In the digital age, even play and recreation can feel like something automated. Video games, in particular, may develop cognitive abilities in some cases, but they can also deny our kids the opportunity to make greater use of their imaginations. This is one reason why video games remain such a hotly debated topic even after decades of their steadily growing popularity and influence among young people.
You can give your child a priceless gift by building an environment for them that encourages creative play. Our kids need time and space for play, which is too often a precious asset in schedules that are crammed full of activities but leave little in the way of downtime or serendipity.
We should challenge ourselves to help our kids express their creativity, dream, and wonder. THAT is what play should be all about.
I’ve been lucky to serve as a member of the US Play Coalition, where I have had a crash course in the significant and too often discounted role that play has in the development of learning skills. We so often tend to silo off play from learning; in fact, it makes little sense to withdraw recess from our kids as a form of punishment. Recess and movement outside are essential components to helping them to do their very best throughout the day and properly harness their energy.
Play helps us to release stress, find enjoyment in life, and connect with others – and not have to use our indoor voices while doing it. (It’s also pretty important for adults as well, which is why we should all do more to increase our time playing sports and getting outside. It’s a terrific productivity boost – but it’s also the reward in itself.)
Some ways you can foster an environment of creative play for your child:
1. Create a Safe Environment
The tyranny of pressure can stunt your child’s creative process and enjoyment of their hobbies (a sad situation that we see play out particularly often in youth sports, when the pressure to win kills the love of the game). Build an environment of emotional safety in which your child feels safe to be and become whoever they want to be. It’s a tragedy to think of how many kids go to junior high and don’t call themselves artists anymore, compared to the sky high ambitions of kids in kindergarten. Give them the support they need to feel comfortable expressing what their true passions are.
2. Create an Intentional Environment
Just because you’re building an atmosphere of creative freedom, there is still room for some structure. Try providing guidance that can foster creativity without entirely stifling them; you might try bringing out a bin of items that contain the only items they can play with for a given amount of time, whether they are blocks or musical instruments. Such structure can create a framework through which creativity can flow.
3. Shape the Environment around Your Child’s Passion
It’s a healthy sign when your child hangs up posters and relics of the things they’re passionate about; it’s an important signifier that they are developing their own sense of taste and becoming their own individual. You can do your own part to encourage an atmosphere at home that allows their interests to come to life, whether it be the animal world or sports or music. You might have had your heart set on your child taking up your passion for music or computers, but resist the impulse to aggressively steer them toward your own interests if their heart clearly rests elsewhere.
What steps have you taken in your home to build a rich learning and play environment? What has worked well for your child?