Jocelyn Greene, founder of Child’s Play NY, shows us how to use dramatic, imaginative play to help our kids have fun indoors and preserve our own sanity this winter.
Ok guys. It’s cold outside, it’s dark early, and I’ve got a 2 year old. So, I’m putting some ideas out there – from work with Child’s Play NY and from my time so far as a mom – for indoor dramatic play to get us to get through the winter.
The theater classes I run are all indoors and rely very little on toys and not at all on technology. Now that I have a toddler it seems all the more important to have some active and creative games at the ready. Reading and story-telling is at the heart of the program so a lot of these suggestions are geared with certain books in mind. Some of these ideas can spark long stretches of playing with your child, other ideas will be good to set in motion on play dates, with siblings or during some solo time.
Creating the Stage: One way to immediately encourage outside-the-box playing is to carve out new unexpected spaces. Just make sure things are childproofed enough and/or that you have clear ground-rules (like no water in the bath!).
When is a tub not a tub? Stand in it with no water and some stuff and find out what happens. Put some pillows into it and the bath become a barnyard bed for all those plush animals (inspiration: Click Clack Moo). Drape scarves or blankets on it and kids become a magic carpet seller (inspiration: Aladdin) – each scarf brings the owner new powers, you might have to buy several before you get out of the bazaar. Add some (soft) flying toy food and you are in the land of Chew-and-swallow. Watch out from your perch on the sink – it’s gonna get crazy (inspiration: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs).
Pull out the sofa and see what happens. I’m not great at pillow forts. In my limited experience they can be tricky to make and trickier to stay upright. So instead change up the architecture of your living room: pull out the sofa from its usual spot (have the dust buster handy!), creating a small space for play behind it. Behind the sofa there is authority, secrecy and you can really play with proportions. Kids can be Dr Desoto and decide if they will treat the animals for toothaches that present themselves at the “door”. They can be Mike from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel digging the new town hall. And of course there is always, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place” from Winnie the Pooh. That one pretty much takes care of itself. Or just have your child choose some select favorite toys and books to bring into their “fort” and let simmer.
Invest in some Painter’s Tape. Every semester I arm the Child’s Play NY teachers with a roll of this magical stuff. We use it is delineate the space: welcome circles, elevators, taxi cabs, supermodel runways, grocery store conveyor belts…it makes whatever we want. And the beautiful thing is that it comes right back up at the end of class. Sometimes just drawing a line in the sand between real and imaginary is the ticket. Read Twelve Dancing Princesses and then create the “under the bed” land marked out with tape that the princess/soldier venture into. The tape can be the start and end of Max’s forest in Where the Wild Things Are, the difference between Neverland and the Darling’s (Peter Pan.), or the two lands in Town Mouse, Country Mouse. Children can bounce back and forth between the worlds or they can have clear characters that only live in one. It is fun to be “caught” in one space and have to quickly get to the other.
If we change up the geography of our homes a bit it can feel like we are mischievously breaking the rules. And in a season with lots of rules (please do NOT jump in that puddle!) that can feel like a relief to our children. Perhaps these ideas can spark some outside-of-the-box and self-generating play, clear the cobwebs and relieve some of the stir-crazy. Then maybe they will keep their hat on when they go outside. Maybe.
New Indoor Play Ideas for Winter 2018
Jocelyn Greene is a Brooklyn-born actor, director and educator. She founded Child’s Play NY in 2009 and offers dramatic play and creative theater classes, camps and parties throughout NYC. She lives in Clinton Hill with her husband and two-year-old son.
CPNY is the after-school theater program at Avenues, Berkeley Carroll, Dillon Child Center, Friends Seminary, Packer Collegiate, Williamsburg Northside and other schools. Mini Musicals, Shakespeare and Willy Wonka and Magic Treehouse Musicals in Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights are enrolling now. Visit childsplayny.com for more info.