In an article I read recently from the Institute of Child Psychology, entitled ‘Turn down the Pressure Valve: Turn up the Magic of Childhood’, it spoke of the nostalgia that many of us feel of “just being a kid” as an increasingly endangered dream. ‘The societal demands to fill every minute of every day with scheduled activities is the great poison facing our children. What our young children crave more than anything is meaningful relationships, presence, and unstructured time. Play (the work of children) is particularly threatened.
As a child growing up on a farm, there was so much to explore and the freedom and safety to do it. The possibility for imaginary play and creativity to take hold was endless. Dress up and role play are wonderful examples of what imaginary play can look like. Raising children in the confines of our homes offers a different challenge. How can we give our kids this freedom while keeping them safe, in the confines of our homes? We often resort to scheduled activities and extra murals, which are highly structured, time dependent and leave little room for exploration and creativity to take hold.
Unstructured, imaginative, creative play allows children to explore on their own terms (and you don’t need a farm to do it). This approach values the process of play rather than the outcome produced when focused on a particular activity or task. In short, the product is not the goal. The skills developed during the process are what count. Exploration in the garden (think building a fairy garden) or getting messy in a sandpit can stimulate a child’s imagination and the possibilities are endless.
In these instances, the play is child-centered and open ended. In the same way, providing children with basic stationery resources such as scissors, glue, paper, and paint can provide an opportunity for creativity beyond simple colouring in. The benefits of engaging children in these fine motor activities include improved hand-eye coordination, fine-motor planning skills and exposure to sensory concepts such as stickiness. While engaging freely with these tools, either alone or with a friend or parent, a child is developing valuable life skills that include problem-solving, teamwork, patience, and compromise.
In my own home, we have a craft cupboard which the children have access to. There is no design around how the resources in the craft cupboard should be used, but the children are constantly utilizing it to enhance their own imaginative ideas. Just recently my sons decided they wanted to build a sled so that they could slide down the grass bank in our garden.
Together they brainstormed what they needed to make the sled.
A cardboard box, scissors, Elmers glue, and paint were on their list. Their first attempt was unsuccessful. They had to think again about how to make improvements to their sled. They cut more cardboard and glued it to the original sled which made it more robust. It was a success. The result was hours of fun sliding down the bank on their very own sled and a sense of achievement that they had made something, on their own, from scratch. Not to mention the benefits of gross motor development and core building.
By creating opportunities for children to participate in a child-centered way of building, creating, and playing, we can shift the mindset around the need for very rigid approaches to engagement towards a less formal, more meaningful form of play.
Visit www.elmers.co.za for more information.
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