They can work it out



Why do we sometimes stop child initiated play? Is it our own individual sense of how safe we perceive a particular activity? Or is it just how we do things around here?

There is a plethora of research to indicate that children especially boys learn best by doing. Being active and creating their own play enables children to problem solve and grow socially while using their imaginations to challenge themselves.

I have heard myself in the class room using, “Inside voices please”, “walking feet” and, stop! or, don’t jump off that … (usually a chair but sometimes table or bookcase). Getting children outside should be not just about lowering the noise levels or the perceived dangerous play but more about using their bodies to get their thinking into motion.

Busy wet days make any space acoustically challenging and active play can be limited to space constraints, so opportunities to provide activities in between showers such as a high box to jump from to a crash mat or follow the leader through gardens are great teacher inspired curriculum. Providing resources such as hula hoops or any throwing and hitting games like T-ball or throwing at a target are good ways to engage children in using up energy and helps them learn how their bodies works while working alongside others,but we should be encouraging children to create their own play from their own interests and strengths.

Now children and heights make a lot of us nervous, the same with water. For kids the higher the tree to climb or the deeper the puddle to jump in the better – what kid doesn’t want to climb up on the roof given half the chance? When you see an activity that follows a current interest such as climbing and jumping I believe adults should support it  – when children form lines or take turns and encourage each other without any direction or influence from outside they are practising social cues, problem solving and self-regulation all the while the grow confidence in their emerging abilities – Awesome! So why when children do something unorthodox like repetitively climbing through a playhouse window do we stop play? Adults support children’s learning by ensuring that any activity is safe and understanding the value of that learning before acting to curb play.

If we don’t do something because we haven’t before or because someone else  viewed similar play through a different lens, are we not limiting the imaginations of children to that of our own? Just because we as adults couldn’t or wouldn’t do an activity should not mean our curious explorers should have their contribution to play and learning devalued or dismissed.

A quote about growth and learning sums up my thoughts on encouraging challenging play. “If you always do what you have always done you will always have what you have always had”. The more children try new things the more ideas that they will have to build on.

I would like to illustrate the idea of thinking about why we do things with a little story I heard many years ago about asking the question “why do we do this like that? –  A young woman is preparing a roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know, My mother always did it that way”. The question made her curious, so during her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven”.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation. “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”   “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot”.  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”   The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.   “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned”.

To build confidence in children and encourage them to contribute and use imagination in learning about the world around – we as parents , teachers and responsive adults need to stand back sometimes, respect the child’s machinations and value their work.

Let them jump in puddles and climb through windows (when it’s safe) and not stop them because that’s how we were taught or because that’s how we have always things.