Sometimes it seems that every other kid in town can happily fill hours with little more encouragement than a bunch of crayons, pencils or textas and a pile of paper. And who can resist splashing some colour around when the paints come out? … I’ll tell you who – my son! This story is another in the ‘Let the Child Lead’ series. If you can relate, I’d love for you to leave me a comment!
It was a warm, sunny day, and our friend hosting a kids’ play date (and mums’ catch up) had set up the most GORGEOUS invitation to paint outdoors…
The garden was full of plates with brightly coloured paints, large sheets of paper held in place by rocks, more paper attached to the fence wall, as well as an assortment of large tree bark and wood pieces, not to mention the ‘go ahead’ to paint the trees themselves!! I could barely contain my excitement, and neither could the kids…
Well, most of the kids! That’s right, whilst all of his friends painted the town pink, blue, yellow and green, my spunky kiddo spent a couple of hours (yep!)… pedalling a little tricycle up and down the path along the side of the house, and in and around the other children’s art work. No amount of “Oh WOW! Look at this B! You love getting messy! Would you like to join your friends here and paint?” … was going to persuade him to leave that bike in exchange for some paint.
I agree that it IS important for children to play together with others – even if sometimes it isn’t their choice of activity or idea, because it is the friendly thing to do. However, I do not believe that at an informal play date, even the loveliest of activities (such as the outdoor painting) should be ‘forced’ upon a child if they are showing no interest. After all, children learn best in play when they are motivated and having fun!
So, in line with a child-led approach, we simply let him be. And while he had the loveliest of days, chatting to everyone as he rolled by, and checking out the others’ masterpieces, us mums enjoyed a little laugh at the irony – that whilst I have always loved all types of creative art activities, I should have a son who has almost NO interest in drawing, colouring or painting!
Flash forward a couple of weeks to a trip to the supermarket, when 3 1/2 year old B decides that he’d like to take a super large piece of cardboard home to play with…
B: “Mama, can I take this home?”
Me: “Sure!… What do you want to do with it?” (*Hmm… make a cubby/fort? …maybe roll your cars down it like a ramp? … make a big train or plane?…)
B: “Paint it!”
Me: (*lifting jaw off the ground…) “Sure! Great idea!”
So, in the next day or so, when the weather was fine, and B was heading outside to play, I set down the cardboard with some paints, brushes and stampers, and reminded him that he wanted to bring the cardboard home to paint – and it was there if he felt like it … and then I waited… and waited …
Finally, he whipped off his shoes and socks and got stuck in with a splodge of orange! I seized the opportunity (of him participating, interested, ready to learn and play with paint…) and praised and prompted a little.
Me: “WOW! That’s beautiful! What colour is that?”
Me: (*sensing he was about to get up and leave already…) “Which colour are you going to choose next?”
Me: “That’s great! Now you have orange and red! It’s nice to have all the different colours isn’t it?”
B: “Now yellow! That’s rain!” (*He pointed to his yellow spots.)
Brilliant, I thought, these prompting questions and comments seem to be working in encouraging him to remain engaged in the painting activity for longer!
Me: “And did you see these different stampers?” …
… and B tried a few stampers, then painted his hand and used that to ‘finger/hand paint’…
Me: “Oh look! There is some space over here with nothing on it! Would you like to do some painting here?”
… and then we both got a bit messy so I couldn’t pick up the camera and take more shots!
A short while later, guess what B was up to?
It had been a short painting session, but it had stemmed from his idea, and I was wrapped to see him try something new with very little encouragement. There was always a chance, that the cardboard and paints would have remained untouched the whole afternoon – and I would have been fine with that too. My job is to help him bring his own ideas to life by making sure he has the materials he needs (or nudge his imagination if it is struggling), and if painting is not a part of his plans for the day, that is more than OK by me!
There are many ways to scaffold a child’s interests and encourage them to join others’ activities and play spaces. Perhaps if we’d lined the bike path with paper and allowed him to roll the wheels of the bike through blobs of paint, or if we’d set up cars and trains to push through paint to make colourful tracks… we could have helped him to transition to the garden painting activity on the play date…
Perhaps though, just by allowing B to observe the other children playing with the paint from the periphery was enough. The kids were providing visual examples of what to do and having lots of fun, enjoying the painting. Would he have thought to paint that big piece of cardboard in the supermarket had he been pressured to join in on the play date? Had those weeks since the play date given him a little processing time to decide he’d like a go now too?
The key though, in my opinion, is to follow the child’s lead. This is their world of play, and we adults must tread carefully so as not to become unwelcome nuisances in their learning journey!
Thanks for visiting Kids Play Space!