I often find the simplest ideas are the most inspiring. It's true in practical everyday life, so it should also be true where children are concerned as well.
A perfect example happened with us while walking home from school one day last week. My son likes to stop by the creek that passes right next to the path home and "fish" as he calls it. That means finding a dried reed lying around and pretending to cast a line into the shallow waterway. Afraid that my daughter and her friend would quickly become bored and demand to leave before my son could satisfy his fishing craving, I cast about for ideas to occupy their interest.
Being moving water, the idea of having "boat" races came to mind. But what was there to use as "boats" in this otherwise sparse landscape? Falling back on my eternal optimism when it comes to situations like this, I kept telling myself that there had to be something that would make for a suitable boat. At first all I saw were weedy plants of various kinds - both alive and dead. Other than that, there didn't appear to be much in the way of boat-making material lying about.
But if the ancients could construct boats out of trees and bulrushes that were capable of carrying full sized adults, what's the problem in finding a stick - anything at all - capable of floating itself without cargo down this little creek? Our ancestors used whatever they had on hand that was also abundant. So, what is most abundant this time of year around the creek? How about the dried out or drying milkweed seed pods that my daughter's friend would often pick just so she could let the fluffy seed copters fly.
When you get ideas like this, it's best to give it a chance before you dismiss it too quickly. In this case, when I picked a seed pod, it didn't at first look like it would work. But that would have been wrong. Even after I'd constructed the milkweed pod "boat" with it's rigging and sail, I still wasn't sure if it would float and stay upright.
Well, it turns out that those seed pods make great little boats. They split apart easily on one side of the pod so that the opposite side forms the hull of the boat. And the relatively tough husk of the pod lets small twigs be poked through to attach a paper sail. That's basically how we constructed the first boats out of milkweed seed pods - with little index card sails attached by dried out weed stalks.
I thought it would be a good idea to add the power of wind to the little craft and attach the sail. Later, we discovered that the seed pods alone without doing anything other than split them open and set them down in the water work beautifully as well. But if you want the best odds for winning a milkweed seed pod "boat" race, you might want to attach the sail - wind permitting.