Crafts to inspire Imaginative Play – Ideas from StoryHug Family Workshops

Simple craft activities can be a way of inspiring new stories and encouraging creativity in play. Sometimes a way in is needed to great ideas, an indirect unconscious pathway into the secret nooks of the imagination, to stories quietly waiting to be found and brought into the open.

Unique wonderful worlds can arise from cardboard and glue and Lego and any small toys – worlds that once initiated will be intricately put together for hours, played with for days, weeks…

A favourite material at StoryHug workshops is safe, cheap, incredibly tactile SALT DOUGH!Making with our hands: holding, breaking, cutting, choosing, colouring-in even the most simple creations can bring about the magic of inspiration, a sudden burst of vision, a new story idea to coax into shape.


In the workshops I asked the children to make items for our puppet show later – here it was: ‘something nice to eat’! The instructions provided a focus which inspired a vast array of fantastical creations, for creativity really does thrive on restrictions and constraints (as discussed in this intriguing Ted Talk here).

Later, for the puppet show, I had a rapt and delighted audience when the children’s creations made their appearance on the tabletop puppet stage, and even helped to appease a hungry tiger!

Salt dough is so soft and pliant and mouldable, it warms in your hands… it appeals also to older children who linger longer, making more detailed creations…

And grown-ups too can play… salt dough is perfect for making quick and simple items for doll houses and props for Woodland Puppet shows, such as bowls and vases:

Salt dough beads (when hard) can be strung to form magical necklaces…

…for a puppet show perhaps (here two woodland characters make a necklace for a doll princess!), or they can be used when dressing up by children…

Of course Fairy Babies can be made of salt dough too!

The dolls are made in advance, and left plain and unpainted so that the children can colour in faces, hair and clothes with felt-tip pens. The cradles are made from egg-boxes and covered by the children with torn strips of bright tissue paper glued on with PVA glue which dries harder and makes the cradles feel more solid – or glue stick for less mess! Then we add pastel-coloured cotton wool balls for soft bedding:

Making people is the best beginning for making new worlds: homemade dolls always feel more alive than bought ones!

Plain wooden PEG DOLLS bought from a craft shop can be coloured in with felt tips and given felt clothes attached with a glue such as Copydex glue:

…and given homes of boxes decorated in origami papers and scraps of fabric:

Miniature houses are always of interest – and, it seems the more handmade and (ahem) quirky they are, the more they inspire children to enter into the lives of inhabitants.

This is a cardboard house I made for a simple wooden doll I carved, with a few items of ‘rustic’ dolls house furniture found on eBay:

‘People’, of course, come in all shapes and sizes… these were made with scrunched up newspaper , old socks and furry fabric and buttons by my eight-year old assistant:

All combinations of materials can be used:

Here Plasticine and conkers:

FELT is easy to sew into simple little people with wool hair and minimal expressive features:

Even in 2D making ‘people’ can result in the most intricate characters:

CARDBOARD puppets can be drawn simply and quickly in pen old packaging or onto white printer paper then stuck on, or traced out of books, and coloured-in with felt-tips. The puppets will come alive in stories when stuck with glue stick onto wooden lolly sticks or coffee stirrers…

Cardboard puppets can also be collaged with leaves and petals and grasses…

Collaging with natural materials leads to highly original responses as new characters are defined by the unique shapes and colours of the leaves and petals.

For the Grimms’ tale of Jorinda and Joringel we made birds to hang on a string tied around the trees in a woodland corner:

Responding to the organic natural forms of plant materials can lead to intriguing drawings: here are fabulous elves and fairies and strange sweet magical tree-people made by children who stood silent for a while, then wandered around a community garden finding their plant sources, glued them onto cardboard with total concentration then started to draw…

Here we collaged scrap cardboard to make masks:

Using the art we make in imaginative play and the making of stories brings a deepening engagement to the story circle at the end of the workshop where we make up a story together spontaneously before I perform a short table top puppet play with the same story elements.  Here, with the beautiful masks, we recreated a Palace Ball where a thief finds himself transformed by his own goodness and finds love with a wise princess. Throughout the telling of the story, my (mostly) involved and highly attentive audience held on to those masks, listening with new understanding!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *