Tag Archives: imaginative play

Meet author-illustrator Chrissy Byers – Readilearn

This month it is my pleasure to introduce you to Chrissy Byers – author, illustrator, and early childhood educator. It was only after many years in the classroom and becoming a parent herself that Chrissy was able to fulfil her lifelong dream of being an author and illustrator. With the success of her first book The Magic in Boxes, and another on its way, Chrissy shows us that dreams can come true.

Chrissy, what was your motivation for writing this book?

As an experienced early years class teacher, I had noticed that, with the rise in technology there was a decline in the amount of time children spent engaging in imaginative play.  I was compelled to write and illustrate a children’s book which would remind parents, and inspire children, to see the magic in everyday household junk.

Unlike a traditional children’s book, I felt that the recount genre would suit my intentions better than a narrative.  I saw this as being an additional bonus for primary teachers, as there are very few examples of recount picture books.

The repetitive text elements encourage pre-reading children to join in a shared reading experience.  It also provides opportunity to incorporate hand gestures when reading, which helps focus young minds and occupy little hands during carpet time.  The rhyming couplets assist in reading prediction and keep the beat of a fast-moving text.

Do you think of yourself more as a writer or an illustrator?

Continue reading: Meet author-illustrator Chrissy Byers – Readilearn

Let them loose

johnny_automatic_playing_dress_up

It is a wonderful thing to see children engaging in imaginative creative play. Let them loose with an assortment of bits and pieces and it’s amazing to see what they can construct, both physically with the equipment and in the ways they interact with their constructions, creating imaginative worlds and stories.

A fabric offcut might be a cape, a veil, an apron, a dress, the sail of ship, a red carpet, or the curtain for a puppet theatre.

A cardboard box might be a car, a home for a pet, a high-rise building, an explorer’s ship or a magician’s table.

A cardboard tube might be a ship’s funnel, a car’s garage, a railway tunnel, a fairy wand, or a telescope for gazing at the far-off stars and planets.

Anything can create magic in a child’s imagination. Sometimes the cheapest things can offer the most value. You only have to watch a young child discard the expensive toy and spend hours playing with the wrapping and packaging materials to see this.

Of course there is value in construction sets and other toys that allow children to imagine and create. However, a cardboard box decorated by the child can be as effective an oven as a fancy store bought one. And while most construction sets come with suggestions of what to build, it is best to put the instructions away and let the children discover for themselves what they can create, and how to incorporate the materials into their play.

While learning to read and follow instructions is an important skill, making only what someone else has already created stifles the imagination and can even suppress the willingness to try, especially if the instructions and constructions are too difficult for the child, and sometimes even the adult, to follow.

I expect young children to have ready access to a variety of materials, as well as opportunities to use them to support their play, both at home and in educational settings they attend. It is something I take for granted as being fundamental to early childhood development. It’s always been, and hopefully will always be.

I was surprised, therefore, when I recently came across an unfamiliar term and theory for describing this type of play.

Loose Parts Theory, according to articles like this one, was first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson. He believed that it is the loose parts in our environment, such as those that can be “moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways”, that stimulate creativity.  The term was unfamiliar, but not the thinking.

It took me a little while to find the source of this theory but I finally found a paper written by Nicholson through this post by Kate on An Everyday Story.

I find use of the term Loose Parts interesting. It is appropriate. However, the creative, imaginative play it describes was occurring long before anyone thought to apply such a term to it. If I suggested that it could be a “trendy” term to describe what has always been, I’d be showing just how much of a slow learner I am. Nicholson proposed the term in 1972!

What do you think of Loose Parts Theory? Have you heard the term before? Did you engage in loose parts play when you were a child, or have you observed children playing imaginatively and creatively with loose parts?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Imagine that!

Recently Hope at Nanny Shecando sent me a tweet requesting some thoughts about imaginative play in a school setting. Sadly I would say that imaginative play has been just about pushed out in the ever-increasing content-driven and assessment focused curriculum. Seeing children as young as five spending much of their day sitting at desks filling in worksheets and parroting back isolated bits of information flashed at them in meaningless drill and practice sessions is about as far away from my thoughts about education as you could get. If it is difficult for early childhood teachers to squeeze time for imaginative play into their programs, imagine (there’s that word) how difficult it is for teachers of older children.

However, whenever I hear the above quote by Thomas Edison, I am reminded of how an early childhood classroom should be: a place for imagination, exploration and discovery.  Parents may tire of the cardboard box creations that children regularly bring home, wondering where each one can be stored (or discreetly disposed of!), but the value to be had from the opportunity to create, imagine and play must not be understated.

