The only invitation children need to play is time

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 08:28 AM

I’m seeing posts and pins this week about organizing children’s play around their Halloween costumes. These include suggestions for creating “invitations” for children that match their costumes.

The word “invitation” is being thrown around a lot, as well as the Reggio term “provocation,” and I think it’s worth exploring more deeply.

What is dramatic play? It’s using your imagination and ideas and exploring them through pretending and world-building. It’s building play-acting scenarios about the things that excite you as well as the things you don’t understand. It starts with the child and what fascinates him, what he wonders, what scares or interests or excites him.

I’m sure the people who are doing these very specific and directed “invitations” would quickly say that children can take the play in whatever direction they like, but why build so much of the scenario for them to begin with? If you’re using Halloween costumes as the jumping-off point, isn’t it enough to dress up as doctors or pirates or circus performers (presumably something that interested the child enough to choose the costume) and then do the important child’s work of selecting your own props and building your own scenarios?

Sometimes I think we kill all spontaneity for children because we’re afraid — afraid they won’t have their own ideas, or maybe afraid that their play won’t be significant enough. But that’s a misunderstanding on our part, because children’s play is always significant.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. — Fred Rogers

Piaget called play the work of children and the language of childhood. Both Piaget and Mr. Rogers knew the score: Play is how children learn. And the more you do, the less your child can do.

In order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. — Jean Piaget

When we plan our children’s play, when we step in and initiate their play for them, we are reducing their learning opportunities. Period.

 

The only invitation your children require is some space, some flexible, generic props (cardboard boxes, small plain table, squares of cloth, wooden blocks…), and most important of all, time.

At educational conferences in the nineties, kindergarten teachers continued to defend play, even as they had to allow more and more paperwork to clutter the tables and walls. Some teachers tried to recapture the certainties of the past by collecting antique block sets and doll-corner cribs, ancient dolls, and little wooden cars and trains, resisting anything that came in a catalogue. But we overlooked the real villain in our midst. It turned out to be not so much the “academics” we were adding but the time we subtracted from the children's fantasy play that would begin to make the difference.

 

Having not listened carefully enough to their play, we did not realize how much time was needed by children in order to create the scenery and develop the skills for their ever-changing dramas. We removed the element — time — that enabled play to be effective, then blamed the children when their play skills did not meet our expectations.

Although we feared the influence of television, we were cutting down on the one activity that counteracts the mindlessness of cartoons.

We blamed television for making children restless and distracted, then substituted an academic solution that compounded restlessness and fatigue.

 

The children may have been the only ones capable of making sense of the confusion, and they did so whenever the schedule was cleared so they could play. — Vivian Gussin Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play

We’ve all had that friend who said she’d show us how to use her new yo-yo and then played with it herself for a half an hour while we just sat there wishing we could at least try it once. Don’t be that guy.

All of the ideas on Pinterest for building forts and playing cowboys and knights and astronauts and setting up mud pie kitchens were born in the minds of small children. You aren’t doing your child any favors when you take away the discovery and invention and offer a predigested plate of fun.

Let them do it all. Every single bit of it. Don’t worry — it’s already in there. It’s who they are. It’s what they were born to do. They’ve got this.

 

For more on this subject, check out: Curriculum of Curiosity

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51 comments

Comment by Johanna on October 28, 2013 at 09:04 AM

Such a helpful look at the "setting up" part of play. I find myself very willing to let my kids play, play, play, but I think you are so right, I often want to set things up for them first. Thanks for bringing that part of it to my attention!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 11:45 AM

thank you, johanna! you are so welcome!

Comment by dawn suzette on October 28, 2013 at 09:16 AM

Oh, yes! The yo-yo scenario! I know that well, having two older brothers that always had to "show" me... for a REALLY long time!

I agree with the set ups and overdone "invitations" to play. I think back on our parties we threw in NS and how simple they were: a place to draw, a tent to sit and have quite time w/books & stuffed animals, and plenty of food and space to run! The kids always made up the most spectacular games with their friends. We never played any "party games" but everyone went home having had a wonderful time.

As for the time to play in everyday life. So vital! Essential!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 11:46 AM

let’s not even get started on birthday parties! hoo boy.

The kids always made up the most spectacular games with their friends.

and you can’t ever make up games if you never have the chance … because your time is filled up with someone else’s ideas…

Comment by JuliaR on October 28, 2013 at 10:02 AM

My 2 year old daughter claimed a 6-foot long scrap of plywood this spring. We let her bring it in the house that day, thinking she'd be over it within an hour - but 5 months later, it's still one of her favorite things. It's a 'car slide', a road, a balance beam, something to sit under, something to hop over... I've thought about painting it to look like a road, but if it looks like a road will she still use it as a balance beam?

Meanwhile, her expensive battery operated toys that she got last Christmas still have their original batteries in them because she rarely plays with them.

She can also turn any object into a little talking person. She spends dinnertime making her spoon, fork, and cup talk to each other.

