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OPA Playful Ideas

Here is a bank of ideas to help increase playfulness. We would love to here from you with your own play ideas!

  • Finger Swap
    Make a fist with each hand. On one hand, stretch out your thumb. On the other hand, stretch out your pinkie (little finger). Now swap your thumb for your pinkie on one hand, and your pinkie for your thumb on the other hand. Swap over again…and again…
  • Sticks and Arrows
    Use sticks and other found objects to make arrows for someone else to follow. Perhaps they lead to treasure, or another surprise…
  • The Unpoppable Balloon
    Blow up a balloon. Stick a piece of sellotape (a few centimetres long) onto the balloon. Slowly stick a pin through the sellotape and balloon. Magic!
  • Box Clever
    Ask your local electrical shop if they have any large cardboard boxes (or raid their recycling bin). Collect them flat and tape them up at home. Leave for children to play with in their own way.  Boxes = HIGH play value.
  • Sticky Fun!
    Get a long stick, such as a garden cane. Tie a long, thin piece of material to the end of it. Play in any way you want! This type of free play object opens children’s imaginations, as there is no one way to play with the stick and material, and no adult rules!
  • I Don’t WANT to go for a Walk…
    Instead of going for a ‘walk’, go for a ‘treasure hunt’. One person goes ahead and hides treasure (e.g. a small treat). You can say, “You are cold” (far away from the treasure), “Warm” (getting nearer) or “Hot!” (very close to the treasure). Or you could draw them a simple map of the area, where X marks the spot – or spots – where the treasure is.
  • Rain Angels
    If you think it is going to rain, get your coat on, go outside and lie down on the ground with your legs and arms stretched out. Let the rain fall on you for a few seconds until the ground is wet, then get up and see the dry shape your body has made. Many young people enjoy larking about in the rain.
  • Scavenger Hunt!
    Each person tries to find all the things on a given list, e.g. seed, stone, feather, twig, dandelion seed, red petal, etc. Older children can have a harder list, or may wish to set up their own scavenger hunt.
  • Tails!
    Everyone has a strip of toilet paper (about 4 or 5 pieces). Tuck it into the back of your trousers or skirt (or neck if wearing a dress). Now run around and try to catch everybody else’s ‘tail’ – but don’t let anyone catch yours!
  • Loose Parts: Great for Play
    1. Go to ORINOCO, The Oxfordshire Scrapstore in Headington (www.oxorinoco.org).
    2. Get lots of play scrap for not very much money.
    3. Leave the play scrap (loose parts) ready for playing with (in a pile on floor, on a table, etc).
    4. Stand back. You have created a rich play environment.
  • Paint the World!
    1. Get some old containers, such as plastic buckets or tubs.  2. Fill with water.  3. Using decorating brushes or paint brushes, paint the outside walls, pavements, paths, sheds, tables, fences…
  • White Magic
    1. You need a helper for this. Tell them beforehand what is going to happen.
    2. Ask everyone in the room who would like to help with the game. (When helper volunteers, choose them.)
    3. Helper goes out of the room, and everyone else agrees one object in the room, e.g. the light, or a box, or whatever.
    4. Helper come back in and has to ‘guess’ what object everybody chose. The ‘magic’ bit is: the object is the one AFTER THE WHITE OBJECT. So you say, “Is it the TV?” (No). “Is it the cat?” (No.) “Is it the (white) plate?” (No.) “Is it this book?” YES! (It’s the one after the white object.) MAGIC!
  • Be bored!
    Boredom is not an enemy of play – it is a friend. It can encourage us to use our imaginations, look around and think of what to do next. Boredom often leads to freely chosen play – so best not to have too many organised activities.
  • Chinese Ropes
    Tie/loop lots of elastic bands together to make a long line of bands. Two people stand apart with the ‘rope’ slightly stretched and each hold an end to a body part, starting with the ankle. Everyone else lines up and takes turns to jump over the rope. After everyone has jumped, the rope gets higher – from ankle to knee for the next turn. Then thigh, then hip, waist, under arm, shoulder, ear, head and then “high heavens”.
  • Paint your own face
    Buy a set of face paints (the small rainbow palette from Snazaroo is good – from ELC or even cheaper on the internet). Let children paint their own faces – and yours! They love the control, power and freedom of doing it, rather than just having it done to them. Develops creative and social skills, fine motor skills, increases confidence and raises self-esteem.
  • Hoop Ring
    All stand in a circle and hold hands to form a ‘ring’. One pair breaks hands and lets a hoop into the ring, then holds hands again. Now try and pass the hoop right around the ring whilst still holding hands.
  • White Boards
    Buy a few cheap white boards from a stationery shop or the internet. Add white boards pens. Leave around and see what happens.
