Have you ever noticed when it is that your kids are most creative in their play?
Peatie gave up naps at 2.5. For many months, we had him take a Quiet Time in his room for an hour or so every afternoon during his former naptime—a time for him to be alone, with no demands made on him by others. (The same benefits were shared by Mommy!) When I would go up to fetch him from his Quiet Time, he would show me elaborate towers of Duplos that he claimed were stores, foam numbers on a shelf that were food items at a restaurant, a pile of pillows that was a nest for his buddies, stacked Hot Wheels that were car-carrier cars or even ambulance-carrier cars, a curtain car wash for the Peatie-truck… His imagination had always been hard at work, and he amazed me with his creative play.
When I play with my children, they often imitate my way of play. There is something useful in this, for it teaches them different ways of interacting with objects, different possible scenarios for play.
According to books I’ve read, parent interaction can also deepen a child’s play. If we are responsive to their lead, we can take their pretend phone call and turn it into an appointment for a playdate with Teddy; we can take their presentation of a wooden-block “noodle” and turn it into a chance to make a pretend meal or pack a pretend picnic. Our children can learn from our play.
At the same time, I think that parent intervention can stifle a child’s play. Over the years, the creative possibilities in our mind grow rusty from lack of exercise. We would likely never consider that a cardboard box could somehow be a basket for baby Moses AND a nest for a baby birdie, all at the same time. We wouldn’t find it remotely humorous to make up nonsense words and shout them gleefully at each other. On their own, children can build on the tools we’ve given them for play and the experiences we’ve shared with them, expanding them with their own creativity.
I love playing with my children, but I also like to accomplish a few things in my day. I love playing with my children, but I also want them to learn independence and the ability to find their own ways to occupy their time. I want my children to learn to communicate with each other and others, to cooperate and negotiate and compromise. These are things that I can model for them and encourage in them, but they are traits that my children ultimately must practice and develop on their own.
For these reasons, I think it’s important to give your kids space. Are they playing nicely on their own? Go into the next room, and listen to their little minds come to life. Are they old enough for a little more independence? Send them into the back yard or the basement and keep one ear open to listen for signs of distress—or peals of laughter. Give your kids a little room in their own environment to help them learn the skills they’ll need to succeed in other environments. (And try not to freak out if they make some noise and get a bit messy!)