Minimal Kids: Encouraging Imaginative Play in Small Space Living

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Quite easily the most common question I’m asked after someone learns that we live in an RV goes somewhere along the lines of “but how do your kids play in there?”. There’s an underlying assumption that the smaller the space or the fewer the toys the unhappier the child.

Allow me to beg to differ.

We’ve never had a lot a lot of toys for our kids (mostly because the minute I became I mom I immersed myself in minimalism and have gradually been trying to strike a healthy balance ever since). I’ve always tried to encourage my kids to lean into boredom, be thankful for what they have, and not base our playtime around “things”. But this phase of life where we’re intentionally limiting ourselves (spatially) has taught me a lot about how kids (or at least my kids) play and how to foster an environment that encourages them to lean heavily on their imaginations instead of their toys.

Also, my girls have plenty of toys, trust me. I’m not a miserly mother who doesn’t believe in letting my kids have “things”. They have lots of things. But I hope this post can act as both clarification and inspiration for anyone who is curious about imaginative play, regardless of your house size.

To a child, just about anything can be a toy. I’m constantly amazed by Evie’s ingenuity — she’s my maker; constantly building, creating, drawing, tying, sewing, re-purposing. Mara is just as imaginative, but she prefers to play with her dollhouse, ride her bike, or dress up as whichever queen/mom/friend/animal/hero she’s obsessed with at the moment (as long as it involves shoes). Their interests and imagination styles are polar opposites but somehow, they haven’t run out of space or ideas for what to do yet.

Although I can’t take credit for their creativity and ability to play well together, I’ll share a few things I’ve intentionally done to foster that environment as much as possible and, ideally, create a home that they don’t get bored of or feel stifled by.

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  1. Choose “open ended” toys

All of the toys in our RV are relatively open ended, meaning my girls can use them to play multiple ways. My girls love their dress up clothes, like the butterfly wings, cape (made from recycled Saris) and crowns all ethically made from Do Good Shop, one of my favorite one-stop fair trade shops, especially for families. They use these pieces almost every day and have dreamed up so many different roles and scenarios to play in. I love that these pieces aren’t specific to any story/movie/game so my girls can imagine that they’re just about anything (as opposed to, for example, their Elsa and Anna dresses which are more limiting in their “line of thoughts”).

In addition to dress up things, they have a small play kitchen from Ikea, a basket of their favorite stuffed animals (Evie wants to be a “pet shop owner” when she grows up, so these get lots of use), some Mega Bloks and a set of wooden blocks to make roads for cars, a small dollhouse with mini animals/furniture/clothes, and lots of coloring supplies and play dough.

They also have a basket of books that we swap out each week when we go to the library and they spend their “quiet time” reading to each other.

Toys like these allow my girls to get more creative than other toys with a more structured purpose. They can play with all of them at once (and usually, they do), or only a few at a time, but they haven’t run out of exciting combinations yet.

2. Swap them out regularly

To stave off boredom with their toys, we have a few more options in storage (where we have the rest of our “house stuff” at my parents’ house) and sometimes I’ll switch out stuffed animals, bring in a new game, or exchange their blocks for other toys to keep them excited and interested. This practice works regardless of the size of your house and makes it like they’re getting new toys when really you’re just pulling pre-owned things out of storage.

3. Encourage outdoor play

The most important part of encouraging my kids to play imaginatively, I believe, is making sure they get tons of time away from their toys. The majority of their playtime, especially in the warmer months, is outdoors, where they’re building forts, getting dirty, exploring nearby, and simply put, being kids. I know not everyone has the space or lifestyle where they can get outdoors frequently, but even a daily walk or trip to the park is beneficial for kids. In nature, children can imagine anything, become anything they want to be, and experience the world in it’s purest form, without plastic toys or man-made interventions. The accessibility to the outdoors is one of the main reasons we’ve chosen this lifestyle and this location specifically.

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4. Get comfortable with messiness

There’s a time and place for structured play and clean up time, but I also believe that in order for imagination to thrive, things have to get messy. Even though I tend to be fairly laid back as a parent, it’s taken me a while to get comfortable with the idea of letting my girls turn their room into a jungle or a mansion or a pet store or the wild west knowing the inevitable battle that will follow when they have to clean it all up.

Small spaces are destroyed in half the time, so cleaning up after each round of play has been the only way I’ve been able to mesh the importance of fostering their imagination with my need for some semblance of structure.

When they’re outside, all hopes of staying clean goes out the window. They’re constantly riding bikes, digging, building with rocks and sticks, and meeting little bugs. Even though the increased frequency of bathtime (or, if we’re being honest, a quick wipe off at night) is just another thing on my to-do list, I love that they’re able to get messy and really explore with all of their senses every single day.

As I type all of this out, I’m realizing how simple it all sounds. Small space living, when met with two incredibly imaginative kids, isn’t really restrictive at all, it feels very intuitive. Every day is a new chance to turn their space into something new, a new chance to get messy, explore, and create in ways they wouldn’t be able to if they had endless piles of toys and empty space.

I’m curious how this looks in your lives, fellow mamas! Do you ever struggle to encourage your kids to play creatively or does it seem to come naturally?


*Thank you to Do Good Shop for sponsoring this post and gifting my girls with a few of their very favorite toys. Do Good Shop is a long-term partner of SL&Co. and is doing incredible work to provide fair wage and safe jobs for artisans around the world.

Use the code SIMPLYLIVANDCO for 20% off your purchase.*

How to encourage your kids to play MORE with LESS -- Lessons from a family of five living tiny.

Sha-de || Sustainable Clothes for Your Littles

Sha-de || Sustainable Clothes for Your Littles

When I began shopping ethically, my own closet was the first thing I overhauled. I threw out pieces I hadn't worn in over 6 months, researched more ethical options, and started thrifting often for the pieces I couldn't afford to buy new. But when it came to my daughters' wardrobes, I was more hesitant to jump onto the slow fashion bandwagon. Not because I didn't see the value of buying them ethically made items, but because I had a much harder time finding options that were (A.) affordable, (B.) available for toddlers and not just babies, and (C.) something that they wouldn't grow out of in .34 seconds. 

My girls are 2 and (almost) 4 now, and the vast majority of their closets are gifted (thank you Mimi and Nona ;) but when I need to buy them clothes, I'm working on compiling a list of sustainable and ethical brands that I can feel good about shopping from. 

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Baby Peppers || Ethically Sourced Children's Goods

Baby Peppers || Ethically Sourced Children's Goods

As a mom of two toddlers, shopping ethically for clothes for my kids has been one of the hardest areas of my transition into slow fashion. In the spirit of honesty, their closets are made up of very few ethically made items and, due to lack of availability and out of sheer necessity, I've turned to typical brands that you can pick up at Target or Wal Mart more times than I care to admit. 

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How to Establish a Bedtime Routine (and why it's so important)

*DISCLAIMER: This post has been sponsored by Collective Bias inc. and it's advertisers, but all opinions are original and my own. #CollectiveBias #NaturalGoodness * 

When E was around 6 months or so we quickly learned the importance of establishing a good bedtime routine. She was not  a good sleeper. She would wake 3-4 times a night for the first 6 or 7 months- until we sleep trained her, and then off an on due to moving several times and lots of schedule changes.

This definitely made for a tired mama- the kind of thing where you dream about having a full night of sleep. You know how it goes.

Eventually I started doing some research, to see if this was "normal" and if there was anything I could do to fix it. I found lots of various sleep training methods and (of course) millions of opinions on everything. (I can discuss what we did for "sleep training" in a different post if anyone thinks that would be helpful!) But there was one common thread throughout most of what I found- creating a solid nighttime routine.

Kids NEED repetition. It helps them feel secure and safe to explore within those boundaries. Setting a loose schedule for Evie every night helped her know what to expect next and got her thinking about going to sleep before we put her in her crib.

Here's what we did: (and still do to this day- though she is a MUCH better sleeper now).

