This post is part of a new play based learning series on Kids Play Space, entitled: “Let the Child Lead”. It is an account of a simple, child-led adventure which unfolded during an afternoon visit to a local park. Just to clarify, I’m not about to recommend that kids should play football or go bike riding, which, although they can be fun and good for kids, is irrelevant. Nor am I about to suggest how I might enjoy some quiet chill-out time watching my son play independently from a distance. It is about small moments with my child, noticing his interests and choices, joining in, sharing the space and activity with him for a time, and then, challenging him to extend his skills bit by bit. That is, scaffolding his learning. This is child-led play based learning.
The lead up to the play at the park included a change in our day’s plans. 3.5 year old B was so looking forward to a trip to a play centre where we rarely go! On the way, of course, he fell asleep, the rain and wild winds settled, and the sun shone warmly. The weather was glorious, and I decided it would be a crime to retreat indoors. So, I prepared for a rush of toddler emotions, and when he awoke, I suggested an outdoor play at the park. He thought about it for a moment, collected his football and marched out onto the green. He loves playing football, and we often enjoy a kick at the park.
Today though, having just woken from his sleep and having to deal with the change in plans, he was particularly bossy.
B: “Mama, you go there, and kick the ball here”, “Not there!… Noooo! …There!”, “Now do this….”, “Do it like this…”, …
Me (after a bit): “No! Hey, I like playing football with you, but I don’t like you telling me what to do all the time! Why don’t you try asking me: Mama, do you want to kick it there?”
B: “OK, do you want to kick it there?”
Me: “Yeah! Great idea!”
Nobody likes to play with someone bossing them around all the time.
As the minutes (and kicks) passed, I noticed the play getting extremely repetitive, and I wasn’t the only one getting a little bored. The ball was just going up and down the grassed area as we practised taking turns kicking it into the goal (fence), but we were slowing down, and finally, B fell dramatically and playfully onto the ground.
I decided to mix things up a bit and do something unexpected with the ball – I rolled it down a small hill. This gave him the idea to roll himself down after the ball, and seemed to start a series of transition activities – putting the ball in a ‘nest’ (webbed, circular) swing and giving it a push, hopping over to the swings (running up and launching himself onto the seat on his tummy). I had a swing too, until I was asked if I could push him “as high as the sky” on another swing!
Along came a boy on a shiny red bike. This was a ‘game changer’. Three year olds are not very subtle with their feelings. There was no misunderstanding his sudden silence, grumpy frown and pouted lips, as he sat on his football, not moving, eyes glued on the boy and his bike.
“What’s wrong?” I asked (knowingly!) checking in to see if he could articulate his feelings.
“You like that boy’s bike don’t you?”
“What a lovely bike! And red too! Do you like red bikes?” (hopefully awaiting a positive response, knowing that coincidentally, a red ‘big kid’s bike’ was on order to replace his own little tricycle we’d collected from hard rubbish a couple of years ago)
B: “No, I like green!” (Of course you do!)
Me: “Yes! And I like blue and yellow and orange too!” And in an attempt to re-focus, seeing this jealousy was adding to the day’s emotions, I added: “Hey, will we play football again?”
But I hadn’t finished asking, before he’d started wandering away from me, slowly and steadily towards the boy riding his bike. All the while, staring at him, until he came to a complete standstill, and the boy rode right past. It was a curious, innocent and awkward moment. I hung back to see what he had in mind to do… but he seemed kind of stuck in his tracks.
I joined B, asking him what he wanted to do, half expecting him to start a whiny chant about how much he wanted to ride that bike, but his answer totally surprised me! He simply wanted to run along behind the bike! The problem was, he didn’t know how to make it happen. I reassured him that it was definitely OK to ask the boy, and offered a suggestion of what he could say, “Hi, my name is B, can I run along behind you?”. He also needed a prompt to wait until the boy turned around and came back. Then I said hello to the boy and his dad, to slow them down a little, to help give B a better opportunity to ask his burning question! One quietly spoken, quick interaction later, and guess who was soon running happily behind the boy on his shiny red bike? The two boys laughed excitedly during their bike/running races, with plenty of “Ready, Set, Go!”s, stopped to drink water together, told each other their names and how old they were, until… it was that other boy’s turn to take an awkward interest in B’s football!
Brilliant! This time, I tried not actually using words to model to B what he could say to the other boy, by prompting with large gestures and facial expressions (shrugging shoulders, pointing to the two of them and pretending to kick the ball). It wasn’t enough (this time). I gave B back his ball and said: “Hey, looks like (the boy) wants to have a play with your football!”, nodding encouragingly. “Would you like to play football with me?” … this kid was getting good at this banter! And play they did! Us parents kept the two boys engaged in the reciprocal game with some encouragement (cheers, “great waiting for your turn!”…), and prompting when turn taking looked less fair (“Hang on! Who’s turn is it now?!!”…). They practised alternating roles of goal keeper and goal shooter – kicking goals (at the fence) for quite some time!
Turns out, we both live locally, and chances are high that these two new friends will meet at the park again soon. A happy ending I’d say:-)
After we’d said goodbye, I took this pose as a hint that we were tired and ready to move on!
I couldn’t have planned the afternoon better if I’d tried! Just as children learn independence, play and life skills through hands on experience and repetition, the phrase “practise makes perfect” also rings true for the adult play partner (facilitator).
Thanks for stopping by Kids Play Space! I hope you’ll join me in my commitment to ‘let the child lead’!
Before you go, I’d love to know what you think of this kind of post as I am really passionate about child-led play and excited to kick this series off! So, please feel free to leave me any feedback below (friendly/ constructive comments only!) …
Note: Please forgive the quality of the photos in this post! They were taken extremely quickly ‘on the go’, with an old phone camera, as I was actively involved in the play, and simply wanted to capture the essence of the moment.