What word comes to mind when you think of your child at play? Did you say ‘toys’? If you did, your answer is very common. Perhaps a better way, however, to think of play is through the word ‘activity.’What will your child do as he plays? What will your child say as she pretends?
We know today that child’s play is not merely play - it’s the child’s work. It’s the way children interact with the world around them and the way they grow in any number of social, emotional and educational skills. And while some children will choose imaginative play over television or computer games, most will need a nudge in that direction. It’s not enough to select mostly educational toys because as great as they are, the real need children have to create, explore, pretend and design is found in play without lots of man-made materials. They need interaction with the simplest objects such as water and cups, play dough, or rice and containers. They need to play with found objects such as rocks and sticks. They need practice with imaginative play using their stuffed animals or dolls.
Here are some very simple tips for creating the kind of creative environment that a young child needs and will learn to love if it’s available:
Create an arts and crafts centre - Store a variety of simple household goods and supplies to encourage creative play. These supplies will include cardboard boxes, paper of all kinds, art materials, play dough (or a homemade version of it), fabric and old clothing, etc.
Ask leading questions - Suggest play scenarios to get the creative juices flowing. You might say to your child, “Why don’t you build a racetrack for your cars?” Or, “What’s happening at your farm today? What are the animals doing?” Or, “I wonder if you can make a fort with all those blankets over there.”
Set the stage - Get involved with your child’s play by creating play money, gathering kitchen containers, cartons and boxes. Before you know it, all the pieces are in place to play ‘store.’ Or gather a supply of paper, pencils, markers and envelopes and you’re ready to play ‘post office.’ Gather all the stuffed animals and play ‘going to the zoo.’
Clear creative playtime - Limit screen time in the home. There are wonderful television shows to enjoy and there are great educational opportunities on the computer too, but be sure to monitor the time spent on those activities to protect a quiet home environment encouraging the creative play so necessary to healthy child development.
It’s actually delightful to set the stage for creative play and then sit back to observe what children do. They’ll create characters, conflict and dialogue. They’ll work out problems and design new worlds. Your walls and shelves will be filled with original pieces of art and your children will be accomplishing the tasks they were designed to do - their work - creative play.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and freelance writer who specializes in parenting and family life articles. Find her at janpierce.net.
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