When we let children play amazing things happen. We just have to allow ourselves to see it.
I’m a big believer in child led play… and when I say play I refer to ALL aspects of learning because child’s play is not a time filler or what we do when we’ve finished learning. Play IS learning and as the great Albert Einstein once said… “Play is the highest form of research.” As adults we often lose sight of this but when we really step back and observe (and shut our mouths for once!) we begin to see what these clever little humans are up to.
For a while there I think I was getting hung up on creating these incredibly detailed and well resourced spaces with a narrow minded view of how they were to be used. I was getting caught up in the unrealistic Instagram world where all we see are pretty pictures of untouched play spaces and set ups without any children actually playing and if they are it’s likely being carried out through the eyes of an adult. I have not seen one image of a child throwing those little wooden people all over the place before using the Grimm’s rainbow pieces as boomerangs! Not once!
The things I offer my children are definitely inviting and beautifully set up like those images and they are played with (and thrown about the place!) but rarely is it in the ways I expected them to… and if I’m honest, sometimes not in the ways I wanted them to. I thought I knew what child led play looked like but over time I’ve realised that this adult control we seem to have ingrained in us as teachers (and parents!) is a hard thing to shake off. It’s really difficult to let go and allow our children to explore, problem solve, hypothesise, experiment, research and investigate on their own! Our natural instinct is to intervene and fix whatever it is we think they’re doing wrong because we want to help! Apparently!
Adult: They made a mistake! They can’t do it by themselves… They’re making a mess! I’ll just show them how it should be done.
Child: What’s the point in trying? I can’t do anything right! I’ll probably get into trouble! I should just wait for an adult to help me.
My focus lately has been to make use of quality open ended toys that encourage children to find things out for themselves and become active learners. Alongside these carefully chosen pieces are the hoards of loose parts we often find in the garden or recycling bin. Although I still enjoy setting spaces up to be aesthetically pleasing I don’t put any pressure on myself or the children to use them in any particular way or with any sort of end result in mind. In the past I would say “How about we do this..?” or “No, let’s not do that…” because I wanted the learning to go a certain way… or perhaps it was that I just preferred they didn’t make a giant mess every single time. Now I try to observe and listen more than I speak but when I do I use phrases like “I wonder what would happen…?” or “What can you tell me about…?” It’s hard and I still have a long way to go but I’m excited to see what changes in terms of the relationships I build upon with each child as well as where the learning might go beyond one simple activity.
One of our favourite resources has been our MAGNETIC TILES from JC Creative Toys. They have been used in more ways that I can count but a popular activity has been one that involves making ‘homes’ for different sized vehicles. It’s given us an opportunity to discuss the best shapes to use to accommodate wing span, as well as counting out how many tiles should be added to enclose a semi-trailer. For my preschooler it was an opportunity to predict, measure and compare and is such a fantastic way to introduce early concepts about length and area! I’m looking forward to seeing where this learning might lead us next.
Another popular choice has been the very messy and simple sensory tub set up involving oobleck! I currently have cornflour everywhere but it’s been worth it! Initially I added small beads, accompanied by spoons and containers for some fine motor practise, but as time went on a whole range of things were added resulting in one huge, delightful mess! Yet beyond the mess I gathered some incredible information about these little ones that I wouldn’t have come across in the past because I would have been too worried about all the stones they were pouring in from the pot behind them!! So many stones!
When we let children play we’re demonstrating that we trust and respect them and their abilities. We just have to be willing to stop and observe the magic in front of us.