Is creative play a tick box exercise?

I have noticed a flood of new products on the market which offer packaged creative projects for parents and children. Have you noticed these? They are complete projects with the crafts and materials all included in the pack. Sounds like a good idea? Everything you need in one place? An easy to get hold of activity to do with your child that ticks the box of creative play? I saw a workbook advertised today to ‘calm the chaos’ it offers a place to work through your child’s worries with them in a methodical format, all written down together, and it offers a place to ‘observe your child’.

To be frank these products make me want to weep, no child would ever have designed these, they rob creativity rather than encourage it. Children think, communicate and process feelings through play. These products offer your child no flexibility in seeking out materials, resources, themes or ways of relating while you do them together. These products are the adult equivalent of two people in a relationship sitting down to talk and one whipping out a format of pre-planned conversation topics, available routes of where that conversation can go and a choice of conversation outcomes. Would you feel met, seen and understood? Why are we talking about communication and play together? Because play for children is a conversation, an important one, the one that feels the most satisfying for them. Play is one of the few places where a child can truly control their environment, where thy can be the master of objects inside of them and outside of them, where they can communicate with adults on their terms, where they can feel omnipotent again, powerful and free.

So, back to creative play packs. Your child can’t really direct the play because there are limited options available. They can’t really explore their whole environment because you have a play pack and we are using that right? They can’t gain mastery over their relationship with you and be the one in total control because the theme doesn’t offer that. They can’t explore their current emotional landscape because the pack doesn’t offer the complex feelings they have.

These creative packs are designed for parents not children. You can buy a stack of them and give them to your child while you are trying to work from home, you can sit and do them with your child knowing that you have done creative play today, you can tick that job off. The packs are appealing, you don’t have to think too much about what you’re going to do together and they keep the mess to a minimum because you haven’t got time to clean up paints. All of that makes perfect sense, it really does, we are all tired and busy. But this isn’t how play works for children and after all you are playing for your child, you probably wouldn’t be playing if it were just you.

So, you want to do creative play with your child? Set aside the time you have available, no matter how short that is, it is amazing what you can make happen in 3 minutes with a child! Put your phone away. Tell them, right now we have 3 minutes to play or right now we have an hour to play, and then you wait…and wait and wait and wait. You have to resist the urge to come with an idea, you have to try to not to make sense of their messy world and sometimes messy minds, let it unfold, be prepared to use the entire house in bringing it to life, forget the rules. Let your child lead and go with them into their world.

If you think you haven’t got time to do free creative play just imagine how it will feel stuck halfway through that boring pack knowing you have to complete it because your child knows it’s not finished yet, they can’t do the fiddly bits themselves and are getting frustrated because after all it didn’t meet their needs and they’re getting cross, and you have disconnected so you reach for your phone to distract you and it all falls apart. You don’t need to buy a pack, you don’t need to buy into that guilt based advertising that make you feel that you, just you is not enough when you is all your child wants. In play of all sorts your child just needs you, available and committed to their creative process and you never know what you may find out about yourself along the way!

2 thoughts on “Is creative play a tick box exercise?

  1. I said goodbye to my craft box after 15 years of service! Me and my boys would throw random crafty thing in it from sweet wrappers to broken bits of computers, toys, paint and glue. Every weekend we would rummage and make the coolest inventions and pieces of art… Thumbs up to this post.. Be the brave, bold, creative parent you can be on your best day and raise confident resilient future adults!

    1. Thank you for your comment Russell, that sounds lovely, perhaps you should carry on with the craft box for yourself! Play is good for grown ups too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *