Outdoor Imaginative Play: Telling a Story with Nature

There are days when I wonder if my kids have bubble gum for brains. They live in a house full of books, toys, craft supplies and prime hide-and-seek real estate. They have bikes and scooters, hula hoops and jump ropes, balls of every shape and size in the garage. There’s a swing set in the backyard and a garden in the front. The options for fun are everywhere, and yet they whine and complain. “I’m BO-RED! I can’t think of ANYTHING to do.”

Then there are days like today, when I watch my kids play in the most amazing ways. And I remind myself that a house and yard full of toys can’t compete with the magic of a fall day in a forest. Maybe they are, in fact, bored. Maybe what they need is a little change of scenery, so their imaginations can be freshly inspired. I certainly need that when I’m writing.

This morning my two younger daughters (7 and 6) came with me to drop their big sister (10) at the theater class she takes at a nearby community college. Since it doesn’t make sense to leave and come back for a 75 minute class 20 minutes from our house, I came prepared with books, paper and markers to entertain them.

I shouldn’t have bothered.

The minute the girls saw the forested area near the theater building, turning gold and brown and russet in the October air, they had their own plans. Fallen leaves, pine cones, acorns and twigs called to them – and they entered into an ecstasy of imaginary play.

The pictures probably tell a better story than I would. (Please pardon the picture quality – I didn’t come prepared to document shadowy play, and these are all off my phone.)

The fun starts with gathering supplies.

The fun starts with gathering supplies.

Good thing we brought a basket!

Good thing we brought a basket!


The girls imagine animals left without a home when their tree blew down, so they build a tent of sorts.


Make a table and benches…


and pine needle beds with stick pillows and leafy blankets


Somebody gets concerned that the ground floor might get crowded…

So she builds an attic.

So she builds an attic. “But just for very light guests. Like moths, and crickets.”


“What if it rains?” The girls build walls with the help of an imaginary team of ants and a monkey named Bananas. (By no small coincidence, I am sitting nearby, eating a banana.)


Time for finishing touches! What good is a guest cabin if the guests can’t get there?

The stories these girls create – and build and enact – continually amaze me! Children’s capacity for invention is so vast! I hope I can capture half their imagination and drama and fun in the stories I’m working on right now. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What inspires the storyteller in your kids? Be it nature, or Legos or baby dolls. please share your experiences in the comments below.

Have a great week! And don’t forget that play is a huge part of #RaisingReaders!