A Box of Crayons


Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


A simple box of crayons, twenty-four count.  They came from the dollar store and don’t have a brand name or even a fancy box.  Their colors are basic, but with sweet names like “lemon-lime” and “apple.”  Some have been used a lot, others very little, and a few have had their tips nibbled off by a little boy when he wasn’t quite big enough to understand that we don’t eat crayons, even if they do have tasty names.  We turn to these crayons every day, and for all of their fun they are also a great teacher and they present a wonderful and simple parenting tool.

When the crayons come out, my son thinks we are playing.  And he’s right, we are.  But we are also working on some really good lessons.

We use the crayons to count:  One, two, three colors.

We use the box of crayons to identify colors:  This crayon is red. This crayon is green.

We use the crayons to learn vocabulary as we draw simple pictures and identify them:  This is an apple.  This is a pumpkin.

We use the crayons to learn our letters:  We write A, B, C, D…

We use the crayons to learn how to put things away:  before we leave the table, all of the crayons go back into their cup.

We use the crayons to teach about colors in daily life:  Our parrot is green, like this crayonThe ball is red, like that crayon.

We use the crayons to teach “please” and “thank you:”  Please hand me a crayon.  Thank you for the crayon.

We use the crayons to teach about principles of color:  Yellow plus blue make green.

This play is more than just lesson time, though.  The crayons are a tool for expression of deeper feelings, or sometimes even a distraction for those feelings.

We use the crayons to talk about sharing, and why sharing makes us happy.

We use the crayons to distract us from a potential upset:  We can’t go outside right now, but we can color instead.

We use crayons to talk about art.  Even though our conversations are simple now they will someday blossom into something far more complex.

Sometimes we use the crayons to work out our aggressions:  a hearty scribble is good for the soul.

The crayons aren’t just for my son, though.  I know that I benefit from holding those little waxy rainbows and making fanciful doodles on paper.   Mama is a better parent when mama has inner peace.

Sometimes mama uses the crayons to relax:  drawing and coloring a simple picture is a nice release from a day’s stress.

Sometimes mama uses the crayons to remember how much she used to love drawing, and to remind her that there’s no reason she cannot still embrace a little more art in her life.

Sometimes mama uses the crayons to leave love notes for the loves of her life, even if one of them is too little to read them and the other must think his wife is nuts for leaving him love notes scrawled in colorful crayon.

Of all of the toys and the books in our house, we keep returning to this simple, dollar store box of crayons.  I never would have expected all of this from our little one-dollar investment.

Do you have a particular parenting go-to item?  How did it come about?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon September 13 with all the carnival links.)

