The star of all play ideas is self-directed play, and kids themselves will remind us if we forget. As adults, it’s so easy to get caught up in planning and orchestrating children’s play, instead of allowing them to direct it themselves.
Today, I was trying to think of another Star Wars play activity for today but the kids beat me to it. Little Sister rounded up all the shapes from a toy she hadn’t played with in a long while. Each shape has a small hole in the middle so it will sit on a peg board. She didn’t stop until she had a shape on every peg so the board had no empty spaces.
I thought I was suitably enthusiastic when I said, “Wow, look at all those shapes. You worked to fill up the whole thing,” but I guess not. Little Sister had to point it out. “See, the shapes are in lines.” My second wow was much better. I hadn’t even noticed, but sure enough, the shapes were separated so all of the circles, triangles, stars, etc were in their own lines. There was no need for me to get bent-out-of-shape thinking of something to do. The stars had already aligned.
It’s so important for us to let kids be the stars in their own play. We can support their play by being there for them to ‘show and tell’. Many times kids will invite us to come and see. Even though they are playing, this is their work. They are proud of their own efforts and want us to be too.
We can also support children’s play by giving them a space where they are free—with a few guidelines, of course—to choose how they will play. They may want to spread out a puzzle, build high and wide with blocks, or zoom cars in a big, empty space.
As kids play, we can notice what they are doing and occasionally ask questions or make comments. For instance, if Little Sister hadn’t placed the shapes in their own line, I may have noticed where there were a couple of the same shape already and asked if more of that shape could go in the same line too. There are often ways to extend play, once we take the time to really look.
This Star Wars play-of-the-day was very different from my perspective. Today, self-directed play gets the star.