Providing Creative Play for Children

Published on: September 10, 2020

Creative play brings tremendous benefits to our children – there are many ways parents can experiment to engage children creatively, which bring joy and spark parents’ and children’s creativity.  

By Anna Manuel  

Children can be a tough audience. While everything amuses them, very few impress them.

I have been making an impression on very young minds through designing environments where creative play is encouraged and celebrated, through telling stories, making art, and teaching the alphabet and numbers.

Creative play, in this sense, is not just about art. It extends to different ways of thinking, new methods of approaching tasks and creating something that wasn’t there before.

How can children benefit from creative play?

Children reap many benefits from creative play environments. They get to:

  1. express themselves, cope with feelings, and process experiences,
  2. understand and appreciate themselves and develop a sense of self,
  3. try out different ideas, take risks, and exercise problem-solving,
  4. give us a glimpse of what’s going on inside their minds, and give us space to offer acknowledgement, encouragement or support when needed.

If you have a child around you constantly, either as a parent, a teacher or a caregiver, you know that they could be seeking attention. And if you had to live with and teach that child during the months of lockdown, you DEFINITELY know the extent of their demands!

Were there times when you drew a blank when your children sought some form of creative play or entertainment from you? Somewhere at the back of your mind, you know you have interesting ideas for activities and games you could do. But somehow, it feels you’ve lost access to that special compartment in your brain.

I hear you!

Even though children’s educational programming and entertainment is my career, I still feel uncreative at times, especially when

  • I feel overwhelmed with the amount of tasks on my plate (busy mode) or
  • I’ve been working on rote tasks longer than I have to (bored mode)

Busy Mode – During the lockdown when we shifted from in-person to online classes at our preschool, we did a lot of preparations within a short period of time to get our learning platform up and running.

Having to work from home and regaining the physical and brain space to navigate this new medium of connecting with and teaching very young children was both exciting and challenging.

Bored Mode – After creating, running, and tweaking the program I did in class, I found a “formula” that spoke to the kids the most. But after several weeks of keeping to that formula, I hit a wall. I could run it with my eyes closed. I wasn’t feeling engaged myself anymore.

The tricky part of being in this mode is that you can get torn between sticking to what works to get results and trying out something different which can have uncertain results.

How to engage with children creatively?

But for my own sanity, I took the latter route. Here are some ideas to help you authentically and creatively engage with children:

  1. Dig in your parent, teacher, or storyteller toolbox – Find things you haven’t used in a while, see if you can recycle, repurpose some ideas.
  2. Do what I call a “spark search” – Random search online to spark ideas: Pinterest, Instagram, and parent/teacher podcasts are my go-to places to find fascinating activities with little ones. I also learned to put a cap on my search, as I could get “spark fatigue” or overwhelmed with too many ideas. After 10-15 minutes or 5-6 ideas, I stop and choose what to try out!
  3. Speak to real people – Reach out to your network or social media groups you belong to. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that people are more than happy to share the fun and creative stuff they do with their kids.
  4. Follow your heart – Grab a piece of paper and list down things that make YOU happy, engaged and excited. Then craft an activity that you can do together. For instance I love making food from scratch, I did a “food vlog” session with the kids online, where I showed the kids how to make hummus, and the kids learned how to measure and describe the ingredients. Afterwards, I shared the recipe with their parents. It was both creative and rewarding!
  5. Take your child’s lead – Does she want to play with water? Wash the car together – real or toy cars. Does he like to hang around in the kitchen? Make something together – bake a bread, blend a smoothie, make a dip. Do they like reading? Read! And not just books. Read food cartons, signs and pictures. Read the sky (for hints of a thunderstorm).
  6. Open creativity (This is my favorite) – Gather different objects that are open-ended and can be put together in a myriad of ways: fabric, blocks, buttons, boxes, egg cartons, leaves, the odd sock, and let the child create something – anything – with the materials. Start them off with something, maybe a question: What shall we make with these things? Do you think we can make a castle out of it? Sit back, encourage ideas, pitch in some, and take a peek into a child’s creative and imaginative process.

Sometimes, your tank is just empty and you just want to do nothing. That’s okay too. Let yours and your child’s minds wander. Being able to empty out our minds with no definite goals is also part of the creative process, as it lets experiences and thoughts brew and if they are important enough, they become available for future use.

You don’t have to be an artist to provide creative play for your little human. Everyone has the capacity to create. Find opportunities to do so with our children – this will bring so much bonding, possibilities, and joy in our relationships.  

Photos courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Anna Manuel is a teacher, storyteller, children’s author, and workshop facilitator. She writes and performs stories for children and runs storytelling and creative teaching workshops for teachers and parents. She teaches early years at the Outdoor School Bangkok. Get in touch for your story needs: FB: Heads and Tales Storytelling Services IG: headsandtalesstories

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