  • On being a more playful parent — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
  • Parenting a toddler through play — Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
  • Splashing in Puddles — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
  • Say Please — Cassie at There’s a Pickle in My Life explains how they taught their son manners by “play,” showing that actions speak louder than words.
  • No Nanny Needed — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
  • I’ll Run Away With Gypsies — Nikalee at Spotted Pandemonium maneuvers physical and emotional obstacles while spinning playful tales, jumping through hoops, and inspiring the kids to clean the living room.
  • A Promise To My Daughter — Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure writes a poem for her daughter promising to use play instead of anger when facing difficult situations.
  • Parenting Through Play — Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding — Amy at Peace4Parents discusses how play hasn’t always come easily to her, the power of appreciative observation, and how her family learns together through play.
  • Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting — Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
  • A Box of Crayons — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction talks about how a simple box of crayons has become a wonderful parenting and teaching tool.
  • The Essential Art of Play — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
  • The Art of Distraction — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro shares a list of distracting alternatives to harsh punishments in tough parenting situations.
  • Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has ideas for grace and courtesy games that help you encourage courteous behavior without reprimanding your child.
  • I am woman, hear me roar! — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
  • Getting Cooperation Through Play — Amyables at Toddler In Tow talks about respecting the worldview of a preschooler by using play to encourage connection and cooperation.
  • Playful Parenting = Extra Energy??Momma Jorje didn’t think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
  • Dance Party Parenting — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
  • Wrestling Saved My Life — Wrestling is as vital to her son’s well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • Parenting through play — By playing with her children, Tara from MUMmedia is given amazing opportunites to teach, train and equip her children for life.
  • Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Issa from LoveLiveGrow shares that though she only has a 3-month-old, playful parenting has already started.
  • Play Before Sleep — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how playing and singing with her son before he falls asleep helps calm her frustrations that tend to arise at night.
  • Playful Parenting — Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama has learned to be a better parent by following her toddler’s lead in play.
  • Hurry up! Hurry up! I mean it! Quack, quack, quack! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life leads a trail of ducklings
  • On the Road: Learning to Play — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers her inner adult through a summer of playing with her children.
  • Preventing Tantrums Through Play — Gaby at Tmuffin explains how she keeps her household happy by not taking things too seriously.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play — Lily, aka Witch Mom, redirects unwanted behavior in a toddler using games and play.
  • Exaggerating for effect — Lauren at Hobo Mama has learned how to ham it up.
  • Handling Big Emotions with Role Playing — Zoie at TouchstoneZ plays at tempering her parental frustrations while helping her children handle some big emotions
  • How To Herd Toddlers by Talking Pictorially — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama demonstrates how talking in pictures is a playful way to engage your young child in transitioning from one activity to the next.
  • Getting a Toddler to Go Where You Want…Playfully — Sylvia at MaMammalia describes how a game of hide-and-seek can be used to steer a wandering toddler in the direction of her choosing.
  • Playful Parenting: Chores That Do Themselves — Remember chores when you were a kid? If chores were this fun for Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey, she wouldn’t have needed any reminders!
  • Clown School Express: Playing away Fears MudpieMama describes how she helped her boys confront their fears about starting kindergarten by playing with trains.
  • Practicing Playful Parenting — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle realizes that playfulness is the best way through the day and seeks more ways to practice it.
  • Today, Tomorrow and Every Day — Starr at Taking Time addresses her children in a letter sharing with them how improtant it is that they spend their childhood playing.
  • Learning Through Immersion — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares how she helps her daughter develop naturally without focusing on teaching, but rather by immersing her in their family’s way of life and making her an active part of her environment.
  • Play Here Now — Jessica at Instead of Institutions learns and relearns and tries to remember the value of play.
  • Play: A Wonderful Parenting Tool — Mamapoekie from Authentic Parenting offers a list of examples on how to use play in real-life parenting situations.
  • Playful Parenting — a Book Review — Erica at ChildOrganics shares simple yet sage advice from Dr. Cohen on how play can change your child’s life.
  • Mock Threats: Turning Real Frustration into Playful Parenting — Threatening is not an effective discipline strategy, but Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains how parents can turn their frustration into playful moments by making “mock threats.”
  • I’m Sick of Yelling — I Want to Play — Alicia at McCrenshaw’s Newest Thoughts realizes she needs to change the way she’s parenting and is forming a new plan.
  • Sing-along, Brush-along Songs — Shana at Tales of Minor Interest shares a few songs to make brushing her three-year-old’s teeth more fun.
  • Monster Voice — Ever have those frustrating moments with your kid(s) when you just want to scream? Amy at Anktangle shares a silly strategy for getting through those difficult times.

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19 Responses to A Box of Crayons

  1. Ana @Pandamoly

    Hooray for crayons! I just bought Niko his first box, and we've patiently experimented (thank God I have hardwood floors… the crayon wipes right off!) but might put them away for another month or so : ) I think I enjoy them much more than he does – remember how much I love(d) coloring (in the Smurfs coloring book, no less).

    Our go-to toy is a $0.63 ball with kitties on it. "Ick-hee Baah." I think that means, "Kitty Ball." Thankfully, Niko is always down to bounce the ball, and we use it a lot!
    Ana @Pandamoly recently posted..The Essential Art of Play

  2. Dionna @ Code Name:

    What an incredible list of life lessons enclosed in a box of crayons – awesome. Thank you for sharing Jenn!