*Note: This can/will look different for every family! There is no right way to do this....I'm just providing an example of what worked for us.*

-Talk about bedtime before its bedtime. This was huge for E who does not do well if we spring things on her. Preparing her an hour or so before (after dinner usually) really helped her cooperate.

- Set a routine and stick to it. Obviously, there are nights when you break the routine, and we are definitely flexible, but at first it is important to be consistent.

- Be patient. If you have a "problem sleeper" like I did, things won't change overnight (literally...). Remembering that they're learning a new skill, so to speak, will help you be more patient when things aren't progressing as fast as you wish.

Now that E is almost 2, things look a little bit differently at night, but we still follow the same guidelines as when she was learning the routine. Here is what an average night looks like in our house:

7:30

// Bath-time and brushing teeth: this is usually after we've all eaten dinner and had time to play and be crazy for a while.

Evie LOVES brushing her teeth. As with all products I use, it's important to me that I use a toothpaste I trust. I need to know that if she eats it like candy (not really, but she loves the taste of it) she will be ok. I use Tom's of Maine®'s all natural children's toothpaste in strawberry for E (they also have a fluoride-free version for babies up to 24 months). There are no dyes, flavors or fragrances in these products, so I'm not worried about letting her brush her own teeth. I picked mine up at Walmart and I'm loving it so far! 

 If you're interested in trying Tom's of Maine® for your kids, they will be hosting demos in select Walmarts on September 19th- lots of free samples and coupons.

8:00// Wind down and read stories: during this time we keep talking about bed time and *maybe* let her watch one episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. Then we let her pick which book she wants to read and who gets to read it to her.

 Lot's of snuggles and pacifier stealing happens during this time. Also, I can't get over Mara's face in this photo....

Goodnight Moon has been her favorite since she was tiny.

8:30 // Go upstairs to bed. Either Aj or I will talk her up to bed, sing her songs and rub her back (she's SO snuggly...) then tell her it's time for sleeping and let her pass out.

That's how we do it at our house. It's pretty simple so far, since Mara isn't big enough to participate yet.

I'm curious, how do those of you with kids do bedtime at your house? I'd love tips for keeping two kids on the same schedule!

Letters to Evie // 20 Months

Sweet Evie,

You doubled in size and maturity this last month, or that's what it's felt like to me. Since becoming a big sister, you've learned what it is to love and protect and I couldn't be more proud of you.

You love baby Mara more than anything. It has been amazing to watch you with her- being a big sister came naturally. You're so gentle with her. You love to "hold" her and give her kisses and steal her pacifier. If anyone else besides mommy or daddy tries to hold her, you get

very

angry and throw a fit- but I know it's just your way of trying to keep her safe. 

This has been a hard month for you, and I'm sorry for all the changes you've had to adapt to so quickly. You're not the only baby anymore and you've definitely felt the change. Sleeping has been a rough adjustment, as well as hearing "no" so much more often. Your dad and I have tried to make some things all about you and tell you "yes" as much as possible, but be patient with us- we're new at this too. 

You're such a burst of sunshine and I'm lucky to be your mama. 

Here are a few new things you've been up to this month: 

Words // You've been adding lots of new ones lately!

- Clock

-Juice ("jewww")

-Cup (Coop)

-Truck/car ("Cuhk")

-Stick

-Rock

-Shut

-Off

-Tigers say "drrrrrr"

-Lions, dinosaurs and bears say "raaaaawr"

-You love going outside for walks or to swim in your pool/throw dirt in it.

-You figured out how to take your diaper off.

-You know pink, blue and yellow (I think).

-And you can count to two ;)

-You won't let me touch your hair.

-You've watched WAY too much Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood this month.

-While I was painting my nails the other day, you kept watching and saying "woooow", so I painted one of your big toes for you (because you couldn't hold still for them all) and you sat and looked at it for a solid twenty minutes.

You loved spending time with Uncle Sammy after Mara was born!

 Watching you handle all the transitions this past month has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences I've had parenting you. I'm so proud of the sweet, adventurous girl you are.

Love,

Mommy