This week we are discussing Chapter 13: Play Is Not a Four Letter Word. Dr. Walter F. Drew is our guest content expert this week to provide insight and lead our discussion. Visit Dr. Drew’s website to learn more about his work. You can find him on Facebook at Dr. Drew’s Blocks. Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.
“The goal of education is to create possibilities for children to invent and discover.” Jean Piaget
In Chapter 13, Rae Pica makes the point that “True play is open-ended and intrinsically motivated. True play is not directed by adults.” To be insensitive to the significance of this teaching – or worse yet to ignore the implications – would be to miss the opportunity to strengthen the essential developing capacities of young children.
What Can We Do to Cultivate Play and Creativity in Child Development?
As a way of elaborating on Rae Pica’s comments, I invite you to view a short unedited YouTube video of 5 and 6 year old children as they engage in a compelling example of a true play experience that is open-ended and intrinsically motivated. And not directed by adults.
One area of child development that has received little attention, but which is a positive instructional strategy and strong indicator of creative potential, is solitary self active play. In the video, you will see children standing side-by-side around one very long table covered with a variety of open-ended materials; little purple foam cylinders, red and yellow plastic caps, and an array of Dr. Drew’s Discovery Blocks. The children are asked to play quietly by themselves for one minute. The results are stunning! Parents sit nearby observing and making notes of what they see.
“Cultivating Creativity in Young Children” is a video that will challenge your understanding of play and reveal surprising possibilities that may influence your professional practice and child development.“Cultivating Creativity in Young Children”
What Do You Observe as You View the Video?
Is there joy, creativity, imagination, and inventiveness reflected in the children? Are the children focused, engaged, intentional, and self-regulated? Is there a sense of wonder and curiosity?
Rae Pica calls attention to the importance of creativity. Creativity is increasingly recognized as vital part of child development. It is an essential life skill required for success in our rapidly changing world, and therefore an important component of child development. Creativity is something we all have, and it enables children as well as adults to discover new possibilities and define new relationships, make connections, and overcome challenging barriers using innate creative problem solving abilities. Just as the children vividly demonstrate as they play. Play is a source of creative energy, a positive force, and safe context for children to generate optimism and construct meaningful self-knowledge.
In the silence of the children’s play, they are developing and demonstrating mastery of materials and of themselves. The children are in control and fully self active. According to Friedrich Froebel, the father of the kindergarten and early childhood education, “self active” means that the child must do all him or herself, that he or she will benefit only by what he or she actually does, and that at all times the child’s whole being, the whole self must be active...hands, heart, and mind.
How is Play an Expressive System for Child Development?
In the video, we see the children initiate and guide their own wondering, actively exploring, discovering, and learning. No one tells them what to do or how to do it. They are functioning independently and “paying attention” to what interests them. Being fully present, focused and engaged in self active play with open-ended materials, helps children develop a sense of power and competence as they construct and render visual expressions through aesthetically pleasing three-dimensional forms. I remain totally amazed at the precious comments, stories, and meaning the children share as part of their play. One little girl spontaneously exclaims: “I made one of those like homeless places and people can sit around here if they don’t have any food and this is food for them to eat….”
I am touched by her sensitivity, her social awareness, and caring concern for others.
Another little girl offers, “I made a rehab. It’s the rehab my grand daddy used to go to,…..” Without play experiences that allow for openness and spontaneity, young children are less likely to express original thinking and personal concerns. Brian Sutton Smith reminds us of the importance of play and art making in healthy human development. “These expressive systems generate optimism about our life in this world; and they get this by displaying original ways of putting aside our pessimisms and depressions and boredoms and innovating a virtual life that is primarily a lot of fun. There plays for them are real originality and this is what both improves their feelings about ordinary present day life and sometimes promises a future, where their innovations will be central.”
Play becomes the medium for original thinking and expressive language development as children share their creativity, emerging feelings and ideas, and the positive meaning they assign directly from their own flow of consciousness and sensory exploration. It is in the touching, the full sensory integration while sorting, organizing and constructing with open-ended materials that children make the inner connection and begin to understand themselves while also developing essential life skills and concepts in science and art, math, and literacy…..with hands, heart, and mind working together as one.
Children display insight, enthusiasm, and joyfulness in what they create. In the doing and the making of something physical and meaningful to the children that is uniquely theirs, they create a powerful positive influence on self-efficacy, a strong predicator of resilience, creativity, and academic success. This is one way children and adults both come to believe in themselves and gain the respect of friends and colleagues within the community of learners. As I observe children engaging in this form of creative artistic activity, I am awestruck by their intense focus, engagement, imagination and creativity, radiant faces revealing wonderment, eloquent explanations, and visible self-delight. The children’s hands, hearts, and minds are unified in joyful self active play.
How Does Play Develop Early STEM and Art Making Skills?
One little boy comments,“I made a Star Wars ship….” Once again, much of what happens in these happy moments of self active play, remains impossible to fully describe. Only a small portion of the joy and learning richness can be expressed with words. The physical “Star Wars ship” the child creates supports his inquiry and reveals to him and to us his capacity to envision, elaborate, and make real his idea with aesthetic beauty.
