"It's Not A..." Play

Creativity for children is actually a complicated, rather elegant set of skills. But one simple skill lies at the heart of children’s creativity—divergent thinking. Divergent thinking allows us to explore all of the possibilities in a given situation and generate the greatest number of ideas. At Tinkergarten one of our favorite ways to help kids practice divergent thinking is with “Not A…” play! With just a few everyday objects and simple prompts, kids can explore all of the ways they can play, move, imagine and create. 

The Guide

Step 1: Watch the Tinkergarten Home It’s Not A… video lesson.

Hop into your My Tinkergarten dashboard to watch the It’s Not A… video lesson. Kids can watch how Meghan and other explorers play and imagine with everyday objects, then get inspired to do their own Not A… play!

Not yet signed up? Click here to sign up or to try a free Tinkergarten Home lesson.

Step 2: Gather some everyday objects.

Gather a few objects from nature and/or your home, such as a stick, leaf, bowl, box, egg carton or bed sheet. (Optional: to add an extra bit of whimsy, hide your everyday objects in different parts of your outdoor space for kids to discover.) 

Step 3: Introduce “Not A..” play.

Show your child (or discover together) one of the everyday objects. Ask, "Do you know what this is?" Expect the obvious and accept all answers. Then, share, "This is NOT a {sheet, stick, bowl, etc.}! Can you guess what it is?” Model one or two ways to imagine and play with the object. For example, play two sticks like a violin, turn a sock into an elephant trunk or pretend a bowl is a hat. Invite kids to guess what you are imagining the object could be.

Step 4: Explore infinite possibilities!

Welcome kids to try out their own ideas with the objects you gathered. To spark play, you can say things like, “I wonder what you can make your {object} do?” or “I wonder what you can imagine your {object} could be?” Challenge kids to come up with as many ideas for each object as they can by asking “What else could you do with that {sheet, stick, bowl, etc.}? I wonder what we could turn it into if we….}”

Need inspiration? You can use the prompts on our printable Not A… cards for more ideas on how to move, play and imagine with everyday objects.

Step 5: Extend Play.

Keep the Not A… play going with these ideas:

  • Combine Not A... objects—Welcome kids to gather all of objects together. What can they do and imagine when they use the objects together?
  • Find more Not A... objects—How can kids play and imagine with the nature treasures they find in their outdoor space?
  • Not A... guessing game—Turn an object into something else, then invite your child to guess. Then, switch roles!

Why is this activity great for kids?

This activity helps us strengthen kids' divergent thinking—the kind of thinking that we do when we open our minds and explore all possibilities in a given situation. Kids are wonderful at it, but we often lose it as we grow. Simply giving kids continuous opportunities to practice divergent thinking can help them boost their creativity for the long haul. As kids play and imagine with everyday objects, they also activate problem solving skills, curiosity and wonder and communication skills.

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