It’s not just messy play

nicki smithby Nicki Smith, Owner and Inspirer at The Creation Station Bath

These days, as parents, we are constantly bombarded with terms like messy play, creative play, heuristic play or sensory play but what’s wrong with plain old play?
As a daily provider of creative play, I actually get a bit narked about others belittling the job I do. I have been doing it for over 3 years (which is a long time in kid years!) and I reckon I know the value of creative play in all its forms.

Nicole Norman babyChildren play. It’s what they are good at. It’s what comes naturally to them. Most of us parents know and appreciate that. Sometimes it may feel that the government, LEAs, OFSTED or other institutions like to ignore it but even they would admit (I hope) that children learn best through play in Early Years.

Creativity is the ability to challenge, question and explore. It involves taking risks, playing with ideas, keeping an open mind and making connections where none are obvious – Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood.

Creative play is just one way that young children learn and develop. My personal definition of creative play involves drawing, painting, glueing, cutting, collage, modelling, making but most of all, using their awesome imaginations as a natural starting point.

Okay, that’s quite an adult definition but creativity in early childhood has been proven to bring benefits to the child and help them to gain skills:

  • Maths skills – through involvement in arts and crafts, children will gain knowledge and familiarity of shapes, sizes, measuring, sorting and patterns. As they get older, they will begin to include problem-solving skills in their creations: ‘Is this too much paint?’; ‘Will this tool do what I want it to do?’; ‘If I cut this here, will it make the shape I want?’
  • Science skills – in art projects, children learn basic science skills: colour mixing; using different textures for different outcomes.
  • Physical skills – Creative play develops fine motor skills through cutting, drawing, painting, threading, colouring within the lines. One minute, they may be scribbling, but the next, that pencil is forming letters and numbers. ‘Mark making’ (the PC term for scribbling!) is a milestone for muscle control and hand-eye coordination.
  • Emotional and social skills – Art provides the child with an incredible opportunity to express themselves. It is accepted that emotionally healthy children are often those who have an outlet for their emotions and thoughts. Art classes and activities also allow little ones the chance to interact with others and experience group dynamics and the different thoughts and interests of others.

And creative play in babies can be even more important. Playing with materials such as sand, water or paint have been shown to develop thought and creativity in little ones. Encouraging curiosity and exploration is so beneficial for our babes.

The important thing to remember is that no end product is necessary for any age group, in fact the act of exploring and playing is where the learning and development are focused. Who cares what they make as long as they have had fun.

We shouldn’t underestimate how shared creative play strengthens the bond between parent and child. Having fun together creates memories. Allowing your child to explore whilst you are present instils a sense of security in the child to have fun, explore new things. A whole lot of thoughts and theory? True, but I have seen the truth in this too.

nicki blogI have seen the most shy, socially uncomfortable little boy (who used to try to escape during class!) blossom in confidence and stature as his ideas and imagination were noticed and valued. I have seen little ones living with autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities thrive on the chance to join in activities on an equal footing and watched their individual talents soar. I have also noticed with pride as my own children’s imaginations have developed and their skills started to become obvious.

Creative play is accessible to all.

Shush, don’t tell anyone but I really don’t like doing lots of arts and crafts at home with my kids. I struggle enough to keep the house tidy without adding to the chaos. However, creative play doesn’t have to be messy. Creative play is story-telling, music, performance just as much as it is paint, glue, glitter and clay.

Some people are happy to strip their kids off and let them redecorate the bathroom with poster paints. Some people start to convulse at the idea of play-dough. Some people are more creative and inspirational everyday than I have the energy to even think about. Some people need the comfort of arty sessions like Messy Play at Children’s Centres or The Creation Station.

Whatever you choose give your little one’s creativity the wings to soar. It’s not just messy play, you know.

>> You can find out more about Nicki’s classes or your local Creation Station here.

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