I’ve had a couple people ask me how I use creative play to get my kids to do things. I’ve been mulling it over for a few days now to figure out the best way to explain it. But then tonight Micah and I had such a perfect conversation, so I thought I’d start with it as an example. It took place while I was cooking dinner.
The game we refer to is a monster truck racing game. The deal was that he could do one more race.
Me: Ok, Micah, time to be done with your game.
Micah: I don’t want to!
Me: babe, that was our deal. You need to hold up your end. Plus, now you can be those monster trucks!
Micah: Which one can I be? Which one is the coolest? The green one?
Me: Yes! The green one!
*He turns the game off and starts racing around.*
Micah, after a few laps, stops in the middle of the kitchen: Looks like I’m out of fuel.
Me: Good thing you ran out at the gas station! *I hold his cup to his mouth (it’s hard to refuel when both of your hands are acting as spoilers)* Great drink. Now, TURBO SPEED!
*Micah runs off as fast as he can.*
Micah: MOMMY! YOU EARNED A BULLDOZER MONSTER TRUCK!
Me: YES! That’s just what I need because your bike is being a roadblock and I can’t get around it while I’m cooking!
Micah: Oh, yes! I can take care of that! *He pushes it out of the way and does a few more laps.*
Me: I need a Recycle truck to take this can to the recycle bag!
Micah, running in: I’m a Recycle Monster Truck, and I can do that!
*He vrooms to the bag, drops off the can, and does some more laps.
Micah: Guess what kind of truck you earned now? A Snowplow Monster Truck! Have you ever heard of those?
Me: I have NEVER heard of those. But that’s perfect because *pointing to all the couch pillows piled by the front door* that is a HUGE pile of snow that I don’t know what to do with.
Micah: I can take care of that pile! *He pushes them into the middle of the living room*
Me: Can you push them up onto the couch snowbank so they aren’t in the middle of the floor?
Micah: ok, sure.
*He does it and continues racing for awhile, then stops in the kitchen*
Micah: Uh-oh! My wheel came loose! I need a drill truck to help me!
Me, holding my finger out: Good thing I’m drill truck! *I point my finger to his ankle and make a drilling noise*
Micah: ok! Now push the “Go” button!
*I point my finger at him and make a “Go button” noise, which I make up on the spot. He accepts it.*
Micah: Now what should I be?
Me: A Crane truck. See all those toys on the floor? They need to be put away.
*His hand turns into a crane hook and he races to do that job.*
Me: I need a……Picker truck.
Micah: A what?
Me: A Picker Truck? I need a truck to go pick some sage from outside. Can you be that truck?
Micah: Well, right now I’m a Crane Truck. You haven’t earned a Picker Truck yet.
Me: Oh. Bummer. Ok, I can go pick it myself.
Micah: Well, you can earn a Picker Truck from one more race.
Me: Ok! Do one more race!
Micah: Ok! Push the “Go” button!!!
We played this game the whole time I was cooking dinner. He became a trash truck, a front end loader truck, and…ok, honestly I forget the others. There were a lot! AND he helped me a lot! Our interaction was fairly seamless because we do this so often. When we first began this type of play, I had to be more direct in saying exactly what I wanted my truck to accomplish.
My whole goal in doing this is to enter his world. The first thing I do is actually play the game. I don’t set it up for him to play alone. We’re in it together. He knows that all trucks do jobs, so we’re just both trucks doing jobs together. I’m not bossing him around. Everybody is working together. I totally enter into this imaginary world – I use the right terminology and the right sound effects. Sometimes, like with the Picker Truck, I don’t get it perfect. But good news for me, he doesn’t usually care. As long as I add “truck” to the end and make some kind of noise.
The second thing I do is incorporate our surroundings. Every thing can be used in our play, even if it’s off limits. For example, trucks never play with the glass jars in my kitchen. But they do often pick up paper that Norah ripped up on the floor. Look around you. What needs to be done? what needs to be played? What needs to be taught? How can you put those things together?
The third thing I do is incorporate the characteristics of what we’re playing. Obviously tonight it was trucks. I got him to drink water because he needed to refuel. He had a chance to use his crane hook because there were just so many toys in the wrong places. And of course, what does a picker truck to better than pick sage leaves? When we play elephants, we use our trunks to put vegetables into our mouths, because that’s what elephants do. When we play puppies, we snuggle up quiet and cozy, because puppies love to snuggle their mommy and sleep.
I also try to remember the characteristics of their favorite creative play subjects so I can pull them out without warning. If I want him to do something quickly, I ask him to be a race car and go as fast as he can. If I need him to take something to a different room for me, I ask to put it in his dump truck bucket. Using the right words for the right action or characteristic is so key.
I do this same thing with Norah, but since she is 18 months old and really just wants to do whatever Micah is doing, I don’t have to go quite so out of the box to be creative with her yet.
Hopefully this gave you a little bit of an idea on how to incorporate creative play. Let me know if this concept works for you! I’d love to hear your stories!