  • Masking Tape Mania
    Provide rolls of masking tape for the children and young people to use to make shapes, patterns or pictures on the floor or carpet. This is a great activity for letting imaginations run free!
  • The Wrong Clothes
    No such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes. Follow the children’s lead, put aside adult fears of rain and cold, and have an outdoors adventure!
  • Volley Balloon
    Two or more people can play this. It’s a bit like volley ball. Instead of a net, draw a line down the middle of the area (or make a line with a skipping rope). Blow up a balloon and take turns to hit the balloon over the line. If the balloon lands on the other team’s floor area, your team gets a point. Make up any other rules you want, such as allowing one or more hits of the balloon.
  • Wigwam Bam
    Go to a wood or forest. Find a tree with a V-shaped main branch. Drag long sticks over and prop them onto the V, all the way round to make a wigwam effect around the main tree. The wigwam can become a fantastic springboard for play.
  • Hide Under Boxes!
    Get a large cardboard box, and hide inside it (open end at the bottom).
    When you hear footsteps come nearby, move a little bit – wobble or shuffle. Or you can jump high to give people a shock!
  • Magic Arms
    Stand in an open doorway, with your arms at your sides. Raise your arms until the backs of your hands are against the door frames. Press your hands against the door frame as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds. Then step into the room – your arms will rise up of their own accord! Magic!
  • Mud Painting
    Take some mud. Add water and mix. Tear up an old sheet. Paint with a brush, or even better – your fingers.
  • Water Play
    Fill buckets (or any other large containers) with water. Get some water sprays, water pistols, paint brushes, small containers and other bits and bobs, and play. Or have a water fight with hoses!
  • Make a Treasure Map
    Tear round the edges of a piece of paper, then crumple it up into a ball. Open it out, then take a used teabag and wipe it all over the paper to give it an ‘aged’ effect. Once dry, create your map – it could be a pretend treasure island map with marshes, paths and mountains, or it could be a map of a real place, and your friend has to work out where the treasure is by the ‘X’ marking the spot!
  • Play with Your Food
    Make pictures or patterns with food. Spread butter, humous or peanut butter onto a round or square cracker. Add food such as cress, olive circles, grated cheese, cucumber pieces, slices of tomato or whatever else you want.
    For example, if you are making a face, use a round cracker, add cress for hair, olive circles for eyes, a piece of tomato for a mouth, and so on! It is amazing what healthy foods children will eat if they have had fun with it first!
    An additional idea is to use Matzo (large rectangles of biscuit, a bit like water biscuits) to make pictures. We have made some works of art on Matzo, and again, even children who don’t like vegetables are very likely to eat it with gusto!
  • One Minute Game
    For people who can count up to 60. One person has a clock or timer that shows seconds. When that person says, “Go!”, everyone else guesses when one minute exactly is up. When you think one minute is up, you say your name. The timer tells everyone at what time they said their name (or they can just say who was closest.)
  • Cooking with Fire
    Some garden centres sell a small portable fire pit for about £50, great for homes, childcare, schools… Cook: soup or pancakes or popcorn or marshmallows or bananas with chocolate in foil or sausages on a wire rack or vegetable kebabs or bread dough…etc!
  • I Can Camcorder
    Give the children a camcorder, and show them how to use it (or do it with them if they are younger). Let them film whatever they want. If needs be, you can give them some ideas to spark their imaginations:
    create a show and film it
    film people doing funny or silly things
    make puppets and film a puppet show
    film a child’s eye view of the house/ play setting/ garden/ field/ or wherever you are.
  • Make Candles
    Either make your own candles with wax and string, or book OPA’s amazing and easy Candlemaking Play Box (£5 per week plus materials for OPA members). You can use the moulds we provide, or make up your own moulds from yogurt pots, etc. Call OPA on 01865 779474 for more info.
  • Melted Wax Patterns
    Use your old wax crayons to make melted wax pics. Use a pencil sharpener to make shavings of wax in different colours. Put some onto paper, place another piece of paper on top and iron to melt the wax (children love doing this themselves with supervision).
    Use a maximum of 4 colours for each picture, as too many colours can turn murky brown!
  • Blindfold Yourself
    Blindfold yourself for 20 minutes and see how it feels not to be able to use your eyes to see. How does it affect your other senses, such as hearing, taste and touch? Draw pictures, perhaps something that a friend suggests. Get your friends to talk in funny voices and see if you can guess who they are. Or people can hide and you can try to find them.
  • Changing Rooms
    Change a room into something else – such as a spaceship, a cave or a shop.
    Space ship – cover part of the walls in foil or silver paper, add round windows painted black with stars, put food into small containers, hang stars, planets and moons around…what else? A cave – get some old dark material (go to Orinoco The Oxfordshire Scrapstore for low cost material and other items – www.oxorinoco.org), drape it over a table, use torches, make animal noises…
    A shop – that’s easy!
