What Is Child-led Play?
The clue is in the name really although it is something that takes practice!
Essentially it is allowing your child to be the director within their play, we are there for guidance and to support their ideas.
So when we set up an activity for our children or we are playing with them, we let go of what our perception of the activity or the toy is and let our children explore it in their own way.
And that means even if they are walking their toy horse on it’s head we simply state “He’s on his head!” because ultimately they will learn, if they don’t already know that horses don’t actually walk on their heads!
Steep Hill or Mountain Surrounded By Trees?
Let me tell you a little story about what happened while me and Ayla were out and about.
I needed to pop into Norwich with Ayla (because I broke my laptop screen ) and we were walking up a really steep hill.
Ayla said “it’s a mountain!” She made up a whole story around the mountain as I asked open ended questions and this is how it went.
“What will we see when we get to the top?”
“Stars and the moon”
“It must be night time! Will we see anything else?”
“Lots of trees!”
“Wow! Like a Forest! What will we hear?”
“umm.. Birds and cars and tigers and lions”
“What noises will them animals make?”
“Ayla watch out it sounds like there’s a cheeky monkey right next to me!”
“*giggles* I’m not a monkey I’m Ayla!”
She then asked to run off because she wanted to look at the big Christmas decorations.
I could of told her we weren’t climbing a mountain, I could of told her it was a steep hill but we would of missed her amazing story! It also made a lovely lady smile who heard Ayla’s cheeky monkey impression so everyone is a winner!
Now I know we weren’t playing with any toys but Ayla was being creative, and we gained a lot more from letting Ayla lead that play then we would have if I would of just said “it’s not a mountain it’s a steep hill.” Because it would of stopped right there.
The same logic applies for when we are playing with our children. Our role when we are playing with our children is that of a guide to support them when they need help and to be led where ever they want to take us.
Roll with me for a moment…
Imagine you are drawing a flower, but I come over and say;
“Another flower? Why don’t you draw something different?”
“But, I really want to draw a flower. Just like the one we saw on our walk.”
“They were pretty weren’t they, but you’ve already drawn lots of flowers like that. Come on lets draw a house.”
How would they make you feel?
I know that I would feel pretty deflated and I probably wouldn’t want to do any more drawing!
But how about if the interaction went like this….
“Look at my drawing!”
“I love that you’ve used so many colours! Can you tell me about your picture?”
“Yes. It’s flowers, like the ones on our walk.”
“I remember them! There was so many just like in your picture”
“I drew 1,2,3,4 lots of flowers.”
“Did you know that butterflies eat nectar from flowers? So I think a butterfly would love your picture too. Would you like to help me draw a butterfly on my paper?”
How would you feel after that interaction?
The ‘Yes’ Rule
When Ayla is playing with something or asks to do something before I say ‘no’ I think to my self but why?
And if I can’t think of a good reason like something might get broken or someone might get hurt I will say yes.
And if my answer is no, how can we adapt Ayla’s idea to something that is ok. For example, if she is throwing her wooden food I will ask her to stop and explain that someone might get hurt because they are hard. But then I will give her something that is ok to throw like a ball or a soft toy.
If we can’t think of a good reason then why can’t they lead their play in that direction?
But How Will They Ever Learn
Now you might be thinking “but if I only ever followed my child’s lead then they won’t know how to count or read” and I hear you!
Children are hard wired to learn the skills they need to fit in with society. Through play they will push themselves to the very limit of their ability to learn that little bit more and eventually that will include numeracy, literacy, physical development and all of the rest so we really don’t need to sit there with the flash cards to get them to memorize anything that they will pick up through their play!
When I want to work on a particular area with Ayla for example number recognition I will include numbers within a few of our play set ups, sometimes she will show an interest other times she won’t use them. I’ll leave Ayla to explore the activity and once she looks like she’s loosing focus in what she is doing. I will begin to play quietly with the numbers, sometimes that’s enough to peak her interest other times she doesn’t take any notice.
Letting children explore their limits at their own pace is the best way for them to learn, because that’s where their interests lie at that point in time. If we make them work on an area they aren’t currently interested in it’s going to be met with frustration and to be honest very little will be gained from it!
Ayla and Speech and Language
Ayla is under speech and language, as much as she is a willing (most of the time) participant with the therapist but she will not play along at home. We could be playing the best game and I could really have her focus and as soon as I start modeling the sounds with my mouth she will totally disengage. She will either tell me off “mummy no!” or just get up and walk away. So I have to be sneaky, we were practicing a blowing sound through her mouth and she wanted me to be a wolf so I blew her house down and she blew right back at me to blow me away from her house.
In that example Ayla led the play and wanted me to be a wolf, I used the fact that the big bad wolf blows the piggies house down to my advantage and it worked. She did eventually work out she had been tricked and told me she didn’t want to do anymore blowing and that was fine, we stopped it there.
The Impact Child-led Play Makes
When we let our children lead their play they are learning that their ideas matter and that we value their ideas. We are offering a safe space to test out their ideas, even if they seem pretty illogical to us! Through that we are boosting their confidence, independence, creativity and problem solving skills as well as building a stronger connection between us and our children.
So when you next sit on the floor and play with your little one remember the ‘yes’ rule, let them be the director and see there their imagination takes you.