Thursday, March 1, 2012

To Craft or Create? The Value of Adding Playful Learning to Your Child's Life

This post and activity was inspired by a few books, articles, and blog posts that I've read recently on the topic of creativity and the EVER. SO. POPULAR. hot topic these days: play versus academic-style learning (particularly with respect to preschool classrooms).  

One post that I read titled, Flash Cards or Finger Paints: Should Academics or Play Be the Goal of Preschool? really got me reflecting on the ways that I inspire creativity in our lives.  The post's author Amy Webb, Ph.D. does a wonderful job of summarizing some key research on how children learn.  As she states, findings on this topic reveal that recent "emphasis on “academically rigorous” preschools may, in fact, be undermining youngsters’ ability to learn and be creative."  

In light of the research she summarizes, I found myself wondering.....Am I doing enough play with baby bookworm?  Am I "teaching" academic-like subjects too much?      

I like finger painting and playing with baby bookworm at some of our favorite spots like the Please Touch Museum, The Little Treehouse, and her very own playroom.  BUT...

I do like flashcards.  There, I said it.  And, in fact, I think flashcards get a bad rap.  Do I think you should drill and bore children with them -  no, of course not!  Do I think they can be used in creative ways to help young children learn counting, colors, letters, and sounds (I feel a post on this topic coming soon, as to explain myself better).  Yes.  Did we play with flashcards together when she was an infant?  Yes.  Do we play with them now that she's a toddler?  Yes.

I also like doing crafts with baby bookworm.  I am NOT crafty, but if you are familiar with this blog, well...you'll find some good attempts at being crafty.  And with the sudden Pinterest craze, craft inspiration (especially in the kid-friendly blogosphere) is EVERYWHERE.  But, does a craft really promote creativity and problem-solving abilities in a child?  Most crafts follow a specific adult-driven model, and where is the creativity in that? Should we be doing more "art" with children - allowing them to create as they please with some subtle guidance from an adult?  It may not be as pretty as a craft, but is it a better learning strategy? 

Do I want my child to grow up to be a problem poser and solver? An investigator? And a teenager with the curiosity of a toddler?  Yes. Yes. Yes.  Will we stop doing crafts and playing with flashcards?  No.

Will I, though, make more of a conscious effort to incorporate play and creativity into our day to day lives? YES!

Why?  Well, aside from that inspiring post from Dr. Webb - I've recently read Creativity Matters (by Amanda Morgan, MS - which you can download for free from her blog, Not Just Cute), The Power of Play (by David Elkind, Ph.D.), and Don't Move The Muffin Tins: A Hands-Off Guide To Art for the Young Child (by Bev Bos).  All of these are enlightening, thought-provoking reads that will likely change how you think about how children learn.  They definitely influenced me.

Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from what I've read:

"Creativity is what gives all the math and reading skills application, and therefore, meaning." 
-- Amanda Morgan

"If you could observe the joy of children creating their own art, you would never think 'craft' again."
-- Bev Bos

"Because children are spending so much time in front of television, as well as other screens, there is little time for exercising their predisposition for fantasy, imagination, and creativity - the mental tools required for success in higher-level math and science."

"I now appreciate that silencing children's play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon."
--David Elkind, Ph.D.

So what is the take-home message?  Find a way to bring self discovery, active self-initiated learning, creativity and problem-solving into your child's life.

I will admit, though, that we will not be giving up computer games, iphone apps, Sesame Street, crafts, or even flashcards.

But, I will be adding more playful teaching (and reading) practices to our day-to-day lives.  It might actually involve a little more planning, but it will be well worth it.

So here is a brief look at us being real "artists".  Let me be the first to tell you....baby bookworm was VERY excited about finger painting with absolutely no agenda or model to follow.  I put on some classical music and we had a blast.  In fact, she kept saying "I'm an artist" the whole time!  No, there isn't a pretty craft that I can Pin to my board, but still a very satisfying activity nonetheless.





  

 Need some creativity inspiration from a few books?  We like:

Fancy Nancy Aspiring Artist
by Jane O'Connor


Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson


Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak



I hope you find some of the resources mentioned valuable, and that they enlighten you, too.

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