  • Go Balloony!
    Fill balloons with different substances, then tie them up and get others to guess what might be in them.
    You could try rice, flour, water, tomato ketchup, air, dried lentils, mini marshmallows, stones…
  • Jump! Splash! Drip!
    Play is easy – but sometimes letting children play fully is harder. In this wet weather, what about embracing puddles – actually allow…
    full splashing; running through; jumping and feel the joy of being a little bit wet, a little bit dirty and a whole lot happier!
  • DIY Face Painting
    Buy some face paints (Snazaroo Rainbow Kit is good, and costs about £10), a mirror, a water bowl and some brushes and let children loose on them. They can paint themselves, each other – and you!
  • Finger Piano
    Put you hand on a table, palm down and fingers curled so that just your fingertips and wrist are on the table. Your thumb is number 1, index finder is number 2, etc. Now someone asks everyone to lift off certain named fingers – such as, “Lift off 2 and 4. Now lift off 1,3 and 5. Now lift off 5,4 and 2.” And so on. Hard?
  • Soapy Water Slide
    Put down a large sheet of thick plastic or tarpaulin. Add some water and washing up liquid and put down some rubber swimming rings – and push each other along!
  • Stick Painting
    The children at our after school club love collecting sticks, then painting, decorating and sticking things onto them. They often ask if they can do stick painting!”
    Jules, PAWS After School Club, Drayton
  • Stick Painting
    The children at our after school club love collecting sticks, then painting, decorating and sticking things onto them. They often ask if they can do stick painting!”
    Jules, PAWS After School Club, Drayton
  • Circles
    Make some paper circles. Leave them on the table or on the ground or on the floor. Try different sizes and see what play comes from them.
  • Spooky Jelly
    Make up some jelly mixture and add some jelly worm sweets or jelly snakes.
  • Play with Cream to make Butter
    It’s so easy to make butter… Put some double cream in a jar, and shake for about 20 minutes until it separates into butter and buttermilk. Drain it and squash it until all the liquid comes out, then put in fridge. It lasts for a few days, or a week or so if you add a little salt. Make butter sculptures,
    then eat it!
  • Wrap up Children
    Use newspaper to wrap up children and/or adults – either individually, in pairs or as a group! Make sure you leave breathing holes!
    Make bows and streamers out of coloured paper to decorate the parcels.
  • BOOGIE WOOGIE
    Put on some music and see who can dance the: funniest, silliest, fastest, coolest. You can try dancing: standing on your head, lying on the floor or with your eyes closed (careful!)
  • DESIGN A PLAY SPACE
    Use paper, a smart phone, a computer, junk modelling or any other medium to create your ideal place space. It could be indoors or outdoors. What will it include? A hideaway? Things to climb? A place to relax? Musical instruments? Any art materials? A hill? A stage? Tunnels? A boat? What else?
  • TELL RUDE JOKES!
    Children love some rudeness, and adults can join with some mildly rude jokes!
    Knock knock.
    Who’s there?
    Europe.
    Europe who?
    No – YOU’RE a poo!
  • GET ON THE TRAMPOLINE
    If you have a trampoline, get on it with the children! You can race, chase, sing songs (especially good for action songs like ‘See the little bunnies’ – change the animal each time – even older children like it!), acting out plays and telling stories.
  • GO CAMPING!
    Put up a tent in the garden or the park. It could be a den, a spy look-out shelter, a house or anything you want.
    If you have a garden or other space, camp out for the night! Remember your torch and a midnight feast!
  • NATURE PLAY
    Bring the great outdoors inside by going out and collecting fallen leaves, seeds, etc. Make collages. Crush the items to listen to the sounds and smell the aromas. Spread the items on the floor – you could sort them or make a giant pattern. Draw the items with a variety of materials. Play with them!
  • MELTED WAX PICTURES
    Use a pencil sharpener or grate proper wax crayons onto one half of a piece of paper. Fold the paper over, cover with newspaper and use an iron to melt the wax. Try adding glitter, etc for different effects.
  • SPAGHETTI AND MARSHMALLOW TOWERS
    USE RAW SPAGHETTI AND MARSHMALLOWS TO MAKE THE TALLEST TOWER YOU CAN! OR JUST MAKE ANYTHING – PEOPLE, CARS, ANIMALS, WHATEVER YOU WANT!
  • JOKE TIME!
    Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who?
    Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!
  • CLAY FAIRIES AND OTHER CREATURES
    Buy (or dig) some clay and make some fantabulous creatures and fairies with it. Stick them onto trees when wet, so that they look like tree-dwellers.