Child Led Play

After breakfast was eaten and the crumbs were swept,
Into the closet, a little girl crept.
She asked for red and yellow and blue,
With painting on her mind, yes that’s what she wanted to do.
“Shall we paint outside” is what I asked,
Socks and shoes, she made her own task.
We grabbed the brushes, and canvas and paint.
Out the door we headed, without a single complaint.

outdoor painting
The invitation to paint were all colours she chose, two brushes and small recycled wood pieces as her canvases.

outdoor painting
Without wasting a minute, Maliya came and began doing her thing.  She painted mostly on one canvas before moving to the next.

It didn’t take her long to discover that you can also paint on the pavement.  As she painted, she noticed that there were worms along the ground.  There were worms everywhere!  She painted alongside baby worm.  We also saw mommy worm, daddy worm, brother worm and sister worm.

Here she is, discovering mommy worm.  “That’s a mommy worm.  What’s she doing?  How come she’s moving?  Where she gonna go?  How come?”  At this point we moved on from painting and searched for worms.  With freshly fallen rain, we didn’t have any trouble finding the worm family.

Above is Maliya’s photo.  Not only did she seek out the worm family, she began to document them.  I will spare you from the 21, out of focus, photos of worms.  “That’s the daddy one.”

Eventually she returned to painting, and you must know by now, that any opportunity she has to turn something into a sensory experience, she will gladly take.

All on her own, she began painting her fingers and…

created her own handprint.

Here is the collection of her finished work.

In all honesty, I had no desire to set up an entire painting activity that morning.  I was tired, there was laundry to be done, and I was battling sciatica.  The morning I had imagined was completing a few chores and resting my back while Maliya kept herself busy somehow. (I can dream, right?)

I believe that child led play has many more benefits than adult directed activities. Just to be clear, I am not talking about letting your child do whatever they want and saying yes to their every request.  Many adults could look at this as “just play,” but here are a few things that happened in our one hour of “just play” on this day:

Learning without quizzing, flashcards or a formal lesson
Learning colours – Maliya chose which colours she wanted to use, she explored what happened when colours mixed and how colours varied when painted on different surfaces.  We spoke about each colour as it came out of the bottle and new colours that were created, green, yellow, blue, red, purple, orange, brown, burgundy, and teal.
Spatial awareness – This was funny to watch as she was very aware of where all the worms were.  At one point she stopped mid step and didn’t want to move anymore for fear of stepping on one of the worms.
Science – Our few conversations about worms, their homes and how they get back into the ground.
Care and Compassion – I was actually surprised about how much she showed interest in the worms, how some were not moving anymore, if they were going to be ok, and where the mommy and daddy were.  After I told her that the worms could get sick if they slid into the paint she put on the driveway, she stopped painting on the driveway.  (I just didn’t want paint tracked into the house, but the worm story worked, and I’m assuming it’s true.)
Safety – Since we were painting in the driveway, we talked about boundaries, looking both ways if she wanted to go into the street and that she always needs an adult to cross the street.

Building self concept
Decision making, problem solving, confidence, skill building, self esteem, creativity, empathy, listening skills, and conversation skills all happened from an activity that Maliya chose and led herself.

Less opportunity for tantrums
I know you’re going to challenge me on this one, but it’s proven to work for me at home and in the classroom.  Following a child’s lead allows them to be more emotionally regulated and thus, less meltdowns.  This is of course within the scope of their regular routines and limitations.  I’m not suggesting a free for all, which would end up with me having the tantrum and meltdown.

Any chance that I get to bond with my little one, count me in.  Going with her flow allowed me to get that much closer to her on an emotional and cognitive level.  My interest in her activities and processes opens up opportunities for her to share and be curious.  I wasn’t quizzing, but I was asking a whole bunch of open ended questions and being curious with her.  (Ok, I probably quizzed her at some point, probably so I could stop staring at worms.)

I have no idea what was going on here, she crawled towards me with a piece of tape on her mouth this morning.  Without any dialogue, I grabbed a piece of tape, put it on my mouth and crawled towards her.  Following her lead led to giggles, poses in the mirror and this photo.  I hope you find time to “just play” with your children this week.  Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear where your children lead you, hopefully you don’t end up with 21 photos of worms.

I post to Facebook nearly everyday and would love to connect with you there.