I was confronted with a thought: is play-based learning and learning through play the same thing? I really don’t believe it is.
Many people are starting to understand that we are pushing academic programmes at younger ages, and that children need to play more, so they advertise fun in learning. Fun letters and phonics, Fun maths lessons. Fun emotional intelligence classes. Fun language skills. Fun sports. Fun music lessons. There is a franchise for every extra-mural activity you can imagine that promises your toddler or preschooler will have fun while learning.
The problem with all of the above activities is that they are highly adult-directed. Play is supposed to be open-ended, novel AND fun. There should be no adult agenda, no output or goal other than the activity of play itself. Play should stem from a place of “What now? What next?” and even boredom.
All of the above activities start and end with adults in control of pre-planned activities. There is little to no space for age-appropriate creativity.
How can we promote play, without that agenda taking control of the play space?
Children need time to create their own thoughts and play scripts. It often first requires that they get “bored” for that innate creativity to be stimulated. Don’t be tempted to make suggestions too early on, or provide them with one-dimensional toys. You might want to follow the podcast and hashtag #1000hoursoutside, which equates to about 3 hours per day, EVERY day of the year.
Where are the children going to play? As a parent you probably know that children can play anywhere, although nature is the most wonderful space for children to explore and create. Remove technology and interferences and let go. Loose parts, or random objects that can be played with, are a wonderful way to stimulate their creativity. They will ask “What can I do with this?”
You might have heard of the Watch, Wait and Wonder principle. This involves taking a step back and not intervening in the child’s process. Give them a chance to get going and actively wonder what they will do next, rather than suggest what you would do next.
In a world of instant gratification and tech devices, your children might struggle to play on their own at first. But start with a few minutes per day and gradually build up the time that they are able to spend entertaining themselves.
It’s hard not to push an agenda because we really do want what’s best for our children. It’s hard to trust the developmental process. It’s even harder when you have a child with special needs and you are trying to help them catch up with their peers. It’s hard when you compare your child’s daily programme to that of their peers. It’s hard when government dictates education expectations before age 7.
But if only we could all have the patience to see what our children figure out for themselves, and the pride of their faces. They will learn how to climb and build, to be brave and to take turns. They will wind daisy chains and comfort a child that falls. They will build sequences with rocks and sticks, create complex structures and develop their own social rules. They will learn to communicate and to stand up for themselves, and for their friends.
We, as the adults, place so much importance on what we think we know, and how we can make the world a better place. When it comes to children, I am convinced that the innate process of development holds so much value and importance that is getting lost in our busy, over-scheduled and tech world.
Be part of the #playvolution and join our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/playvolutionbook) or order the book, Playvolution: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Valuable Experiences Through Play (2014) by Karen and Alex Powell, on Amazon.