Whether first thing in the morning after breakfast, after naps in the afternoon, or sometimes at both points in our routine, just about every day includes a dedicated time for free play. With a room full of toys, such as legos, Magna-Tiles, a kitchen, tool bench, and more, the boys are left unguided and undirected to just play. It is in these moments I find myself eavesdropping on the boys conversations, lingering just long enough to hear a compliment, nicety in sharing, or collaborative effort with an initiative. There are airplane flights to Florida, long car rides to the beach, train rides, and much more. All of these adventures unfolding in their minds without ever leaving our home.
I am purposeful in planning for creative play because I want to encourage independence and support open-ended thinking. In fact, there are three elements of fluid thinking that I enjoy observing and nurturing through creative play: playful exploration, fluent ideation, and novel combination. Recently I was reminded of these elements of thinking as we visited a local museum.
Playful exploration invites children to see things from another point of view. Having read the story Goodnight Moon many times the boys entered a room set up as a replica of the book having a context for what they saw, yet the creativity came in how they interacted with the objects in the room and explored what it felt like to be "inside" the story. Naturally a four year-old has a different interpretation and perception of the story than a two and a half year-old, making their discoveries and interactions even more exciting as they interacted with one another and found intersections of their ideas.
Since children generally are not limited by conventions that frame problem solving as an adult (or even as an older child) they seemingly have a way with thinking 'outside the box.' As we entered a spatial room stocked with building materials the boys began building different structures and creating elaborate construction scenarios. It was incredible to watch each of the boys use objects for purposes other than what they are typically intended for. This demonstration of fluid ideation was powerful as they invented opportunities to execute the ideas created from their imagination. Of further interest to me was the unrelenting acceptance they had of one another's creative thought; not once did either of the boys question the other when sharing the purpose of an object.
It is often in the quietest of play moments where the boys truly surprise me with their thinking and where I am most often reminded of how important open-ended play really is. On these occasions the boys are truly creating as they make connections between concepts that previously existed separately in their world. So much of early learning is about re-enacting something heard or seen, but when these events or concepts are connected in a novel way the child is creating original thought.
Parents today are made to feel that play must be directed and focused on a tangible outcome (generally related to academic readiness), when in reality one of the best things parents can do to instill 21st Century skills in their children is to let them play. Through creative play children not only learn how to problem solve and explore concepts, but they learn how to collaborate and be flexible. In a lot of ways becoming a parent has reintroduced me to the importance of fostering creativity and making time for unstructured play in everyone's day!
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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