That said, we have it easy with her because her imagination IS so vibrant. If we had a child who wasn't into creative play, I'd imagine that I WOULD present her with invitations to play, help her build a fort, show her how to make a pretend cake in her kitchen, etc etc, in order to encourage her to think outside the box. We live in a weird time where kids know how to work an ipad before they're out of diapers. Dressing your kid up as a doctor for Halloween and then helping them play doctor isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 11:52 AM

 

love the scrap of plywood! :)

I've thought about painting it to look like a road, but if it looks like a road will she still use it as a balance beam?

which is exactly why flexible, open-ended objects like wooden blocks can be anything — a sandwich, an ice skate, a fence, a car…

whereas “use one way” toys are, as you describe, so seldomly put to use to do anything other than what they were intended to do.

She can also turn any object into a little talking person. She spends dinnertime making her spoon, fork, and cup talk to each other.

<3

That said, we have it easy with her because her imagination IS so vibrant. If we had a child who wasn't into creative play, I'd imagine that I WOULD present her with invitations to play, help her build a fort, show her how to make a pretend cake in her kitchen, etc etc, in order to encourage her to think outside the box.

but — and i say this as a prior owner of a preschool and not only as a mother — how many children aren’t into creative play? if a 2yo is thinking inside a box, i’m afraid WE made the box and put him in it. (and i’m guessing that box = his routine and a lot of adult-controlled experiences.)

We live in a weird time where kids know how to work an ipad before they're out of diapers. Dressing your kid up as a doctor for Halloween and then helping them play doctor isn't necessarily a bad thing.

i agree with the paley quote up above — it’s not the things we’re DOING (like ipads), it’s the things we’re NOT doing (like giving kids abundant time for free play).

and “helping [a child] play doctor” — if that means directing their play and not just sitting down and being a willing patient — IS a bad thing, i think. (hence the post. ;o) it’s crippling, really. children need the space and the freedom to have their own ideas and futz around and build their own worlds. if we provide a template, we’re doing them a disservice.

Comment by Stacey B on October 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM

I wonder if all the "prearranged" playing is in part nostalgia on the part of the parents. The memories, not all together true, of what your grandparents' childhood was like is what nostalgia refers to. When I see those pins I think about how I, as an adult, wish I had had the teepee, or fort, or tightrope or etc. I think some parents take that the next step and create them for their kids (though I'm guessing more just make pinerest boards).

One of the things that I see a lot in parents today is that they seem to have little faith in their children, as if they don't think the kids will be able to do what they themselves did by intuition. I am not sure where this disconnect comes from as it has only started with the children born in the 1980s. As a child of the 70s I was given a few "supplies" and a lot of time. I was allowed to choose one after school activity, back then it families who had their kids in more than one activity were called nutty. Now I meet parents who look at us sideways when we say that we don't do any sports or music lessons, not to mention Lego or cooking classes.

Maybe it is a reaction to the guilt that so many children of babyboomers saw their mothers having as they both parented and worked. They feel like they need to fill the gaps that their parents perceived in the way that they were raising their own children. But since most of these adults now never experienced free time play, or in at least not the nostalgic version they have in their minds, they feel that their children will not know how to play.

Things like this lead to "Junior Ranger" programs, and museum backpacks. Where organizations feel pressure to lead children through their experiences rather than letting them discover their innate greatness on their own. By having those programs it makes parents feel as if they don't have the expertise they need to share the place with their children. It also puts a wall between children (and grownups) and art or nature, or whatever, the need for experts shields us from pure experience.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 11:58 AM

 

I wonder if all the "prearranged" playing is in part nostalgia on the part of the parents. … When I see those pins I think about how I, as an adult, wish I had had the teepee, or fort, or tightrope or etc. I think some parents take that the next step and create them for their kids (though I'm guessing more just make pinerest boards).

this was my thinking as well, stacey — a sort of adult wish fulfillment that is a combination of “this is the childhood i wish i’d had” and “this is the dream childhood i want my child to have.”

the motivations may be pure, but the thinking is muddled. we just have to get parents to see that a “perfect childhood” isn’t about a pinterest-worthy planned activity but is about giving your children room to grow, stretch, explore, pretend, and be in charge of their own play and learning.

One of the things that I see a lot in parents today is that they seem to have little faith in their children, as if they don't think the kids will be able to do what they themselves did by intuition.

THIS.

Things like this lead to "Junior Ranger" programs, and museum backpacks. Where organizations feel pressure to lead children through their experiences rather than letting them discover their innate greatness on their own. By having those programs it makes parents feel as if they don't have the expertise they need to share the place with their children. It also puts a wall between children (and grownups) and art or nature, or whatever, the need for experts shields us from pure experience.

wow. yes. again, pure motives. but the desire to MAKE SURE a child has a valuable experience leads to DIRECTING their experience and extinguishing discovery and, i’m afraid, joy.

i know a lot of kids love those junior ranger programs but i’ve seen them racing around checking off their tasks and then getting their extrinsic reward … maybe it’s a certain TYPE of child that loves those programs (i would have been one :P) but there’s another type that would get a lot more out of just exploring and discovering and incorporating it into his own world.

and yes again on the parents being happy to have some kind of guide so they don’t feel it’s on THEM for their child to “get something” out of the experience. there is just a whole lot of anxiety, i think, about making sure kids get what they need. but they’re getting a lot of surface blather and not the deeper sustanence they REALLY need.

