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Play is essential. It’s fun. It helps us grow and thrive. And with kids around, play makes up most of the day. It can be challenging to find and invent activities that engage, stimulate, and inspire both kids and caregivers. Here are a few great play ideas from creative parents around the globe.



Practicing skills on the field

Our favourite family activities to do with Mara (10), Jule (8) and Niklas (4) are minigolf; going to the pool or the beach; and going on hikes–the good ones with lots of little creeks and animals. We also like playing the game Skippo… –Kerstin, Germany

For 3 year old Henry lately it’s swimming, which still means mostly clutching his parent while the parent walks around in the pool or lake. Or we’ll hit the swings at the park. And hooray for the strider/runner/glider/push bike! It’s the best thing we have bought for Henry in the past two years. –Brian/Norah, Minnesota

Building stick forts

My son is a toddler now. We just go on adventures until he’s ready to move on. He’ll lead me to the river and just throw rocks in the water for a couple hours. Then we’ll go the ocean and build a fort out of driftwood for hours, then draw in the sand with the shells until he’s sleepy. We’ve always done it this way, since he was just a year old. Other families would come play on the playground for 20-30 minutes at a time, but we’d just stay there for hours, with him fully immersed in some newly invented game. –Derek, New Zealand

I am going to say kayaking is my current favorite activity to do with my 6 year old. He sits in front of me in the boat singing, and I paddle us around. It’s pretty calm and bucolic. –Lissa, Vermont

I like to shoot hoops at the playground basketball court while Arthur (age 5) chases me on his scooter. –Sam, London


Ninjas vs. Superheroes

Battling it out: Ninjas vs. Superheroes

Nigel is nearly 6. We do “Talk Battles,” a sort of combo storytelling and role playing thing where you each pick a team of super heroes (or villains) and try to verbally outwit each other. A variant is the Draw Battle. Sometimes we draw battles based on stuff we read/saw in this week’s favorite books. “Magical Creatures” is another verbal fantasia we play while walking in the woods. –Matt, Massachusetts

Oliver is 11. We compose letters to people, alternating words. The letter writing game grew out of an improv game called Dr Knowitall. Over time our letters have been between or about The Catminister, Ambassadog, and the Llamas who are the office staff. It’s sort of a soap opera. –Leo, Toronto

#3 HONE in on FAVORITE TOYS and WORK THEM in limitless ways:

Diggers while away the hours

Digging for hours

Toys do seem to get smaller, as kids get bigger. We went from playing with trucks, to Thomas trains, to Legos. Oh, Legos!! A gallon-sized zippered bag holds hundreds of them and will keep you busy in any hotel room worldwide.

My favourite things to do with 3 year old Cammy:
1) Play with tractors and diggers (like all day..he’s mad for them)
2) Ride on tractor and trailer outside: weed the garden, load the tractor, then take the load to ‘the dump’
3) Ride the bike or walk to the local school playing fields to play with diggers in the long jump sand (even though he has a sand pit at home), and also to practice our long jump!
4) Dance to ‘accordion music’, play guitar/fiddle/drum, and just this week he has started to sing his own little songs.
5) Read books  –Emily, Scotland

#4 READ:

An articulate, expressive kid is made, not born. When kids are fed imaginative, beautifully written stories, and when parents are willing to read the same enchanting story over and over and over again, kids learn to tell their own beautiful tales.

In September, I’ll be talking to children’s librarian extraordinaire, Sam Sednek, for a round-up of some of the loveliest kid books ever. Stay tuned!

#5 DANCE OUT a THEME (the wild card):

Ninja forest battle!

Taking to the woods Ninja-style

If all else fails, you could just get weird like we did this weekend, and have a Hallowe’en party in August.

After an epic Ninja battle in the woods (with son dressed for stealth combat), we all put on costumes, set up a backyard “graveyard” and sang Monster Mash. This led to watching the Thriller video, which led to watching Michael Jackson’s first live moonwalk at the Apollo. Then we all drew monster pictures together.

It was a total blast, and also very organic. It started with the Ninja costume and then just morphed into this weird and wonderful night.

Every family is different. But I suspect our summer Ninja/Hallowe’en bash might not have been as magical if it had been a parent who had instigated events.


It takes energy and attention to have fun. Just like it takes effort to maintain a positive outlook. But with just a bit of care and nurturing, good stuff starts to spin out on its own. And that’s when to step back from expectations and just enjoy the ride.


My thanks to this week’s very special guest contributors:

Kerstin Otten, Mainz, GERMANY: flute and accordion player, singer, teacher * * * Find out about traditional music events in Germany at Kerstin’s band page for Taylor’s Friends.

Brian Miller & Norah Rendell, St. Paul, MINNESOTA: guitar, flute, singing and education (Norah is Exective Director of the non-profit Center for Irish Music) * * * Learn lots about lumberjack songs from Brian’s blog; and enjoy stunning music from both Brian and Norah on the new album Spinning Yarns.

Derek Sivers, NEW ZEALAND: musician, programmer, writer, entrepreneur * * * Derek’s new venture, MuckWork, will offer musicians access to a global network of people who can offer remote assistance with writing, promoting, designing, booking and more.

Lissa Schneckenburger, Brattleboro, VERMONT: fiddle player, singer * * * In addition to being a great performer, Lissa is also an inspiring and generous teacher and will fit in 3 weeks of teaching at Maine Fiddle Camp, August 7-21.

Sam Amidon, London, UK: fiddle player, singer, guitar player, comic artist * * * Check out the lovely set Sam, Bill Frisell, and Shahzad Ismaily did for their NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert.

Matt Heaton, Medford, MASSACHUSETTS: guitarist, singer, kid & surf performer * * * Matt’s Toddlerbilly Riot! CD is made for kids AND the parents who will listen to it on repeat. Kind of like the Muppet show–clever mastery on many levels.

Leo Hsu, Toronto, ONTARIO: photographer, writer, educator, curator * * * Check out Leo’s inspired Free to the People collection, a series of portraits of people reading/working in the public library.

Emily Smith, Scotland, UK: singer, accordion/piano player * * * Listen to Emily’s newest albums, Echoes and Songs for Christmas, and you will feel okay about the world. Oh and her albums feature multi-instrumentalist and dear musical soul Jamie McClennan.

Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting