You know you should spend time getting down on the floor and playing with your child regularly... but let's face it - it can just be boring sometimes. You know children need repetition but playing the same thing with them day in and day out isn't always motivating.
I use a great trick called "SCAMPER" when I get stuck for how to make play time more interesting.
SCAMPER is in fact, a creative thinking tool that has been around for many years. It is an acronym that stands for words that invite us to think about things from different perspectives. Use the words to prompt you to think about different ways to play with toys, and thus get more value from them, as well as helping your child develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
- What rules could you simplify? This is a great question to ask about games. You don’t have to play a game the way the rules tell you to. If you have a game where the original rules make it suitable for 5 or 6 year-olds, could you simplify it and make the rules easier, or just play it for fun.
- What parts could you simplify? If a set of blocks is too overwhelming for a young child, could you put some away and give them a few and add more as they grow? With a tool box, could you give them the toy hammer when they’re learning to bang and save the nuts & bolts that need to be screwed on until they are ready for that? By doing this, you have a toy that can be used at many different stages of development.
- Can you simplify your expectations regarding a toy? For example, it’s okay if a child who can’t walk yet but can sit up just plays with the beads on a push-along toy, or pushes it back and forth. Maybe the child is enjoying just spinning the beads on a bead roller-coaster, but not yet ready to move them along a track. Allowing children to enjoy the stage of development they’re at without pushing them is liberating for us and them.
- How could I make a toy intended for an older child simpler for a younger one? This is a great question and if you can find a way to ensure that a toy intended for an older child is going to be safe for a younger one, it can allow your child many great experiences that they may not otherwise have had.
- How could you use this toy to create or tell a story?
- How could you create a new game using this toy? Games can be simple. In fact, the best games are often the simplest. A game could be something like an obstacle course or treasure hunt, or something like a memory game. For example, putting out 4-6 toys. The child closes their eyes and mum takes one away. The child guesses which one is gone. Then mum has to guess and the child takes one away!
- How could you use this toy to create music? It’s not only musical instruments that can make great sounds. Or perhaps you could use it to create new actions for a song.
- How could you use this toy to create art? Type the name of your toy into Pinterest and you will likely get heaps of ideas for ways that you can use the toy in artistic ways, to create or inspire art. Could you draw its shadow? Could you do a texture rubbing from it? Could you use it for painting? Could you trace around it? Could you photograph it, print it out and then draw on the printed picture?
- What would happen if you added this toy to another? For example, combing a farm play set with blocks.
- What if you added another substance or material to the toy? Add the toy to sensory play materials such as rice, or add it to art materials such as driving a toy car through paint and then making tracks onto paper.
- What if you added this toy with a new place? For example, could you add this toy to a child’s bed for a change? What would it be like to play with blocks on the bed as a new experience?
- What skills or activities could you add to this toy? For example, could you use it to jump over, or throw into a basket? Could you combine this toy with a game like eye-spy or hide and seek?
- How could you change the shape, sound, look or feel of this toy?
- How could you adapt or readjust this toy to serve another purpose or use? Blocks don’t have to be just used for building! They can also be used for physical activities like balancing them on your body, for art, for making obstacle courses, for maths... Think about the many different purposes that a toy could be used for.
- What other products or ideas could you use for inspiration? Look up activities on Pinterest, Instagram, blogs or even google images related to your toy. There are lots of ways to change a toy and get new results or more value.
- How could you change this product to make it... softer, louder, lighter, heavier, quieter, more fun, more colourful, smoother, more bumpy, able to roll, bigger, smaller, easier to use, safer? Exploring these types of questions will give you creative ideas and are great ways to help children think creatively once they’re around 3 years and up.
PUT TO ANOTHER USE
- Can you use this toy somewhere else? Can you use it outside or in the kitchen or at the park?
- Who else could use this toy? Could you let an older sibling or grandad use the toy? You may get new ideas for creative ways to use the toy by letting others mess around with it and see what happens.
- Could you use this toy as a ball? For maths or language development? Could it be used for imaginative play?
- How could you extend this toy’s uses and applications? Could you use it for therapy in some way, or in teaching a concept?
- What else can you learn related to this product? Perhaps your child has a new push-along pig toy. Maybe you could read a story about a pig or sing a song about a pig. Perhaps you could visit a cuddly animal farm or make a pig mask. Look for ways to relate your child’s toys to stories, songs and other learning experiences.
- What rules could you extend? This is great for games that are simple and that the child knows well. Could you add an element of strategy, or put a time limit on it to make it more challenging? Maybe you could take a bunch of simple jigsaws and mix them all up to create an extended challenge. There are many ways to make toys more challenging if you think creatively.
- What would happen if you played with this toy in the opposite way that it is supposed to be? For example, what if you tipped a cart upside-down instead of pushing it along - what does it become now? Maybe it becomes the counter-top for a shop or a hideout for teddies...
- What if you try to do the exact opposite of what you're trying to do now with this toy? What actions could you do the opposite of? A classic example is blocks - how could you have fun knocking them down in different ways and using different things instead of building?
- Could you play with this toy using a different sequence than usual? Could it be arranged or ordered differently?
- What roles could you reverse or swap when playing with this toy?
So that is the secret of SCAMPER. It doesn't matter if you don't remember what each letter of SCAMPER stands for - even if you remember a few, that may be enough to prompt some new ways to thinking about toys, and add some variety and fun to your play sessions with your children.