Comment by amy21 on October 28, 2013 at 02:17 PM

i’ve seen them racing around checking off their tasks and then getting their extrinsic reward

This is why I'm against scavenger hunts in museums and visitors' centers. It limits the "exploration" to what the adult organizer has deemed important. I was so disappointed to see that even the Carle Museum--which is so Reggio-inspired in the art studio--has a scavenger hunt for kids in the galleries. I have never seen scavenger hunts for adults, yet another way society deems children inferior--incapable of finding something they enjoy in a museum or visitors center without being led to it somehow.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:12 PM

how annoying would it be to go to an art museum and told to go on a scavenger hunt rather than just look at the art?! that sounds like an activity that someone dreamed up thinking that kids would be bored. i have spent hours in art museums with my sons and we were never bored.

Comment by Jennifer on October 29, 2013 at 02:08 PM

On the other hand we've had a good experience with the scavenger hunts. We visit our local museum a LOT and had gotten into a bit of a rut, looking at the same things every time we went. We borrowed the scavenger hunt, saw a lot of the museum that we didn't normally go into, and looked at a lot of things in those new parts of the museum that weren't on the hunt at all. My daughter came home thrilled, and created a scavenger hunt of our house, which she then wanted me to do about 6 times in a row. She has also created her own scavenger hunt of the museum. We have continued to visit all the new parts of the museum on subsequent visits. So we had a great experience with it! On the other hand I would never use one for an introduction to a museum.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 06:17 PM

good point. :)

again — this just underscores the point i was saying elsewhere in this thread: it’s not about the resources, it’s about how we’re using them. if parents go straight to the prepackaged experience, that may cheat their children out of the chance to experience it fresh, with their own eyes, their own interests, and so on. but of course, if you’ve been there a million times, a scavenger hunt might help you see something you’d never noticed before.

i like what stacey said about (and i’m completely rephrasing here and possibly going off in my own direction) perhaps parents feel a bit frazzled about having to orchestrate the experience so they lean on the prepared experience. of course, the pbh way is to take your time and let the kids lead and then support whatever they find. the idea of a preplanned, overly guided excursion doesn’t sit right.

Comment by amy on October 28, 2013 at 12:31 PM

You are enabling my perceived "laziness" in parenting. I breastfed for 6 years (2 kids) because it was the easiest way to get them to sleep, fed, and stop crying. I had one trick and that was nursing. I co-slept (we're still all in the same room) because I do NOT like getting up in the middle of the night. And now I let my kids play all day because it's so much easier to just pay attention to what they like doing than forcing them to do a curriculum. Oh, and I still have no idea how to execute my 4 year old's desire to be a "baby volcano" for halloween, but my 7 year old has ideas...I'm gonna let her be boss and tell me what to do;-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:16 PM

 

baby volcano!!! :D

i am fine with enabling you. ;o) attachment parenting always seemed to me to be the easiest path — the path toward more sleep, better moods, closer bonds, etc. :)

i want to see that costume!

Comment by amanda on October 28, 2013 at 01:00 PM

i know people think we're crazy because we give our kids tons of free time to read, play, draw, run, whatever it is they want to do. as type a and list-making as i am, it's been a huge exercise in letting go of what i was taught to believe about education and learning. letting go and trusting in childhood and a child's innate desire to discover and explore has proven to me, time and time again, that this is THE path for our family.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:20 PM

 

letting go and trusting in childhood and a child's innate desire to discover and explore…

funny that goes against the grain these days. :/

i do NOT want to romanticize the past, but in one generation we went from adults who would think it was crazy to organize all a kid’s activities to adults who think it’s crazy NOT to. what happened?!

Comment by amy21 on October 28, 2013 at 02:23 PM

The flip side of adults "setting up" the pretend play, of course, is that it tends to create adults who are really wed to a particular outcome. After all, if they spent all that time designing the "perfect" stage set-up and props and so on, there is this idea of how it ought to be played with, and then you just have adults micro-managing every darn aspect of what is going on. It takes practice and self-control to present a true provocation--or even to introduce a new plaything--and then LET IT ALONE. Just be quiet and let the kids do their thing.

Quite frankly, I don't know where people get the energy. I love my kids but their lives are not my project. I would not be happy or fulfilled if my kids were my only project, but I suppose I *might* be tempted to orchestrate everything they do, for lack of anything else to scratch my creative itch or fill my time.

