Out in the playgroup garden yesterday it was pretty obvious to see that children do not play the way we expect them to. Despite all the prescriptive toys and equipment and planned craft activities 3 of the children disappeared in behind the planted shrub and flower bed and found the old compost bin. It was emptied during centre renovations and hasn’t found a permanent home since and tends to move around dependant on weather or whoever has been in the garden last. The children climbed inside and asked for the plastic lid to be popped on securely and giggles and shrieks of laughter ensued.
I found myself watching them and swapping my various hats trying to see how others would see their play. Wearing my early years professional hat I know this type of play is important in childhood. Play is messy, play should be child led and not adult directed. Play is the work of the child and for that work to be productive we have to let children experiment, explore and push boundaries. With my staff member hat on I could envisage comments from parents, “oh dear, look how muddy they are!” With my Trust Director hat on I was already hearing the complaints I would be receiving from the garden conscious folk – “the children have the whole garden to play in – please keep them out the flower beds”. Wearing my parent hat I just loved seeing the sheer enjoyment on their faces as periodically a head would pop out of the bin. My child’s hat is still in my wardrobe and getting it out to try on I wanted to ask if there was room in the bin for me.
It led me, in my usual roundabout way, to thinking about the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” When we put boundaries around children’s play their scope and imagination is stifled. As we grow up and older our life experiences shape and narrow our thoughts and restrict our imaginations. Children aren’t and shouldn’t be inhibited by our narrow view of what is possible or allowed. The joy and excitement they receive from the simple things give them solid building blocks to experiment and achieve.
Children’s lives nowadays are so much more structured and organised, government initiatives for “early intervention”, to encourage “positive outcomes” and to allow parents to work result in many children spending significant amounts of time in a formal, early years environment, older children go to breakfast clubs, school and after school clubs where adults are paid to supervise, educate and care for them. At the weekends, parents, understandably, want quality time with their children so they go swimming, cycling, to the pictures, family centred activities. Where is there time here for children to be on their own, to try out their own games, to make their own discoveries?
It reinforces the need, particularly in an early years setting like ours, for children to be allowed to just play, to explore, to do their own thing, to make their own decisions, to find the mud and worms in the compost heap rather than make space rockets at the craft table. Children’s play is fluid, adults find that hard to understand, it shouldn’t be shaped or constrained by the adult, children are more than capable of making their own play, if we let them, and, that is when they develop curiosity, interest and a love of finding out new things and, learning.
Quality time is sometimes free time to just be and do.