Children Play Independent Play Creative Play

To create independent play skills, children need to be allowed to develop their imaginative tools at an early age. They need to be shielded from excessive television, to have access to materials and toys that spark their interests, and to be allowed to make messes in pursuit of creating the world in their minds eye. They also need the participation of a loving adult early on, to ensure healthy separation and independence later on in their childhood play.

As Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” A child’s innate sense of play is developed at an early age. Television, applied liberally, is the death of easy independent play. The more a child is exposed to non-participatory entertainment, the less likely they are to develop the necessary skills to entertain themselves. By the time they get a little older and their parents start to expect them to be more independent, they don’t have the tools they need to play by themselves easily and independent play becomes more of a chore than a joy. Television also imprints upon their young minds images of storybook characters that will forever replace the ones they would have created on their own if they had been read a book or told a story. Try, for example, to create your own image of Snow White after having seen the Disney version.

Unfortunately for the children of today, many parents find it easier to turn on the television, and later on the computer, as they try to keep their children “busy.” What parents often forget is that they, or their child’s caregiver, are role models. Children should be allowed to live alongside their adult counterparts, watching them interact and copying them as they start establishing their play habits. A child’s first play is often imitating the adults in their life, adult pursuits applied with a child-like mind. Early toys are often (safe) adult items such as wooden spoons, pots and pans, plastic containers, and car keys.

As a child grows they have an early instinct to “help” as they join in the adult work of vacuuming or cooking. Because this slows down the adult, toddlers and preschoolers are often removed from these chores, but they should be encouraged to help as there is rich work being done in the mind as they work alongside the adults. Allowing a young child to peel carrots or chop celery with a butter knife (with supervision, of course) will be satisfying play for them and make them more likely to eat the healthy things you put on the table. Making bread from scratch is a treat of an activity. Allowing a child “knead” the dough as they sneak a nibble from it here and there is much more enjoyable than working with play dough. The movement, the texture, the smell, and the taste create a full experience, engaging most of the senses. The resulting bread creates pride in the child and adds deliciously to your family dinner table.

In addition to the inclusion of children in the goings-on of the household, children need a special spot of their own with materials to create things at will. Give them things like, crayons, pens, paper, safe scissors, glue, beads, pipe cleaners, feathers and a workspace. Children should have access to this space without excessive rules surrounding their work (except when it comes to safety and clean up). An adult trying to over-direct their play in this creative space may turn them off to it. Allow them to try to do things “the wrong way” and discover what works best for their own vision of what they are creating. For young children, the process is much more important than the finished product. Allow them to make a mess in pursuit of their vision. Then help them learn to clean up when they are done. Having easily accessible containers and a place where things belong will make this kind of play easier for everyone.

Adults need to be prepared to help the very young child as they develop their play skills. Humans are naturally social creatures and an independent player is not born that way, but developed. That hard work of truly guiding the young child will pay off as the child grows and no longer needs the help of the adult for most of their play. A child that is raised with the permission, tools, and time to be creative will carry that over into everything they do later in life.