(I see your cranky and meet it, Lori!!)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:26 PM

 

if they spent all that time designing the "perfect" stage set-up and props and so on, there is this idea of how it ought to be played with, and then you just have adults micro-managing every darn aspect of what is going on.

we can’t have kids playing *wrong*. :/ but srsly, that’s what paley is talking about when she says “blamed the children when their play skills did not meet our expectations.” and it’s not just the dramatic element, it’s the social element. if kids don’t get enough time playing together WITHOUT ADULT INTERFERENCE/MANAGEMENT, they can’t learn how to create their own games with their own rules, divvy up jobs, settle disagreements, and so on.

It takes practice and self-control to present a true provocation--or even to introduce a new plaything--and then LET IT ALONE.

it does — and i know some truly lovely early childhood teachers who have struggled with this. they are attracted to reggio principles but they also want *the right kinds of things to happen*. it’s hard to keep your fingers out of the stew.

Quite frankly, I don't know where people get the energy. I love my kids but their lives are not my project.

i don’t know. there’s a really intense sense that you can mess your kids up if you don’t do everything right. we’ve lost our belief that children are robust. and maybe the economy and the wealth gap have made people even more determined to make sure their kids get off on the right foot. because otherwise, why worry? kids will develop so much better if they are left to build their own fun and explore their own interests. but there’s no trust for that.

Comment by Claire F on October 28, 2013 at 02:41 PM

I keep seeing those "invitation to play" posts pinned on Pinterest and they had me totally perplexed! I like having materials available for my kids to play with and use - they can get to the pipe cleaners and playdough and cookie cutters, the paper, glue, tape, markers and even the glitter, whenever they want. But when you place those things out in a certain manner, expecting a certain result, you are taking the creativity out of their hands. I once saw a pin that had chocolate colored and scented playdough and a candy box, with the "invitation" to make candies. I liked the idea, so I put out some similar things - some playdough and a pretty heart shaped candy box I thought my daughter would love. She did something totally different with all of it. I had this moment of, "Gasp! I did something wrong! She's not making candies!" Luckily, I got over myself rather quickly and realized something - my kids come up with far more imaginative and interesting things to do than I could.

And I don't think the value of time can be overstated. One of the reasons I have come to love homeschooling so much is the time. I valued free time as a child, very much. I shied away from a lot of organized activities because they left me exhausted, mentally more than phyiscally. I needed to shut myself in my room and imagine and play, well into my teens (perhaps there wasn't as much "play" going on in my teen years, but much imagining). I needed time. I value it for my kids too, and I know they do as well. They are well aware of how long their public schooled friends are in school (and the presence of homework after the fact), and they often ask me, "When do they have time for anything!" I don't know, kiddos.

I'm so glad to read this post. So often the overload of information and ideas online is overwhelming and leaves one with the feeling of not doing enough. But there's something to be said for us doing less, and giving them time to do more.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:29 PM

 

I once saw a pin that had chocolate colored and scented playdough and a candy box, with the "invitation" to make candies. … Luckily, I got over myself rather quickly and realized something - my kids come up with far more imaginative and interesting things to do than I could.

excellent example. because a true reggio-style provocation is about setting out materials with an *expectation* that children will explore and discover and figure out on their own what they want to do. and the interest is in seeing what they choose. but somehow that idea — of keeping the learning space interesting and rewarding curiosity — has devolved into what is basically an “everything-but-the-written-instructions” activity.

And I don't think the value of time can be overstated. One of the reasons I have come to love homeschooling so much is the time. …They are well aware of how long their public schooled friends are in school (and the presence of homework after the fact), and they often ask me, "When do they have time for anything!" I don't know, kiddos.

agree 100%.

Comment by Jenny on October 28, 2013 at 02:45 PM

Thanks for this article. My nearly three year old son has just started doing dramatic play and his current interest is getting the baby carrier and using the waist belt as a seat belt. He narrates what he is doing, which is getting in the car, putting on the seat belt, then taking off the seat belt and getting out of the car. He does this for up to 20 minutes. There is no way I could have thought of this activity for him :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:31 PM

 

hi jenny, you’re very welcome!

There is no way I could have thought of this activity for him :)

love that. :)

if you wanted to support his play reggio/pbh-style, you could give him a cardboard box big enough to sit in and see what happens next. :)

Comment by Jenny on October 28, 2013 at 10:00 PM

I will! Thanks for the suggestion. He is naturally very inquisitive (ie gets into everything, can't take him anywhere) but I know if mentored the right way he'll be a life long learner just like his dad. Just need him to also know how to rest. Life is a marathon, not a sprint!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 08:23 AM

good luck with that! ;o)

Comment by kirstenf on October 28, 2013 at 04:35 PM

I needed to read this, Lori, thanks.

I used to laugh at the mums who did this kind of thing. I was much more into just letting them get on with it. I made sure everything was accessible and then whatever they did with it was fine with me. But since R's not been at school, I've become a bit obsessed with thinking up things for him to do. Learning opportunities. Thankfully for him, he
doesn't take suggestions well and just goes off and does his own thing anyway. (All those number games I was asking about? Like he's going to do any of those...) But still I try to come up with the ideas.

Thanks for reminding me that my job is to provide a range of materials and then mentor as required. So much easier! (I think...)

