The magic of child-directed play

Posted at 1:48 PM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-02 15:48:05-04

Therapist Tera Robinsonshared her tips about "The Messy Magic and Choatic Splendor of Child-Directed Play in Our Home". For more from Tera go to
What is true play? According to Anita Bundy, basing her theories on the work of previous play experts, play is characterized by three important aspects:

1. Play is intrinsically motivated. Play is done for the pure enjoyment, excitement and interest for the process itself, not for any end result, product or destination.
2. Play may extend the limits of reality. Play can always include purple unicorns in a magical kingdom, jet packs that shoot you to Mars, pixie dust to make you fly through the sky, magical staffs to cast spells, spoons becoming phones, empty paper towel rolls transforming into telescopes, pool noodles making excellent swords... True play is never limited by reality.
3. Play allows the player to maintain control. If another takes control of the direction of the play without consent or the rules of the environment are overly restrictive, true play is lost.
As adults, we feel a heavy responsibility to guide and raise our children to be happy, healthy and successful individuals. We see the end result and feel responsible that they arrive at that destination. We tend to imagine a direct path they will travel to their final finish line of happy, healthy successful adult.
So, how can adults allow and protect child-directed play?
• Create and protect time for child-directed play. Allow downtime each day without scheduled activities or screen-time where they are passively entertained.
• Create and allow physical space for child-directed activities. Where can your children build an obstacle course, paint pictures, dress up, make-up their own dance, perform in a marching band, explore bugs, jump, run, wrestle...?
• Allow messes in the space you've created. Let them play with their food, play in the mud, jump in the puddles, play with play dough, paint. Don't stress during the process and leave clean-up until the end. Messes give many great opportunities to teach cleaning up.
• Allow risk-taking behavior within physically and emotionally safe environments. Will your child get bumps, bruises, feelings hurt? Yes, again, and again, and again. We all learn best from mistakes rather than being protected from ever making one. Let children do this also. Keep children safe from life-altering injuries, but falls, bumps, bruises, cuts, even broken bones will heal. Kids learn their own vigilance to keep themselves and others safe in their risk-taking behavior. Allow time for children to try to negotiate and solve social disagreements on their own. They will began to recognize how others react to their own behaviors and how to work together. Stay close, but not too close to supervise (reading a book, folding laundry, talking to friend).
• Leave your own plan behind, take your children's direction and follow them into the magic of childhood. They will amaze and delight you! Enjoy it as much as they do!
It's all about balance. There's a time for adult directions, structure, and reality. There's also a time for the child to have control, give direction and lead. In my professional and personal experience, the cost of mess and chaos is worth the benefits of the journey through the magic and splendor of child-directed play!