Kids use the big blue blocks of Imagination Playground to build sky high.

Kids use the big blue blocks of Imagination Playground to build sky high.

Annual Ten Days of Play event encourages families to try child-directed play.

By Craig Langlois

Ten Days of Play is all about children leading playtime as they see fit. This experience inspires kids to recognize, explore, and express their natural play instincts through this celebration of child-directed activity.

IMG_1632

Lego bricks provided by Pley.

Spontaneous, imaginative play is essential for children, filling an important role in their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Ten Days of Play, Berkshire Museum’s popular annual celebration of child-directed creative play, now in its fourth year, has become the centerpiece of the Museum’s year-round roster of programs featuring creative play opportunities. The event continues through Sunday, February 21, 2016. Ten Days of Play is generously sponsored by Hotel on North.

Incorporating creative, child-directed play at home is simple. We humans share an innate desire to create. We want to imagine, innovate, design, and improve things. The desire to adapt and invent is not unique to adults; in fact it is most prevalent in our younger years, before our lives become full of structured activities: 45 minute classes, nine-to-five work schedules.

For children, play is their work. It is now common, however, for play to have a structure of its own. Caregivers impose time limits or insist that toys are used within the narrow parameters of their intended purpose. When adults place such limitations on play, children are inhibited in the development of their creativity, imagination, and emotional expression. We effectively remove a very important part of the human experience. “Has play lost its way?”

Children combined Imagination Playground with a Bilderhoos building set for extra fun.

Children combined Imagination Playground with a Bilderhoos building set for extra fun.

We all have experienced the joy of buying a toy for a child, from the hours spent making sure that toy is age-appropriate and non-toxic to the perfect gift wrap to the exciting moment of presentation. The child makes one tear in the paper, then another, finally opening the box and pulling the toy out. Nothing can describe the feeling of pride the gift-giver feels, especially when the child places the toy on the ground and begins to run around with the box on their head. How can this be? After all the research and the careful presentation? This experience plays out in living rooms all across the world.

Caregivers can easily reintroduce child-directed play in any situation. Purchase toys that can be used in multiple ways; some good examples are blocks, cars, and puppets. Time limits for play are fine, but do not set an agenda or goals. Let the child choose what and how they want to play. Play alongside your children by taking a supporting role in their games and by asking for directions on what to do. Their answers may surprise you!

Magnetic blocks from Tegu allow children to build outside the laws of gravity.

Magnetic blocks from Tegu allow children to build outside the laws of gravity.

Do not clean up right away! Children have a natural tendency to wander in and out of play. Cleaning up removes a child’s ability to revisit play successes and failures. Find places in the home where play can be messy all the time.

Play can travel: small objects for children (who are past the choking hazard age) are great travel accessories. They can be simple, like a piece of string, a pad of paper, even a few small sticks from an earlier walk. These objects might seem negligible to you but they hold a magical power for that child. They are the gateway to their imagination.

 

Craig Langlois is Berkshire Museum’s director of education and public programs.