Oh and I did that yoyo thing today. Come and make cakes with me kids. Yes, you do the stirring. No, I think I should pour the mixture in the tins. No, I'll spread the icing. Now, wasn't that fun? :-(

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 04:42 PM

 

Thanks for reminding me that my job is to provide a range of materials and then mentor as required. So much easier! (I think...)

in a way it is easier; in another way, it’s more challenging. :) and of course if you have to fight your basic nature (as some do) to let go, letting to is challenging all on its own!

Oh and I did that yoyo thing today. Come and make cakes with me kids. Yes, you do the stirring. No, I think I should pour the mixture in the tins. No, I'll spread the icing. Now, wasn't that fun? :-(

ugh, i’ve done it myself. we all do it! it’s very good, though, that we’re thinking about it and consciously trying to avoid doing it. :)

Comment by sparklingbay on October 28, 2013 at 04:36 PM

Lori this is like nectar for me! I feel guilty about not setting up more things for my three year old but of course she has many resources herself.

I definitely feel activities which are too close ended are it's very enriching. I think any activity, epically for the younger children, which feels it has to enhance the amazing world around us is downright mad and dangerous e.g. waldorf style pretending there are fairies in the forest. Feck sake people, trees are amazing in their own right!

But. It is hard when you are inexperienced/first child etc to know the difference between facilitating and dictating. While I know clearly that adult led themed activities in a wood or museum are not ideal, other things are less clear. How about dolls houses, play kitchens, Montessori equipment, tepees, stringing junk-made musical instrumentsin the garden....all too close ended??

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 05:01 PM

 

i feel like i said “everyone who thinks play invitations stink, come sit by me.” ;o)

I feel guilty about not setting up more things for my three year old but of course she has many resources herself.

3yo’s just need such basic playthings and they will play and play and play. wooden blocks, a table and chair, art materials, a doll, cardboard boxes and fabric

(there’s a good list of open-ended art materials and playthings for toddlers in the forum: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/forums/preschool/topic/rainy-dayh... )

Feck sake people, trees are amazing in their own right!

there are a series of billboards in my area that advertise kids gettingo outside into nature … and they advertise this with movie characters. as in, shrek lurking behind a tree. siiiiiiiiiigh.

But. It is hard when you are inexperienced/first child etc to know the difference between facilitating and dictating.

VERY TRUE. and definitely worth talking about so we can think about the implications of our choices.

While I know clearly that adult led themed activities in a wood or museum are not ideal, other things are less clear. How about dolls houses, play kitchens, Montessori equipment, tepees, stringing junk-made musical instrumentsin the garden....all too close ended??

i like a plain wooden dollhouse. i’m not so familiar with montessori equipment. reggio favors realistic items for playing house (real china dishes, real pots and pans if possible, etc.). as one other commenter mentioned up above, the real culprits are toys that can only be used one way. an abundance of flexible, open-ended materials (wooden blocks, simple furniture that can be used for all kinds of pretend scenarios, fabric squares, etc.) invite imagination and new ideas.

from my experience with my reggio-inspired preschool i would also say the adult *attitudes* about the toys are very important. are children *allowed* to use the toys however they see fit? is there a sharp intake of breath if they want to put all the little chairs in a line to make a train or is that expected? is it perfectly okay to put the play dishes on the floor to play picnic? is it okay to have a big raggedy cardboard box in the room for weeks? and so on.

if it’s an atmosphere that encourages children to play freely, the children will play freely. if there is even an *implied* subtext that certain kinds of play are not welcome, then they won’t.

Comment by amy21 on October 28, 2013 at 05:52 PM

This reminds me of when a relative gave my first child, as a just-sitting-up infant, a plastic battery-operated toy that was designed so that if he hit the "A"' key, it would sing an A song, or some such nonsense. It only had A, B, C, and D. It's exactly the kind of toy I abhor. My son investigated it, turned it over, and started banging on it. The relative tried to show him how to play with it--ie, do the ONE THING (hit the key) to get the ONE "right" RESULT--and I snapped, "If you're going to give it to him, at least let him do what he wants with it."

Comment by sarah pj on October 28, 2013 at 07:06 PM

I'll come and sit in your corner. I learned long ago that I can never predict what's going to happen with toys and my children, and that whatever they do will probably be far more interesting than what I can think up. Time, to me, is the most important thing. We don't schedule anything extra. Not a thing. We all need time to do the things we want to do, be that read, or make art, or garden, or go thrift shopping, or sew, or nap, or build a fort, or create a new sewer system in the yard, or whatever. If we have to leave for ballet class, then that gets interrupted. During the fallow times, I get a little itchy over things not happening, but then energy bursts forth and I remember that those fallow times are for thinking and sowing the seeds of the next big thing.

So, people think I'm weird because I don't set up activities for my kids or for playdates (a word I hate). That's okay. My kids will show their kids how to make their own fun.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 07:43 PM

 

During the fallow times, I get a little itchy over things not happening, but then energy bursts forth and I remember that those fallow times are for thinking and sowing the seeds of the next big thing.

<3

this is something some parents really need to hear. it’s totally natural for there to be an ebb and flow. but if we’re used to being busy 24/7, maybe we start thinking our kids should be busy, too.

we make it possible for other people to opt out when we form a community and support one another.

So, people think I'm weird because I don't set up activities for my kids or for playdates (a word I hate). That's okay. My kids will show their kids how to make their own fun.

:)

Comment by Lise on October 28, 2013 at 07:12 PM

Oh, Lori...once again, you've said exactly what I've been thinking (much better than I could have said it). I was just reading yet-another "Reggio-inspired" post in blogland today and thinking they'd completely missed the point. If you discovered Reggio through Pinterest, you'd think it meant having gorgeous materials gorgeously arranged each day in perfect little "invitations"--and you'd feel inadequate all the time for the plain old boring play you've got going on.

Lucy's into Laura Ingalls these days, and many days, it's all Laura, all the time. There's not a single beautiful invitation in sight, and yet somehow she manages to transform herself and her friends into the Ingalls family and imagine stories for them to act out.

Thank you for providing the other perspective, so eloquently as usual.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 07:46 PM

 

If you discovered Reggio through Pinterest, you'd think it meant having gorgeous materials gorgeously arranged each day in perfect little "invitations"--and you'd feel inadequate all the time for the plain old boring play you've got going on.

yesssssss, i’m afraid i agree. i was so happy when the interest in reggio emilia grew, but i agree — the underlying principles are being missed and too many people are focusing on the pretty surface.

yay re: laura ingalls. :) children need to build those worlds; they don’t need adults to step in and make it Pinterest-worthy. i just hope we can help people scale back a bit and become more supportive rather than directive.

Thank you for providing the other perspective, so eloquently as usual.

thank you so much! <3

Comment by Tricia on October 28, 2013 at 09:58 PM

This is absolutely perfect timing for me. We are in the middle of a long distance move and we are juggling moving through 3 different houses right now. I simply don't have the time or energy to do anything special with my kids (5 and 2)! They have been making amazing forts out of couch cushions, designing heffalump traps out of boxes too worn out to use in packing and just in general having a good time. My oldest was right in he middle of a project on the moon/space and unfortunately I haven't been able to give her the time she deserves. I even said to my husband that right now I felt as though she would be doing better if I put her in the kindergarten down the street. But you know what? On an early morning drive between the houses the sun was coming up and it was bright red. My daughter looked at it and said "look the sky looks just like the storm on Jupiter!" She is doing her greatest work even if it looks silly and not what we had planned!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 08:12 AM

 

wonderful. :)

i can’t think of anything better for a 5yo during a stressful time than to play and bond with her sibling. and it sounds like her strong interest is going to still be there when things level out on the other side. good luck with your move!

Comment by BethLJ on October 29, 2013 at 10:11 AM

I love this article, and I enjoyed reading the comments too. Thank you Lori for the reminder, as it's so easy (for me) to slip into their play when I needn't.

BUT. I confess there is a bit of judgment here in the comments that is bothering me. Let's talk about those junior ranger programs, for example. It would never have occurred to me that there would be other homeschool moms out there who would judge us negatively if you came across us in a park doing a junior ranger program! My homeschooled kids already spend an extraordinary amount of time outdoors, for which I am grateful. Most of our family adventures (vacations) are centered around camping, state and national parks, and so on. I do not for a second worry that their participation in a junior ranger program (or a scavenger hunt, or whatever) is going to "ruin" them, if it is what they want to do. If we prescribe our parental free-play-allowed-only prejudices against such things, then we aren't we in fact somewhat limiting their options in the other direction? My kids would not want to do them every day, and they don't do them at every park we visit, but when they do it, I do think they benefit from it in its own right. They are proud of the patches they've collected, and they enjoy taking the "oath" in national parks. I feel it instills in them a sense of responsibility for our public lands.

My public-schooled nephew also does such programs in parks, encouraged by his working parents. He loves collecting the badges from national parks. His case is quite different. While he might benefit as much or more from more free play in nature, these programs are certainly not hurting him, as they may be the reason he got to go there in the first place (because he asked to). You could say that is sad (for him), or you could just not judge, as his parents know that as a farm kid he gets to do a lot of other things other kids might not get to do, and you just don't see that when you see him in a park doing a junior ranger program.

