If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that kids light up from new and unexpected kinds of play. It doesn’t have to be complex. Some of the easiest and most fun play ideas that have come to me without referencing good ‘ole Pinterest have been from just looking around and recycling empty containers, using loose kitchen and game parts, and following the lead of kids. I take a character or type of play they initiate and then extend it by incorporating more sensory features.
For example, the other day Livi and her 4-year-old friend began engaging in firefighter play with our dress up clothes and accessories. They excitedly begged me to retrieve Robby’s ride on fire truck and quickly grabbed some VTECH Go! Go! Smart Wheels Fire Trucks on my way back upstairs. Later that day I remembered I had two large 60ML (needless) syringes from a box of expired and unused equipment I inherited. I’m most familiar with this sized syringe used to thoroughly clean out open wounds before a child gets stitches. This part is often the hardest for young children, but we use “soft language” and cheer up kids by distracting them with the idea of taking the “squirter” home and getting their loved one wet with it at bath time.
You might have noticed in my Instagram Stories or from my recent Dental Play post, that I’m kind of jazzed about using dry erase markers lately. This time I ended up using wet erase marker to draw up some flames on the bathroom shower tiles. Both kids LOVED it. Livi, 3, wore her firefighter hat and blasted the flames on the tiled walls in the tub. I had to redraw them a few times to keep the fun going! She has pretty much mastered the technique of refilling the syringes underwater but needed a little help with this large one! And Robby, nearly 17 months, kept asking for “more” and “again” for me to help him squirt the “flames.”
Fun fact: Since before Robby was 1, I encouraged him to help push the syringe to administer medicine when needed while simply saying “bye-bye owies.” It’s never too early to involve your kids in their care (with careful supervision, of course!!). This opportunity for control greatly increases their compliance with medicine taking and other medical cares. I guess it wasn’t too surprising to see that one of his favorite toys to play with at that time (and still) was the syringe from the toy doctor kit. For nastier tasting medicine, other strategies might be needed (more to come!)
The first and perhaps obvious play idea using syringes I feel obligated to share is classic medical play using toy and/or real medical equipment. The child is able to have full control and play out their experiences and understanding. We do this often in our home, but sometimes we do it with a twist and bring the fun to the tub!
Syringe painting is an absolute hit with kids, I’d say most often 3 and up. It was one of my go-to activities I did with young kids at the bedside in the hospital, a reliable fun ice breaker activity to do with kids in critical care. Before beginning the activity, the child was often timid. As the child engaged in this messy play, they seemed more relaxed and happier. It helped make the scary environment and people around him/her not so scary.
Stamp, Stamp, Stamp
My child is obsessed with Trolls. Are you singing “Stamp, Stamp, Stamp” in your head now to “Can’t Stop the Feeling?“ Whoops, now you are! Have your little one use the base/bottom of the syringe and stamp it on an ink pad and paper for an easy fun activity. This then gave me the idea for…
Bubble Blowing Fun
Blowing activities help kids practice deep breathing to calm and are also a fantastic way to exercise the lungs to restore health in times of respiratory illness or post-surgery recovery. Often my go-to is bubbles or pinwheels, but after 10 years as a child life specialist I realized we can use empty syringes and some dish soap water for even more therapeutic fun!
Okay, I have to confess I’m not the most organized and clean person in the world. And then throw a 3 and 1 year old into the mix – yikes. So naturally there were some empty syringes laying around when Livi, 3, grabbed one and starting making impressions into the play-doh. We had been previously playing cars, which must have inspired her because she said “look, Mama, wheels!” Tip: Keep a bowl of safe, but random loose parts near your child’s toys to inspire creative play!
Prompt your kid to be a builder and go to work pretend hammering “nails” into “wood.” All you need is empty syringes, a toy hammer and Styrofoam from a recent delivery. Livi loved the challenge of this one. We talked about using her muscles to hammer through the thicker parts and she enjoyed mimicking the silly labored sound effects I made as I pounded. You could even use this with school-aged kids as a safe way to get out some frustration and anger by labeling the syringe “nails” as their different stressors.
Firefighter Play/ Put out their worry flames
I already discussed Livi’s favorite new syringe play activity of using large 60 ML syringes as hoses to put out “fires” on the bathroom tiled walls surrounding the bathtub. All it takes is a red or orange wet erase marker to draw the flames and water. Expand this play idea for older school-age children and have them write out their worries or what they don’t like about a particular stressor in their life (e.g. hospitalization, chronic illness, divorce, moving). Then using a wet erase marker, write on the large syringe what coping strategies can help them feel healthy and safe. Normalize and validate feelings and help them identify what coping strategies are practical and work best for them. This activity may not be appropriate for a child with a traumatic experience involving an actual fire.
Load up different sized syringes with colored frosting and decorate cookies, a cake or a gingerbread house!