Child-Generated Exploratory Play and Some Great Results (For Kids and Parents!)

As I have stated in earlier posts, I am a pretty structured person. I have to be, in order to run my life in a way that feels manageable to me: juggling a full-time job, three kids between the ages of 4-7, writing my 2nd book, and, well, everything else. Me time-it’s still a work in progress.

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Building a cookie house, step-by-step with the kiddos: structured, but so much fun!

As a mom, I have found that the balance between having structured activities for my kids, and allowing them to explore and expand their play through open-ended ‘go-play’  times that we have set out periodically throughout the week, have been most beneficial for their physical, sensory, socio-emotional, and cognitive skills.

That’s not to say that I don’t try to lean them in the direction of solving their own problems (utilizing strategies, tools, etc. You can check out my first book for specifics) and honing developmental skills. My house is filled with inspirational quotes, signs and charts, to the point that my husband tells me, pretty periodically, that he feels as though we are living in ‘Dr. Seuss’s House’ or ‘a school’. They have the materials and supplies to create elaborate art projects. Most of the time, however, they lean towards toilet-rolls and cardboard. And that’s pretty awesome.

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Our playroom with standard toys-but they often lean towards recyclable materials

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Inspirational quotes in the playroom that serve as helpful reminders of self-confidence

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Inspirational quotes in the kitchen of how to start our day

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Our basement turned into Hogwarts-it stayed that way for approximately 3 months. They loved every minute of it.

Here’s some of the amusing activities (and the end results) that have come from unstructured and kid-generated exploratory play in our household:

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Making their own ‘casts’ out of duct tape and socks. I think that they wore them to school the next day. I’m pretty sure that’s not the strangest thing that their teachers have seen.

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Kid slides. It was snowing. They love each other. We didn’t have an indoor slide. Great solution.

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Kid-Designed handwriting paper. Yosef wanted to practice writing letters, but knew at the time that he needed lines of different colors. He was used to having visual cues for start and endings. Pretty cool.

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Hand massagers. Waiting for the bus one day, my younger two came of the house with the plastic fillers used for packages popped open. “Did you take these out of recycling?” I asked. “Yep!” They answered proudly. “They are massagers. We are going to give you a massage!” They are not from the garbage, just from the recycling bin, I told myself over and over, as I acquiesced with a smile (I hope). And what do you know? It felt nice! Who could say no to two kids basically begging to give you a full massage, as you lounge in the sun? Exactly.

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Kid photography studio. This was the moment I realized, while drinking a cup of freshly-brewed coffee, how creative my kids could actually be if left, for a bit (and under supervision), to their own devices. (Their father did help them hang up the sheet.) In that moment, I went from being a hyper-structured mom and therapist, to acknowledging the immense benefits of exploratory and imaginative play.

I believe that life is a balance, in everything that you do, whether its working, playing, eating, exercising, or parenting. This extends to the idea of having a life of total structure, or a life with none whatsoever.

It’s a balance. A happy medium. People, in my opinion (myself included) naturally veer more towards one type or the other, and that’s ok.

I think the bigger picture is consistency; that is, whether you tend to go more towards the go-with-the-flow or are more structured, as long as you have some parts of your day that are consistent and routine that your child/ren can rely on, that’s golden.

So enjoy your happy medium, find some me-time if you can. Tell me about all the wonderful things that your children create, and the amazing stuff that you get to do (or not do?) while they are off creating, learning and exploring. Enjoy your Sunday, and have a great week!
Lauren

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