Imaginative Family Fun for Kids, Free!

"Houston? Yes, come in, Houston," said the captain.

"This here's mission control," came Houston's voice through the scratchy intercom. "What can I do for ya?"

"We are ready for launch en route to Alpha Centauri. Are we clear?"

"Ready to launch, are ya? Well, we can do that. Yer gonna need a count down, though."

The captain sighs. "I don't suppose you've been working on your counting since last time?"

"What?" said Houston, insulted. "That business gettin' from four back to three is harder'n it looks. Don't worry. I'll take care of y'all!"...

If you're looking for wild, imaginative, and wide-open fun for your young children, you've come to the right place. Grab a plastic mixing bowl, plant it on your noggin, and read on. Stupendous adventure awaits!

The crew en route to Alpha Centauri
The crew en route to Alpha Centauri | Source

Pre-Launch Briefing:

This is a step-by-step guide on how to turn the junk that's laying around your house into an off-world adventure for your young children. The basic game framework is simple: build a rocket ship, take your kids on a space mission, and get back to Earth safely. This article will provide lots of ideas to help make this easy for parents to do while promoting creative freedom for your kids, ensuring a good time is had by all.

Overview of the Mission:

  1. Stage One--Preparation: Building a Rocket Ship & Assembling the Mission Tool Chest (i.e. How to throw together a bunch of chairs, some sheets, and a few pillows to create lots of play options while grabbing some random toys and knick-knacks to throw in a sack.)
  2. Stage Two--The Launch: Assigning Roles & Learning the Launch Sequence (i.e. How to give the kids a job and simple ideas for starting the adventure.)
  3. Stage Three--Traversing the Stars: Chryogenic Freeze & Planetary Landing Procedures (i.e. Mini-nap time. Excellent!)
  4. Stage Four--Extra Terrestrial Exploration: Mission Briefing & Alien Interaction Protocols (i.e. Three simple story structures to follow that expand your child's imagination and provide hours of space-traveling fun.)
  5. Stage Five--The Journey Home: Re-entry Procedures (i.e. How to shut down fast when life catches up with play time.)

In addition to these ideas, there are three appendices at the end: Ideas for Alien Life Forms, the Captain's Troubleshooting Guide, and Suggested Variations.

I hope you find it useful. Now, strap up and let's start the training!

Stage 1: Preparation

Building The Rocket Ship:

  • Find open floor space large enough for each person in the crew to lay down. Setting up in the corner of a room is ideal because then you only need to construct two walls.

Tip: Build around a comfortable chair; it gives the captain--that is, you--a comfortable place to sit...unless the crew mutinies.

  • Surround the space with chairs or couch cushions, leaving space for a door.
  • Drape sheets across the chairs to create solid walls.
  • If time and space allow, it can be fun to add a cargo bay, food storage, and an air lock for the entrance--all optional, of course.

Assembling the Mission Tool Chest:

  • Grab a bag--any bag--and rifle through the toy box looking for maps, wands, kaleidoscopes, play telephones, baby rattles, and anything else you can find.

Tip: More tools means more creative opportunities to solve problems later in adventure.

Mission Preparation

  • If the mission you've chosen requires preparation (see Stage 4), this should be done before the game begins.

Stage 2: The Launch

Assign Roles:

  • Give each child a job: Captain (usually the adult), co-pilot, chef, science officer, security officer, medic, etc.

Learning the Launch Sequence:

  • Choose a Destination: pull out your star chart (sometimes a real piece of paper, but often an imaginary screen on the wall) and pick a celestial body.
  • Input Coordinates: have the co-pilot put the coordinates into the navigational computer (poke the wall and say numbers).
  • Request Fueling: Have someone contact Houston and request fuel. (My kids did not realize that Houston was a place, so it quickly became the man, Houston. I generally speak for Houston, and he's not very bright.)
  • Count Down to Launch: Contact Houston again and request a count down. Houston always has a hard time remembering how to count down--the kids love to help him figure it out!
  • Lift Off!: At "0", shake, rattle, and roll as you head for space...

Stage 3: Traversing the Stars

Chryogenic Freeze (My Personal Favorite):

  • Inter-planetary travel takes a long time, so briefly explain the idea behind chryogenic freezing (making you cold so you fall asleep until you arrive).
  • Everyone lays down and "freezes" for awhile, taking a mini-nap--wonderful!

