Turning your home into a playground does not mean letting your children run amok through the house, but the opportunities available in almost every room mean that with a little forethought and planning, you can turn your home into a play-learning environment which will significantly aid the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of your child.
Children learn through play – it allows them to Experience, Explore, Experiment – what is called the ‘three Essential Es – and that, in turn, helps them build the key, foundational skills and the fund of experiences they’ll use to negotiate a complex and rapidly-changing world, as they grow.
Making your home a playground simply means acknowledging that there are playful-learning opportunities everywhere and working out how to best find these opportunities and utilising them.
The important thing to remember is the concept of ‘playful learning’, which involves a process of exploration and experimentation and ‘trial and error’ – which is the only way that children learn. Avoid micromanaging when children are playfully learning – this will allow them space and time to find learning opportunities.
The key is to create one space (or a couple if you have multiple little people running around) where toys, games and other creative stimuli are readily available and can be shared. Whether it’s a stand-alone space or sits within a child’s bedroom, it should, if possible, contain these key elements:
- A blackboard and/or whiteboard, complete with coloured chalks, whiteboard markers and magnetic shapes and letters. Butcher’s paper and coloured pencils and crayons are a great addition too.
- A bookshelf for favourite books and a reading corner complete with cushions or a beanbag. Hint: Regular reading sessions with Mum or Dad or other adults will encourage a child’s reading habits, but a nice place for your child to curl up and read is key to nurturing a love of reading!
- A quiet corner will be even more special if it offers some privacy – even children like some alone time. This can be achieved easily by hanging a sheet or a curtain from a simple frame – or even a home-made teepee – but even a small table draped with floor-length cloth will work. Low-voltage fairy-lights complete the atmosphere of the special place perfectly.
- Flat surfaces and beds can be populated by soft toys, dolls, and action figures, creating a group of companions for imaginary play.
- Remove all devices and screens (TVs, computers, tablets or mobiles) from the bedroom/playroom. These devices are passivity-inducing time-thieves. The playroom should be a place for opening up curiosity, creativity and problem-solving, not for training passive consumption and zoning out. This isn’t to say that they can’t have screen time at all, but the playroom should be for exploration and experimentation.
Whatever your child’s home playground is like, it’s important they learn to put back their toys and games back to where it belongs – this rule should be strictly enforced.
But what about the other rooms?
The thing to remember is that because a child’s learning is ‘hands-on’, the home naturally provides ideal opportunities for practical – and fun – learning. The key, for parents, is to recognise the resources we have at our fingertips.
- Tupperware, plastic cups, plastic utensils – for:
- obstacle courses,
- musical instruments,
- categorisation (concept-formation)
- Food for:
- Tactile experiences
- Other sensory development fun (taste, smell, sound, sight, touch)
- Process training (recipes to demonstrate importance of reading)
- Categorisation (eg: pastas; types of food; colours)
- Think magnets for: spelling, numbers or creating art
- Water fun for motor skills, pouring, grabbing, pushing
- Experimentation – float / sink
- Can be done both in the bath, or in the sink or baby bath.
- Language development – discussion of programs can help them learn and think beyond what is shown on TV.
- Quiet time – talking about the day; reading special books together; sewing; drawing.
- Treasure hunt/map creation – development of imagination and narrative intellect.
- Velcro labelling – reading; categorisation; problem-solving.
- ‘I spy’ and ‘Guess Who?’ games, using observation and language skills.
So how can parents nurture a child’s creativity in these environments?
Give them plenty of challenges and opportunities to extend themselves. Ask ‘generative questions’ rather than ‘end-stop’ ones’ to encourage further thinking and curiosity. A good way to do this is to start questions with ‘who/what/why/when/where/how’.
Lastly, don’t just read to – but with – a child. Engage them in thinking about the story. For example, you could ask them about the characters in the story, or even, ask them about them about different objects mentioned throughout the story. This will help them to think beyond the words on the page and let their mind wander to other possibilities.
You can find the podcast we did with Brian Caswell on ‘the importance of a home playground’ HERE.
More About the Author
Brian Caswell is an internationally – acclaimed author of more than 300 books, an established speaker, researcher and educator. He is also the Dean of Research and Programme Development for MindChamps.