For imagination to flourish in an early childhood classroom, I suggest the following ingredients are essential:

A recognition of the importance of play and imagination in the healthy development of children and the prioritisation of opportunities for imaginative play every day by providing:

  • Time – lengthy and uninterrupted, with the opportunity for created play areas to be left intact over a number of days or weeks
  • Space – both indoor and outdoor with a variety of larger and smaller spaces
  • Opportunities for self-selection of activity and self-direction
  • Books for story reading and play acting
  • Variety of props: things such as dress-up items including lengths of fabric that can be a kings robe, a princess’s dress, a magic carpet, an apron, a bed; hats and scarves; toys like cars, dolls, animal toys; building blocks and cardboard boxes; paper, cardboard scissors and pens for creating signs, posters and crowns; areas for quiet play with cushions; open spaces for creating larger ‘worlds’ . . . the items that can be used to inspire imagination are limitless.

When children are showing interest in a particular topic, an observant teacher may gather up a variety of props and leave then in a box for children to discover and use as they decide.

 

In an earlier post, Learning at its best: A classroom of magic, Hope herself described a school with an open space ‘where magic happens’. She described a friendship tree where ‘friendship and freedom of speech are fostered’; an area with a ‘magic carpet . . . plush beaded cushions and Middle Eastern style blankets . . . a place for imagination to prosper. Anything is possible when dreamed, imagined or conjured whilst on the magic carpet.’

magic carpet

She described an area for drama and the opportunity of being and expressing yourself. She described a creativity corner where young inventors could create anything they could imagine; and spaces to read, explore, share and dream. One could think this school was in Hope’s dreams, her imagination of what is possible. But it is a real school educating real children in very positive ways that will have a very different effect that the scenario I described above. However it is not a typical school. There is not one like it in every suburb. In Hope’s words, it is a ‘very select private school’. But don’t all children deserve learning opportunities such as these?

After re-reading Hope’s post, I’m not entirely certain why she invited me to share my thoughts about imaginative play in a school setting. I think she has described a wonderful example of imagination in practice. The design of the school and the aspects of the program described above, show the value of imagination, not only of the students but of the school designers, administrators and teachers.

In a recent post Just imagine . . . the power of imagination I talked about the power of imagination to drive creativity and innovation, and suggested that much of what we now accept as commonplace was once only in someone’s imagination. Einstein said that,

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’

Maria Montessori is attributed with the idea that Play is child’s work’. In this article Thinking about Children’s Play David Elkind, refutes that idea citing works by both Freud and Piaget, a psychologist whose work greatly influenced thinking about child development and learning. Elkind, himself a professor of child development and of author of books such as The Hurried Child, The Power of Play  and Miseducation, says that ‘Although Montessori has made many important and lasting contributions to early childhood education, her identification of work and play in young children was unfortunate.’ He says that, in play, children are not preparing for life, they are living life.

Early-instruction - David Elkind

Elkind does not favour the imposition of formal learning situations upon children of increasingly younger ages.  The following excerpt from Miseducation, shared in Commentary: The ‘Miseducation’ of Young Children Elkind says, ‘When we instruct children in academic subjects, or in swimming, gymnastics, or ballet, at too early an age, we miseducate them; we put them at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage for no useful purpose. There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits, and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm.’

He continues, saying that ‘The most important thing is an excitement about and enthusiasm for learning. Skills are easily learned when the motivation is there.’ I agree wholeheartedly and have joined in with a discussion of motivation in a number of posts, most recently in Motivation – why we do the things we do.

An-ounce-of-motivation David Elkind

In another article Can we play? shared on The Greater Good in 2008, Elkind explains that imaginative play is important to academic as well as social and emotional development. Unbelievably, he said that ‘More than 30,000 schools in the United States have eliminated recess to make more time for academics.’ It is difficult to imagine how unwelcoming and uninspiring a school without recess would be. I wonder how much lunch time those who made these rules allow themselves.

He says ‘Play is motivated by pleasure. It is instinctive and part of the maturational process. We cannot prevent children from self-initiated play; they will engage in it whenever they can. The problem is that we have curtailed the time and opportunities for such play.

In the words of Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), ‘Where do the children play?’  I add ‘and when?’

 

If you wish to read further, here are some links to get you started. I don’t agree with all the content. Some suggest a more structured approach than I would favour. However, as with everything, a broader knowledge helps one more clearly formulate one’s own position.

Assessing and Scaffolding Make-Believe Play by Deborah J. Leong and Elena Bodrova

Teachosaur thoughts ‘Play is the work of children’ … J. Piaget

Tools of the Mind Supporting Make-Believe Play

Psychology today The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development

 

 

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