Alien Landing:

  • This is just like the launch--rattle around a bit as you pass through the alien atmosphere, clunking down as you hit the ground.

Stage 4: Extra Terrestrial Exploration

The trick to a fun extra terrestrial exploration is for the captain to know where the story is going. Below, I present three simple story frames that will help keep the action moving.

Tip: For those new to this kind of activity, making up details on the spot is intimidating. Good news! Young children are easy. They don't know science and they're primed to believe anything: a pencil can become a missile, a key, or a very thin alien creature. Wing it at first. It will get easier quickly.

Basic Story Outlines:

  • Exploration Mission (no pre-planning): Take your crew and wander around the house imagining an alien landscape: passing beneath the table becomes a tunnel, the stairs become a mountain, and the bathroom becomes a cave. Along the way, pull out tools from the Mission Tool Chest and invent uses for them while collecting specimens of interesting alien artifacts. "Living" aliens (stuffed animals) are especially exciting finds.

Tip: If you have a bit of time, this can be made more interesting by setting up some areas of the house ahead of time: throwing cushions on the floor in a heap, hiding stuffed animals around the house, etc.

"There you will find the High Captain Blahr who will challenge you to win a game of war!"
"There you will find the High Captain Blahr who will challenge you to win a game of war!"
  • The Rescue Mission (minimal pre-planning): Choose a stuffed animal. This animal has been abducted by aliens. Your crew must find it, retrieve it, and bring it back home. Place the animal in some kind of "prison" (chairs do nicely) and then set up other toys and stuffed animals as "guards". Kids have great fun using the Mission Tool Chest to sneak around or defeat the bad guys. It can be fun for members of the crew to get captured as well.

Tip: We often choose one stuffed animal to serve as the bad guy "boss." Special challenges have to be met to defeat him. Card games and board games are great for this (see the photo above of the High Captain Blahr).

"Climb down the mountain, there to defeat the little people that stand at your feet!"
"Climb down the mountain, there to defeat the little people that stand at your feet!"
  • Puzzle Mission (pre-planning required): While this mission requires planning, it is often the most fun. This one involves placing various stuffed animals throughout the house and creating a series of clues for each of them that lead to the next animal or location (the captions on the pictures to the right are clues I've used before). Eventually, the clues lead to a fantastical treasure or creature that the children can collect and take home. It takes time, but it's crazy fun.

Tip: Mission types can be combined in various ways once you become comfortable with them. Get creative and have a good time!

Keeping these simple story arcs in mind will keep your playtime moving, and it gets much easier with practice.

Stage 5: The Journey Home

I don't know how it will go for you, but by the time the mission begins its return to Earth, we're always late to somewhere else, so it needs to happen quickly. Here's a simple run-down:

  • Get back to the ship
  • Take off
  • Consider skipping the chryogenic freeze
  • Re-enter Earth's atmosphere
  • Exit the ship: Game Over

Conclusion:

While there's a lot presented here, this is all just basic ideas to fill the framework of imaginative play. The important thing is to dive in and go, encourage your children's creativity, and let them lead as much as possible. You will find that your stories quickly begin to follow your kids' unique interests, and the world is in their hands when they enter this land of make believe. Let go and take the journey with them!

Eeep-Op-Merr, Icky-Icky-Icky-Slurrp, and Bob with their new baby, Eee-Ooo-Ah-Ah
Eeep-Op-Merr, Icky-Icky-Icky-Slurrp, and Bob with their new baby, Eee-Ooo-Ah-Ah | Source

Appendix 1: Ideas for Alien Life Forms:

  • Mercurian Pygmy Fire-breathing Elephant (watch out for their sneezes!)
  • Venutian Fuzzy Wumps (cotton balls that like to jump all over people)
  • The Martian Trio: Eeep-Op-Merr, Icky-Icky-Icky-Slurrp, and Bob (Yes, just Bob)
  • The Titanian Fish Wibbles (on Jupiter's moon Titus for a watery adventure)
  • Plutonian Wooly Dragon (they look fierce in their fur, but they're actually warm and fuzzy)
  • Anything else you can come up with!

