Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Creative Imaginative Play is an Essential Childhood Activity

If I know one thing from years of parenting it is that I treasure as much as the children do those times when they use their imaginations and create a new game or activity that sometimes can even evolve into a whole new world even when using the same raw materials each time simply from the source of their own minds and imaginations.
It sounds like such a simple thing - this world of creativity and imagination that every child should be able to play like this. However I would challenge this claim and say that so many children have their days structured from the time they wake up till the time they go to bed that the idea of having enough non-structured, i.e. free time to even contemplate such an activity probably does not even cross their minds.
I would further say that having given this free time that many of them would not know what to do with it because they live in such a structured and ordered environment and you really do need non adult intervention (except for small children who need a bit of help in the beginning or perhaps a start to get over a 'stuck' part for older children.
I think play time should belong to the children and we should only be a part of it if invited or if there is need as stated above or as occasionally happens, to intervene due to some friction that can't be resolved amongst the children.
The games the children come up with can be varied or the same game played continuously for days until you think they could not possible play it any more. To the children though it is a chance to develop so many skills and social etiquette that can be of such benefit to them not only now but in the future, too.
How I love this quote “Play is the work of children”….. J. Piaget
It encompasses so much about the very nature of children and how they learn.

I feel sorry for those children who are not given those opportunities to play as they go on the endless round of activity after activity to school and homework. Their lives as adults already in existence as children.

The most important skills that children everywhere need to learn for their lives to be happy, productive, and to live deeply moral lives are skills that cannot be taught. These skills are what they learn while playing. What types of skills are learnt?
To think creatively, to get along with other people and be able to cooperate as well as to control their own impulses and emotions.
This means that as adults we have people who can in work situations or even at home be able to think creatively about any situations and thus look in different ways for the answers to the problem at hand.

Our society seems bent on creating little adults of our children, giving them limited 'free time' and expecting them to mature faster and faster and being little clones of the adult world.
The expectations that are placed upon our children academically at an earlier and earlier age.
The fact the most Early Childhood Daycare Centers are emphasising the 'early learning' the children will get when enrolled.
Rarely is it a play environment and I believe it fosters a competitiveness at a much earlier age than necessary.
Social success seems to be the reason for the early intervention at these centers and in homes.
If my child does not start reading before .......then she will be at a disadvantage in the future!
If my child does not attend .......then this will affect his future career!
I believe that fostering the love of play and creativity with imagination will help the children to be more grounded and have the ability to move on academically. I don't believe we should compare any child to another in regards to academics, sports or other pursuits.

This does not mean we cannot help each child to better them selves at something or to play competitively. But the competitiveness need to be about bettering ourselves not at the belittling of another's work or efforts, even in the competing of sides against another.
Play is also an opportunity to know your self more. To understand your strengths and weaknesses. Your likes and dislikes and to then use that knowledge to make yourself a better person.
Obviously younger children don't work this out to start with, but still the growing happens and it does help them as they continue to play and to develop.
Our children do enjoy this type of play and although our younger children certainly have more aids and extra props to help them I still remember the older children playing similar games when they were little.
Play is universal and imagination is normal for children.
We can foster this with activities and lifestyle choices to help our children or we can limit them with no opportunities for this type of play or perhaps limiting them to computer games, TV and other less messy 'play'
Did I mention that the free unlimited type of play tends to get messy?
Oh my yes it does!
So for this reason only it can be a reason in some eyes not to foster the type of play.

Imaginative play does need tidying up and that can impinge on schedules that need to be met.
Better to just get the kids to sit down and play a non messy game.
Now, don't get me wrong. Our children do play some computer games (we have age restrictions and time limits that are enforced rigorously), we do watch DVDs (we have no TV access) we have some great family movie nights and do allow our younger ones to watch DVDs, (again we have fairly strict control on content too) we have watched you-tube for some things, I very occasionally let the younger ones play a game on my I-phone: we aren't living in the dark ages!!
Given the opportunity mostly I encourage them to play outside and to play imaginative games.
Of course like everyone else we have succumbed to the "It's a madhouse I can't think- turn on a DVD for the children to watch so I can get something done!" syndrome.

I myself love to watch a great movie with my Beloved or the older children. I love a great mini-series and the relaxation that comes from that too.
It thankfully isn't my only type of 'play!'
I can do other activities as well and I do believe that what children play as children and especially teens they tend to use that some type of activity for relaxation as adults.

So I would like to think that we are helping our children to think outside the box - literally. To do more with the free time they have as young adults than simply turning on a box of one sort or another.
I remember doing so much more as a young teen and adult. More outdoor and creative activities that seem to be disappearing from the social lives of our young people.
Do many of them go for a walk just to be outside?
Do they plan picnics and go to local events together just to spend time and make memories together?

I sadly think this type of activity is disappearing and that the young children of today will have even less chance of this as they become conditioned to going to constant round of structured events and being 'guided' in how to use the free time they have that they will not know how to use any time they have unless they have an organised activity.
I think we mistakenly think that if we are 'busy' that we are actually 'living'.
We all have spent lots of busy time on the computer or in front of TV only to realise that what we have actually done is fill in time but not achieve anything creative or useful.

Now I know that not all time has to be counted as useful or creative but the more time we actually spend in 'fill in' time the more we accept this to be normal.
There are so many outlets that count as Imaginative or creative play.
Outdoors is one of my favourites but indoors can be just as imaginative if we provide the time and effort to encourage this....

Activities that don't require us to passively allow others to fill our mind with thoughts and ideas rather than using our minds to actively engage in our situation.
It really is up to us adults to encourage and help our children achieve this blissful imaginative and creative part of childhood.
It is a well documented fact that the dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play has seen an equally dramatic increase in childhood mental disorders.
So sad when most of this could be avoided by actually allowing creative and imaginative play
Building relationships and bonding while actively engaged in creative and imaginative play create many childhood memories that can be drawn upon as adults to feed the souls when in difficult situations.

We all carry remnants of our childhood with us and so we can give our children the best opportunities to use these for their benefit or sadly we can restrict the way in which our children best grow, by restricting play and as such effectively limit the children as they grow to be all that they are capable of.
So no I don't believe  our children don’t need more structured learning or even structured activities. They definitely need more play. It isn't just for our children but for our children's children that we need to encourage creativity and imaginative play.
I have heard the term 'give childhood back to children' before and seriously we do need to allow our children to be exactly that - children. We must allow children to pursue that which comes naturally to them to play and explore so they can use this 'play/learning' to grow into strong adults in the ways that matter: intellectually, emotionally and socially.
Here are some more quotes by others to inspire you to recognise the true value of childhood play:

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. –Fred Rogers

Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity. -Kay Redfield Jamison

 Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn. -O. Fred Donaldson

When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero. -Fred Rogers

 It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self. -D.W. Winnicott

Blessings to you and your homes,

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