  3. Hannah

    A great reflection that made me think about the immense amount of learning happening in our homes at any given moment…
    Hannah recently posted..Wrestling Saved My Life

  4. I Thought I Knew Mam

    Aww… I love how you use the crayons too!

    We play/learn in many of the same ways with Baby's colored, wooden blocks and his books ;-)
    I Thought I Knew Mam recently posted..Playful Parenting – Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play

  5. Cassie

    I love this post! So fun that the crayons can do all of that. Last winter my son absolutely loved drawing and painting and we used crayons all the time for learning other things like colors. We got out of the crayons as the weather got better but I'm hoping some cold weather will bring them back.

    • I actually feel a little guilty spending so much time indoors this summer even when we were doing fun, creative things like coloring and fingerpainting. We just had such heat and humidity that our usual outdoor summer fun had to be curttailed a little.

      Cold weather means more indoor fun, guilt free!
      Jenn @ Monkey Butt J recently posted..A Box of Crayons

  6. Terri

    I just love this – amazing all the lessons that come from a simple box of crayons. My kiddos both love drawing too – its a wonderfully therapeutic activity when used for a limited time only. I think after reading how it benefits you too, I'll make an effort to join them in their drawing a little more. I really enjoyed reading this.
    Terri recently posted..Practicing Playful Parenting

  7. teresa

    I love crayons and I love this post!!!

    It's so sweet and profound.

    It makes me want to get out the crayons right now.

    I'm a fan.
    teresa recently posted..Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting

    • Some day I actually want to go to the dollar store and spend five dollars on as many art supplies as that will get us just to see how many hours of enjoyment we can get out of such a small investment. There's nothing like crayons and paper, or fingerpaints, or watercolors, or modeling clay for a really fun and creative time on the cheap.
      Jenn @ Monkey Butt J recently posted..A Box of Crayons

  8. Linni Wilson

    What an interesting piece. I've never read anything quite like it. I really like the sentiment. :)

    My parenting go-to is probably a simple tub of blocks, bought by a friend of mine for my daughter's first birthday. I never thought she would bother with such a thing, but she loves them – building them, putting them into the bucket and pouring them out again, bashing them together to make sounds, feeling their shapes. And as she gets older they will teach her about colours and counting. She spends ages playing with them. Such a simple toy. :D

  9. Amanda @Let's T

    I think your words here are so beautiful, especially at the end.

    My nearly 3-year-old still eats crayons, which is why we do not see them very much in the house. I desperately want them to paint, color and draw more but cannot seem to stop them from chowing down at all times, on all media.

    On a more related note, this post made me want crayons. And I love that this is the most important "toy" in your arsenal, particularly because it is therapeutic to both of you. I applaud your continued dedication to your own artistic-ness (not a word) and how you show your son that one thing has many, many uses beyond what is generally accepted on the outside.

    • Mudpiemama

      Amanda I make pudding based finger paint for my little ones so they can paint but put it in their mouths and it's harmless — it doesn't take long at all to make and its a fun way to paint for babies – of course my 5 and 3 yr olds now want some too because it's tasty :) hth!
      Mudpiemama recently posted..Clown School Express: Playing Away Fears

  10. Mudpiemama

    We love crayons too :) One of our favorite toys is a ladybug the size of a tennis ball we gave to my oldest for his first Christmas – its plastic and it has been in the mud, in the sand, in the pool, tub, kitchen, in the ocean…

    thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences with the crayons!!
    Mudpiemama recently posted..Clown School Express: Playing Away Fears

  11. Amy

    We have a box of crayons just such as this! We use them most mornings right after breakfast. Isn't it amazing how many life discoveries can be made just with crayons and paper? The simplest tasks can be amazing learning opportunities! Loved your post!
    Amy recently posted..Getting Cooperation Through Play

  12. Lauren @ Hobo Mama

    Wow, that's incredible. I love how much meaning you found in those crayons! It's amazing how it's the simple things you go back to again and again.
    Lauren @ Hobo Mama recently posted..September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Exaggerating for effect

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