Appendix 2: The Captain's Trouble-Shooting Guide:

  • Problem 1: Hey, my kid's not following the script!

Keep in mind that young children will eventually begin to take some ownership of the story. While this can throw a wrench into the arc of your planned story, it's actually a good thing! Witness imagination budding; embrace it and follow their lead.

  • You do know that three-year-olds don't follow directions very well, don't you?

Yes, I do. My three-year-old regularly ran out into deep space, ignored warnings, brought in random toys, and walked right into the bad guy's lair without a second thought. What's the solution? The Space Monkey. Yes, my son became our resident space monkey. The essence of the space monkey's job is to do random things that none of the rest of us understand. We laugh, he smiles, and all is good with the world.

Appendix 3: Variations:

The Magical Mystery Train

  • If outer space exploration gets old or doesn't fit your children's interests, try the Magical Mystery Train. Instead of a rocket ship, build a train. This way you can explore all over the world--Egypt, Under the Sea, The Great Wall of China, or The Enchanted Forest. Go anywhere they want to go.

Pirate Ship

  • For seafaring adventurers. Once again, it's the same basic concept dressed in different clothes.

How often do you play imaginative games with your kids (or someone elses)?

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Comments 16 comments

Binaya.Ghimire 5 years ago

Though not a parent myself, I love to read about parenthood.(I love to give tips to my sister who is raising a 10 months old child). I enjoyed this article and recommended my sister to read.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

Thanks, Binaya. I've been doing this with my son and daughter for three years now, and they never tire of it. My daughter (7) is now writing stories and playing in her own make believe worlds, and I think this has had some influence.

Best,

wayseeker


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

wayseeker, words cannot describe how awesome you are. Seriously. If every kid had a parent as awesome as you, the world would be a much, much better place. Also, I think I am going to have to do this with my grown friends. It's just too much fun to pass up!!!! Awesome Hub. Awesome awesome awesome.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

I'd never thought of trying it that way--could be very cool. My thanks for the compliment. I guess what I don't understand is why parents wouldn't do things like this with their kids. It's way fun, they love it, and it's a wonderful way to develop their minds.

Have a good time, and let me know how it turns out!


hazelbrown profile image

hazelbrown 5 years ago from Central PA

Love this! I want to go launch a rocket, too!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

This hub is truly out of this world! What a terrific time those children must have had with you during this adventure. Way cool-glad to see it is on the list for favorite hubs. Good luck in the voting. I voted it up here. :)


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

Thanks. I guarantee a great time!


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

Denise,

Thanks for the up vote! They had a great time, as did I. I'm pleased that folks are enjoying it.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

That's really a clever idea, Wayseeker. We played lots of games with our kids when they were young (I'm now an older lady) - but not so much imaginery. You make a good case for doing just that! Shoulda/coulda/woulda but if I have grandkids - you betcha!


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

Any age any time...it's good for all. I'm pleased you played with your kids all the time. As a father, I love it. As a teacher, I see the desperate need kids have for it all the time. Spending time with the kids in their world feeds the soul of the young.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Thanks for the ideas. My son and I get into lots of trouble in outer space and even once discovered a family of dragons in the woods behind our house. Who knew? He did and he was five at the time! Check yard sales, I find great stuff there. We have a pop up space shuttle tent thingy that we lie in and watch movies. The screen is the moon (ceiling) and the movies are ones we imagine. I will use some-all-of your suggestions. Thanks, Hyph.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

It's amazing what's hiding around your house that the adults just don't even see! The yard sale idea is a great one--I may take you up on it.

Once again, sincere thanks for taking the time to read, and I hope you found something helpful.


htodd profile image

htodd 5 years ago from United States

That's really great..Thanks for the post..nice


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado Author

Thanks for stopping in!


Joy M profile image

Joy M 4 years ago from Sumner, Washington

My girls love story time with their dad. He's had to get more and more creative as they've added more characters particularly combining land and sea creatures. I'll have to suggest they try some space adventures now. Thanks for a great hub.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 4 years ago from Colorado Author

Joy M,

I have loved every moment of pretend play time with my kids, and I'm very happy this might prove useful to him. Thanks so much for taking the time to read,

wayseeker

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