A Midsummer's Play

Phipps children c.1914-1916.

 We all know children are supposed to play.  We know about the importance of play.  About the way children learn through play.  But do we really understand it?  As adults we sometimes treat it as though they are simply waiting until something better comes along.  Until they learn to read, write and become like us.  Then no more silly dilly dallying.  On to the important stuff.  But if you have ever been able to bear witness to a child's true work, you would see all that they learn while "fooling" around.  It becomes apparent while watching children play that it is there that our true nature lies. We were meant to play.  To find joy in the littlest of things.  Make the greatest things out of the humblest of objects. 
Allowing children the ability to truly play requires both everything and nothing from the adult. It requires our full commitment to the integrity of their work and their environment.  It requires that we take very seriously what they do during play and then it requires we back away and allow them the space and time to do so.  This is their time not ours.  Children play very differently when adults are not watching.  Their play grows more sophisticated, more elaborate.  They stay focused longer and work harder at solving their own problems.  They can immerse themselves in their work.
Our work as facilitators of play has taught us the delicate dance between children and adults during play.  One thing we know for sure is that the environment we establish will either uplift or uproot a child's play.  One way that we can elevate a child's play is through carefully choosing the objects they will use.
Famed developmentalist, David Elkind speaks in his book The Power of Play on how abundance can lead to contempt in children.  When they have too much. . .they cannot cherish it all.  Children with an abundance of toys and in environments where adults show them how to use the toys are far more destructive and careless with their toys than children who have fewer things and are allowed to play uninstructed.  In our careers as nannies, we have learned the art of pruning a child's play room.  Our rule of thumb has always been to not have more toys out than an adult is willing to clean up at the end of the day.  And as children grow into elementary school, only the amount of toys that they wish to help clean up.  Containers, bins, drawers, closets, and the Brother P-touch have been our best friends at times!  When toys are no longer being used during the day we take it as a cue to rotate them out.  Put them away for awhile and introduce a new container.  Introducing a new container also helps when conflicts are starting between toys.  When this happens consistently and there seems to be no resolution in sight, sometimes simply walking into the playroom and picking up those toys and introducing new ones can change the climate for the day.  Having noticed how important the environment can be to the success of the day,
  we have started to wonder what the message that toys which are poorly made, easily broken, and/ or  easily replaced sends to children versus the message of objects which were carefully constructed, are sturdy enough for them to be used over and over again, and are not easily replaced.  Has anyone else noticed how silly it is that trucks are now made of plastic!  How much filling and dumping can happen if the weight of the wet sand may break it!  How frustrating for everyone!  (This one is still guaranteed for life!)
We mean well when we are buying those flimsy, silly things.  And we are as guilty as anyone of buying something at a gift shop which will just wind up in the trash in a couple of days. (Everyone needs a little novelty in their lives once and awhile!)  But if we are constantly buying without consideration of the message those objects are sending, we are not helping establish an enriching environment for free play.  We are in fact hurting it.

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