I know these comments here are just conversation, and I'm not meaning to sound as though I am over-reacting to one little part of them. Rather, my point is just that what works for one family doesn't always work (or isn't always necessary) for everyone, and that's okay too.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 01:30 PM

 

I confess there is a bit of judgment here in the comments that is bothering me. Let's talk about those junior ranger programs, for example…

If we prescribe our parental free-play-allowed-only prejudices against such things, then we aren't we in fact somewhat limiting their options in the other direction?

i think your opinion is perfectly reasonable, and i see your point about going too far in the other direction. but i also think it’s GOOD to dig into these things and talk about them. because it’s the way we use these resources and tools that is really the issue — and the more we talk about it, the more thoughtful we can be about our choices.

it’s hard to not judge — or not come across as judgmental — when you want to say “maybe this thing we do isn’t so great after all.” after all, we ARE judging. but i hope we’re judging the process and not the *people*. my kids have done jr ranger activities. i didn’t feel attacked by what stacey said; she just challenged my thinking. *is* it another example of adults directing how children explore and learn when the kids might be better off exploring on their own? i think it can be. and i really, really dislike extrinsic motivation for something that should be enjoyable in its own right — pizzas for reading books, badges for exploring a national park or museum, etc. every time someone mentions badges, i get another gray hair. ;o)

i try to state things in a way that makes it clear that i don’t think in absolutes (for example i want to be able to criticize education while still making it clear i know there are fantastic teachers and schools), but every once in awhile i miss a beat. if i talk about parents in any sweeping way (e.g., saying parents can be lazy) i hope it’s always clear i am including myself in that category as well.

my point is just that what works for one family doesn't always work (or isn't always necessary) for everyone, and that's okay too.

absolutely agree with you. xoxoxo

Comment by Stacey B on October 29, 2013 at 03:52 PM

I wasn't meaning to attack their existence. The programs themselves are not inherently bad, the problem I see is for the families who are new to nature or art and are led to believe that they do not have enough knowledge to experience the place without it. It is this need for an expert which so many people feel we need to do anything.

s like the

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 06:10 PM

 

It is this need for an expert which so many people feel we need to do anything.

yes, but also that other point, which i think is really good — that adults are essentially guiding children through an experience, pointing out what they should notice, and etc., rather than letting the children explore freely and focus in on what interests *them*.

Comment by amy21 on October 30, 2013 at 08:25 AM

Since I brought up scavenger hunts to begin with, I wanted to reply to you. In a former life, I worked in non-formal education, primarily environmental education. As part of that, I attended quite a few conferences, with sessions and presentations on creating programming. Very rarely did these sessions and presentations discuss what the potential program participants (almost always children, but sometimes adults as well) might WANT to do. It was very much about what the environmental educators felt their communities/visitors SHOULD learn about. This was the late 90s, and I am pretty sure things have only gotten worse, especially since most programming I see directed towards kids makes sure to list the education standards that the programming is covering. (This is true even for homeschool programs. I've pointed out that as a homeschooler in my state, I'm neither bound to nor interested in checking off grade-based standards, but no matter.)

This is especially frustrating to me from the environmental education standpoint. I truly believe that the best way to get kids concerned about the environment is to foster a love of the local environment, and the best way to do *that* is to give kids the time and space, whenever possible, to explore and play on their own IN that environment. It may not check off any standards, but that's an adult problem and shouldn't be transferred to the kids.

More formalized programs are not necessarily bad, but I don't agree with them being the only experience someone gets. Much better to explore and see what's interesting, and *then* seek out the information to feed whatever interest comes up. I'm not familiar with Jr. Ranger programs so I can't speak to them specifically, but the scavenger hunts I've seen seek to hit a little bit of everything and go into nothing at all deeply. I don't judge our experience in a museum or visitor's center based on how much we see. If my kids want to spend all our time in one room, exploring something really deeply, that's fine. When they have used scavenger hunts, they tend to just check things off and race to find the next thing. There is no opportunity for deep engagement.

I was fighting a losing battle, as an environmental educator, in valuing the experience of kids just *being* in the woods, turning over rocks, exploring, asking questions...even in a summer day camp. The movement was all towards structuring every experience, delivering information, checking off boxes, testing what the participants learned before and after to make sure the "message" was "received." I don't know if this is coming from the need to prove the worth of these programs in the current educational climate, the desire of parents to feel like they're getting their money's worth...probably both. It's frustrating. It was frustrating to me as a program creator and it's frustrating to me now as a parent.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my experience, such as it is, with the other end of these programs. So much more is going into their planning beyond simply considering the needs of the participants.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2013 at 09:39 AM

 

this is really interesting to me, amy, because for years (when i was running the school) i had to run interference with places we wanted to visit. they would always offer up a preplanned experience — often with coloring books :/ and quizzes and other kinds of paper-based activities. scavenger hunts were common.

i would tell them thanks so much but our kids have been learning about this already and they’re far behind these materials. then i would ask them to just let us do XYZ (wander, observe, draw, etc.) and then answer questions. they were always floored by the kids’ questions. i remember a guy at the theatre who said he’d never had a group that knew more — they knew things HE didn’t know — and that included college kids. (our kids were 5 to 7.)

i really appreciate your point that these experiences *as set up by the adults* are pretty much *designed* to be shallow and non-immersive. and of course the normal thing i say about them is that they are one-offs — never meant to connect to anything else in the future. they’re isolated and the adults aren’t even planning to do more with the material, so why not skim and just hit the high points?

Comment by Kellyireland on October 29, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Thanks for this. My 5 year old sits on the loo talking (loudly) ton his imaginary friends, and some times I worry that his life is so empty that he has had to create Jonny and Little Jonny because he is missing out some where. It is "just" play, right??