In Tom Henricks’ most recent book “Play and the Human Condition,” he highlights how play helps children begin to understand and experience what is involved in the process of creating form and meaning, of inventing, and ascribing with language the perceived meaning generated during their play. When the whole child is absorbed, fully present and self active exploring unusual open-ended materials, play becomes a joyful way of learning and creating form and meaning beyond the event. The intensity and expansiveness of the play experience makes a deep emotional impression on the child and raises the possibility of it continuing to exert a positive emotional influence on the child’s development and therefore on future success in school and life. Play is an alternate universe with unlimited possibilities for children to explore, imagine, and discover their creative potential in a safe and developmentally appropriate way!
In the video we see early STEM skills artfully practiced as the children play, design, and build “one of a kind” structures. They are learning how to organize and use materials, balance, count, measure, invent, and connect their ideas and inner visions through action and personal expressed meaning. Science, mathematics, and engineering principles are revealed as they construct these impressive complex three-dimensional models.
What happens first, influences what happens next….
Asking the question, “How am I to deepen my own understanding of play and its importance in human development?” motivates me to explore new ways of engaging children and adults in nurturing play experiences. I see more clearly what happens when children and adults are given the freedom to explore and create with a variety of unusual open-ended materials in solitary self active play. There is less distraction and more self-regulation. I value cooperative play and the many benefits it offers children, especially in developing social competence. Learning to share and work together in cooperative play is of epic importance for young children. However, I am also drawn to the value of silent solitary self active play as a natural way of enhancing initiative, concentration, promoting creativity, and strengthening self-expression. It is a form of creative contemplation, a meditation on form and structure and the expressive creative power within the child. That is perhaps why Piaget suggested that we must help young children to be self active, ”Experience is always necessary for intellectual development,….the subject must be active, must transform things, and find the structure of his own actions on the objects.”
Rae Pica reminds us that young children’s play and creativity are processes that require the choice and use of real materials to produce authentic learning aligned with their inner vision. The process of play, of making things with open-ended materials, stimulates imagination and creative thinking. Questions of interest emerge and motivate children to practice perseverance in solving problems that lead to invention and self-discovery.
Do you notice any early STEM or STEAM skills being practiced in the video as the children play? What evidence is there of children using the scientific method in their play? (observation, experimentation, measurement, hypothesizing, formulating ideas and questions, testing, model making)
Do you see any new implications for your professional practice and enhancing child development?
The importance of play and the children’s own intrinsic curiosity, imagination and creativity cannot be overestimated because it is such a powerful influence on their original thinking and actions and provides us with evidence of what is interesting to the children. To the extent that we are insensitive to their preference or ignore these observations, or seek to prematurely direct their play in ways we think are more important, we run the risk of weakening the power of play and of their own unique innate curiosity and creativity to influence healthy child development. Valuing and respecting the personal preferences of children is key to helping them develop the same thoughtful life long practice with others.
What’s A Teacher to Do?
At the end of the chapter, Rae Pica comments: “If you’re an early childhood educator being pressured by parents to have more of an academics-oriented curriculum, educate them. Help them to understand the value of play.”
One of the best ways to help parents understand and value play is to offer hands-on play workshops that immerses parents in actual play experiences consistent with developmentally appropriate practices for young children, both solitary and cooperative. (For more on the adult self active play process see NAEYC publication: From Play to Practice: Connecting Teachers Play to Children’s Learning by Nell & Drew) The process of using play with open-ended materials provides a framework that helps parents think about their own children and ways they can support play efforts within the classroom and the family.
If you enjoyed viewing the first video, you may appreciate seeing the the second YouTube that shows what happens when 4 and 5 year old children engage in a similar process of silent solitary self active play with a slightly different set of materials.“Teaching Young Children”
Perhaps you will see in the actions of the children that silent solitary play is another way to help them express their creative energies and thereby realize and appreciate that they have the power within themselves to influence, if not to create, harmony and order in their lives.
As parents, as early childhood educators, we are called upon to be aware of the importance of play in the lives of children, as Rae Pica has suggested. As American philosopher, poet, and naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson has proclaimed, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
- Duckworth, E. (1970) Piaget Rediscovered. The ESS Reader Education Development Center, Newton MA Froebel, F. (1887) The Education of Man, Appelton and Company, New York
- Henricks, T. (2015). Play and the human condition. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
- Nell, M. & W. Drew, (2014). From Play to Practice: Connecting Teachers Play with Children’s Learning, NAEYC, Washington D.C.
- Sutton-Smith, B. (2007) Play as the survival of optimism and origination (The double 0). Paper presented at Florida AEYC Annual Conference Professional Development Day, Orlando, Florida
Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapter 13 and about the commentary that Dr. Drew has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor
What to read next: Chapters 8- But Competition is Human Nature, 9- Terriost Tots, and 29- You’re Outta Here! (10/5/15).
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