7 SIMPLE WAYS TO SUPPORT CREATIVE PLAY AT HOME
By Jade Hargreaves
You’ve definitely heard of it, probably like it, surely benefited from it and you more than likely want to foster it in your children.
You may consider yourself a creative type (or not), but when you consider that education experts are saying schools are killing creativity (and a record numbers of parents turning to home-schooling because of it) and that the creative industry is one of the fastest growing in the UK economy, is it time we all became more creatively aware as parents?
Although experts don’t agree on an official definition of what creativity means in childhood, creative play incorporates anything that uses the imagination of the child.
And you may well be surprised at what you need to do to encourage children to play creatively at home.
Here we look at seven simple ways you can support creative play at home and help your child on their way to being a creative genius!
1. Banish the toys!
That’s right – that playroom full to the brim of toys, empty it out. Give some to charity, donate to a local children’s group, give some to a friend.
Realistically, when was the last time your child played with most of them?
You may well have heard of the power of four (which discusses how many toys your child really needs, although many experts tend not to give an actual number) and whilst I’m not saying you should completely get rid of all your child’s toys overnight (I’m sure that may cause a meltdown or two), having a declutter is certainly the first step to encouraging more peaceful play.
Too much choice can be hugely detrimental to creativity; it’s overwhelming, children become easily distracted and it can even cause conflict between siblings.
Researchers have found that children are far more creative when they have fewer toys to play with, they are also more likely to play for longer and more happily when we limit other distractions.
Think how easily we adults can become distracted when we are overwhelmed with a list of jobs to do or a phone that just keeps buzzing - not so easy to concentrate!
2. What do you do with it?
Isn’t it funny how you rarely hear a child ask this question? So many of the toys in shops today are so prescriptive they actually tell the child how to use them!
Since when did we need to tell children how to play?
How many times has a child been given a toy but found much more enjoyment from the box?
It’s because the box has so many possibilities, the child gets to take ownership of their play, the box becomes a car, a spaceship, a house.
That plastic drum set inside will always be just that.
By giving children toys that are open ended:peg dolls, wobble boards and capes for example, you’re giving children ownership of their play.
They decide what to play and where their play takes them, and in turn, their creativity soars.
Give a child a box and I promise they will play for hours!
3. bring on the boredom
It’s ok for kids to be bored! Really!
Being bored and not going to every last baby, toddler and afterschool group will in no way effect their future life chances. In fact, psychologists say children develop better when they experience periods of boredom.
Researchers all agree that the number one benefit of children who sometimes have ‘nothing to do’ is that they develop the innate ability to be creative.
Allowing your child to have these short periods will encourage them to turn to reading, to painting, to pretend play or an outdoor activity.
Being ‘constructively bored’ encourages children to think creatively, to problem solve and to use their imagination to fill their time.
4. Avoid managing your child’s play
As a teacher, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a child a question and the parent has answered for them.
I knew the child knew the answer, and the child knew they knew the answer but so often parents want their child to be ‘right’ that it’s easy to forget that the learning actually takes place when they get it ‘wrong’!
Try not to jump in and steer your child’s play, instead let them take the lead and take it in any direction they choose. You may just be surprised at where their imagination may go!
And if they come up with narratives that don’t necessarily make sense – go with it!
Ask open-ended questions, laugh, join in and marvel at the wonders that is a child’s imagination.
5. Try not to get caught up on what your child achieves
We all love a fridge full of our children’s paintings, it’s one of the reasons I became a parent.
But it’s equally important not to get caught up in the ‘product’ or what your child achieves.
Their paintings don’t need to be viable for the local art gallery nor does the school play to be RADA audition ready.
It’s the process of engaging in this kind of activity that’s important, particularly in the early years.
The process of painting a picture, engaging in role play, of thinking creatively and using their imagination is where the real learning takes place.
6. Keep it simple
Always keep it simple and remember that children have the capacity to bring creativity and imagination to almost any object – a toilet roll, an old egg box, the proverbial empty cardboard box!
7. Pick toys that are designed to last
Instead of thinking quantity, think quality.
We’ve all seen the pictures posted on social media on birthdays and Christmas and been overwhelmed at the amount of toys given to other children; thoughts of ‘I could never afford to give that much’ to ‘will my child feel hard done by running through our minds.
But truth is, a child who receives so many presents will often feel overwhelmed too. Half the toys will hardly, if ever, get played with and most at some point will end up in a landfill somewhere.
Isn’t it time this changed? The amount of plastic sitting in toy boxes is actually rather scary and whilst I’m not saying get rid of all your plastic toys, we can certainly be more selective and mindful going forward.
Picking toys that aren’t necessarily limited to a certain age group or style of play, that are built from sustainable materials and lovingly crafted will ensure that they can be passed down through the family and still be loved in years to come.
When you start choosing toys that preference quality over quantity, your child will start to adopt the same way of thinking.
And when you start to choose toys that are lovingly crafted you can bet that they have come from someone working hard to make responsible choices and you’re probably supporting a small business somewhere! What a chain reaction!
So the next time you’re purchasing a toy for a child, ask yourself: What are they going to get out of it? Is it open ended?
Can it be used in lots of different ways? Is this going to inspire the child to use their imagination? To problem solve and think creatively?
And if the answer is yes, you can be sure that the money you’re spending now will be money well spent for years to come.