“Boredom is good for creativity,” assures Kristen Bell. The actor; creator of the hilariously real Momsplaining digital series; cofounder of baby essentials brand Hello Bello with her husband, Dax Shepard; and mom to two “very strong-willed” daughters (Lincoln, 7, and Delta, 6) spent most of 2020 like parents everywhere: taking a day at a time and getting creative with what is available at home. The upside? “There is learning in everything,” says Bell, who, unsurprisingly, is a pro at imaginative play. “I’m meticulous about prop work,” she jokes. Here, she shares seven ways her family encourages learning through hands-on experiences, fun crafts, and watching “happy little clouds.”
We have a rule in our home: Every day you have to do one thing for your brain and one thing for your body. Often the brain activity is solo, like a puzzle or a word search, and the physical activity is soccer. We all play together and amp up the intensity by competing on behalf of our Harry Potter houses. There is a lot of trash talking, and the girls often imagine they are actually playing Quidditch.
My kids pick flowers in the neighborhood not only to have fun arranging bouquets (my oldest daughter is a big fan of Kristen Griffith VanderYacht) but also to draw them. We talk about how the way people draw is subjective, so we don’t need to compare (this doesn’t always work). I try explaining things like Abstract Expressionism—how some people can draw their feelings. If they are really frustrated or overwhelmed, they scribble with black marker and say that’s how they feel.
The girls feel confident when they learn how to work anything electronic, and the washer and dryer are no exception. I let them measure and add the detergent and press the buttons on the machines. We usually end up with half the detergent on the floor, but I try to let it go because teaching them a proper life skill is worth it. And when the dryer is done, we put the laundry away together.
We fill a big plastic tub with dry beans from our local grocery store, and within that I’ll hide different small toys (bugs, butterflies). Then my kids get a printout of what to look for—like an archaeological dig. When they find a toy, they compare it to the picture and cross it off the list. Or other times I’ll just add cups and they can transfer the beans back and forth, which calms their minds because it’s such a meditative experience.
Anything and everything on PBS is education oriented, so I have zero guilt about turning it on when I need a break. I love Odd Squad. They teach about math and spelling. And Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a favorite for emotional learning. Daniel sings a little song when he has an issue, like a musical reminder. We’ve also been watching painter Bob Ross at night before my kids go to sleep, and it mesmerizes them.
The kids have been taking old clothes of mine or scraps of fabric, like an old curtain, and designing outfits with them. Sometimes it’s a repurposed skirt that they wrap around themselves, or they actually cut material and sew on buttons. It’s really fun to see their minds build something out of nothing. A couple days ago one of my daughters held scissors up to a Chanel scarf—I had to intervene on that one.
Wordplay, riddles, or anything that builds on storytelling is popular at our house. My husband just started playing the improv game with our oldest daughter, where she gets a suggestion from the “audience” and then has to make up a story around it. Granted, the story still sounds like an LSD trip or weird mushroom experience because she’s working on structure. But it’s a great way to stay in that imaginative space!
Our first-ever Domino Kids issue is here, starring Drew Barrymore and featuring colorful organization tips, small-space design that solves the toy-storage puzzle, and more creative living ideas for the whole family.