideas themselves.

    I’ve been a (quiet) follower for a while, but I have to say that I always enjoy seeing your children interact with others in your instastories, You have a wonderful, creative, and smart bunch!

    Thank you for sharing this!

  15. Sarah

    Love this! All of my bottom drawers in my kitchen have old plastic Tupperware and kitchen gadgets that I rarely use so that my kids and babies can get into them and play with them anytime. Since I never use them I don’t have to worry about washing them after the kids use them and they’re easy to throw back in the drawers.

  16. Shan

    Love this post! I try to ask a lot of open ended questions and stay engaged when I can. At times I am making dinner or trying to get a little something done but other times I try to really be in it with my daughter and ask “what adventure are we on today?” or why she wants to be character a, b, c that day. I have no idea what I’m doing and I enjoy reading what others are doing in this space – thank you!

  17. Kelly

    Your kids are the cutest – I love their Halloween costumes this year!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes

  18. Piper

    I love this post, naomi!! Imaginative play is big in our home too, and I’ve realized just plain cut-up cardboard (like what Samson’s holding!) can be made into soooo many things. I also keep a big stash of old baby swaddles and burp cloths in a basket (my youngest is 3 now…but I can’t bring myself to give them away) because my kids use them in their imaginative play all the time! When they play family, building forts and castles, set ups for their museum or train station, etc etc!

  19. Tracy

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggles not wanting to clean up all the things all the time. I need to just let it be a mess sometimes.

  20. jessica

    Would love love to know where this rug is from!