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 01:31 PM

 

i would just say my son was not only imaginative and creative, but also very popular. ;D

(my imaginary friend when i was 5 was a red balloon named ben.)

Comment by Jennifer on October 29, 2013 at 02:31 PM

Despite my comment on the scavenger hunts, I too agree almost completely. Formal all-day schooling starts at 4 here (with everybody sitting all day in desks by at 5), and I think that the reason my daughter enjoys the few formal activities that we do so much is because she has lots of time to take the ideas home and use them in play. I love that she can come up with an idea and see it to completion while I'm cooking supper and hanging out the laundry. In fact -- just to prove your point -- she does most of her best work when I'm in that state -- present in body but only half present in mind. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2013 at 06:19 PM

 

everybody sitting all day in desks by at [age] 5

ugh -_-

I think that the reason my daughter enjoys the few formal activities that we do so much is because she has lots of time to take the ideas home and use them in play.

yes! :)

In fact -- just to prove your point -- she does most of her best work when I'm in that state -- present in body but only half present in mind. :)

ha! everyone who i’ve nudged to observe and document just did a spit take. ;o)

Comment by karig410 on October 30, 2013 at 06:05 AM

I am still in your corner, but I do believe that some invitations are necessary. Before I began quilting I read books and watched tv shows to learn what to do. It was two years before I bought my first sewing machine. Yet when we decided to have kids there was no reading, no preparing, just this belief that i would know how to be a parent. It wasn't until we had behavior problems and I didn't like how we were solving them that I read one book on parenting. Then I read another, and another. Each book telling me that I am doing it wrong. Having not decided what kind of parent i want to be, I skipped to education theory books and once again found out I was doing it "wrong". This past 6 months has really opened my eyes and made me want to change but change cannot happen over night.

I use invitations to introduce my son to something he has not been allowed to do in the past. Using art supplies up in one swoop, mixing play dough (boy that drives his daddy nuts!), doing real things like breaking the eggs when when baking, making a mess and then cleaning it up. As he gets more confidant I see him making more leaps himself but for now I am using invitations to help him break out of the constraints we put on him.

I do have a few "rules" for invitations - let him discover it, don't tell him what to do unless he asks for help, once he is done he needs to help find a home for his new item, finally he can use the materials or not if he chooses (for instance when I put out colored pencils he chose to ignore them and use his crayons instead - it was several days before he touched the pencils.)

I understand what you are saying about letting thekids explore and let them set the stage but it takes a while to change. I plan to keep doing my invitations as we explore new art supplies. I may even try to set the stage a few more times, hopefully doing less and less each time and following him as he becomes more confidant.

The most important thing is saying yes when for so long all I've said is no. Thank you for your blog.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2013 at 09:49 AM

 

your rules sound good! and i fully support provocations — done right. i just think many of the “play invitations” i’ve been seeing lately cross a line from “here’s something designed to delight you and engage your curiosity” to “here is a fully prepared play scenario that doesn’t require any ideas or invention from you.”

The most important thing is saying yes when for so long all I've said is no. Thank you for your blog.

thank YOU. <3

another blog post on this same subject: Curriculum of Curiosity

Comment by JL on October 14, 2014 at 04:41 PM

I've been thinking a lot about this, because for the past year I've been pinning ideas for busy bags, "Invitation to Play" trays and activities (mostly from preschool Facebook pages I follow). Often feeling stressed at the pictures of engaged children digging into these activities, too.

For me, I think part of it comes from a bit of guilt that I'm home and my kids are home. I should be doing something that LOOKS like something (to whom... another adult, in theory? To the naysayers who think I'm letting my kids rot away by not putting them in school?). We have to look like we're just as busy and working just as hard as those out in the "real world", as they say. (I'm also a former teacher; taught K for 4 years, so old habits die hard)

Along with this is the need to always be taking my kids places; playgroups, gyms, etc. so I can feel like they're getting experiences, inspiration and a social life. Feeling responsible for these areas of their life makes me feel like I have to work extra hard at it.

Rationally, I think I've learned that I don't need to be white-knuckling it so much, that they'll do fine if I back off... and this article is making me realize they might not just be fine, but better off. My older son (aged 3.5) is often found slouched over a chair humming to himself. My reaction would be to assume he's bored and find something to interest him. Maybe he's thinking, or maybe he's come to learn that I'm providing the entertainment, so he's just biding his time until I tell him what we're doing next. I certainly don't want that.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2014 at 08:18 AM

A hundred busy bags won’t help you figure out what makes him hum. :)

Comment by JL on October 15, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Rationally, I know that, but on mornings where he and his little brother are just rolling around on each other for hours and falling off the couch, I can't help but think there is potential there that I need to set something out to "bring out" in him; 'how can he develop an interest in a subject or skill if he isn't aware of its existence (i.e., if I don't present it to him)?' and so on. Maybe he's too young or I'm expecting too much.
But I'm slowly figuring it out. :)

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