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Creativity Chit-Chat: Enjoying ‘Playtime’ with my boy (Imaginative Play)

I’ve been trying to sort through my thousands of photos on my Mac computer. I can’t wait for someone to produce an application that removes all the duplicates, and automatically places them in folders based on your child’s age, the season, and location. One of the images of Lucas from last winter was taken on a walk around our complex – I remember it lasted hours as we battled the elements, climbed up steep mountains, and transported to different dimensions (though there was always some connection to Frozen). I’ve had many similar experiences, a bike ride in Cape Code that turned into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest. Another involved a giant Tsunami that we just survived on a beach in Italy.

See Also: My Magical Garden: Where were your Imaginary Worlds?

Giving up to your child’s imagination is so easy when you let go of your surroundings. You can visit magical places, and rekindle childhood connections. Sadly, I know this won’t last, and already I feel some of our recent walks are becoming more fact-based and centered on real-world questions. But, joining in with the imaginative play, not only encourages creative thinking, it makes for some blissful memories of ‘playtime’ with our children.

Lucas finally reaches the top of a mountain, or rather volcano covered in Snow - I can't remember!
Lucas finally reaches the top of a mountain, or rather volcano covered in Snow – I can’t remember!

 

Ah yes - Lucas's obsession with Mermaids. Here he had just washed up on a beach and was about to grow legs.
Ah yes – Lucas’s obsession with Mermaids. Here he had just washed up on a beach and was about to grow legs.

 

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Getting ready for our first bike ride. Little did we know that we were embarking on an adventure to a magical wood full of fairies and gruffalo.

 

Moments after the giant wave ripped us apart.
Moments after the giant wave capsized our boat, and ripped us apart, while enjoying the sun on a beach in Italy.

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How About More Community-Wide Creative Activities!

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As parents we do our best to encourage our kids creativity and their sense of exploration at home and in school. An often untapped venue lies in the amazing power of a community-wide creative activity!

Picture this: A hot, windless afternoon at the local pool. One week before the start of school. A resourceful father and educator organizes a community activity that challenges everyone’s creative skills and results in a celebration of innovation and play!

Anthony Taddei, who oversees the local pool program, has scattered flattened cardboard boxes of all sizes, assorted broken pieces of kickboard material and rolls and rolls of duct tape on the grass in front of the pool. Parents and children crowd around him as he explains:

“You have thirty minutes to design and build a boat using only what you see around you: cardboard, kickboard material and duct tape. The first boat – with one person on board – to go across the pool and back wins! Start building!”

Groups of parents and kids immediately start gathering materials and building the wildest assortment of floatation vehicles I have ever seen. The engagement and concentration is focused and, best of all, playful.

Even before reaching the water, designs soar and collapse – which leads to group discussions to discover alternative solutions to the problem.

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the tab on our site “Getting Started Understanding Creativity.” If you haven’t seen it – here’s the link

http://dadsforcreativity.com/parent-partners-in-education/

Some of the important creativity skills noted by researchers include:

Produce and consider many alternatives

Be original

The community activity organized by Anthony Taddei incorporated those skills into a group activity. Sometimes we think of creativity as a solitary experience, but the power of collaboration can exponentially elevate the level of imaginative and innovative work.

There is increasing research in the field of creativity in groups that affirms how collaborative work can encourage and lead to the discovery of multiple and unique solutions to a given problem or situation. (For the fun of it – take a look at: Powers of Two – How Relationships Drive Creativity by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Shenk references neuroscience, cultural history and psychology to examine creativity – and along the way cites duos like Lennon and McCartney, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Pierre and Marie Curie.)

Now Back to the pool: The thirty minutes were up and parents and their kids carefully launched their “boats” in the pool water. And every device floated! …..but not all survived the test of floating with someone on board. Anthony Taddei blew his whistle – and the race was on between eight boats still floating with a passenger on board!

While one boat eventually crossed the finish line – the experience of families having fun and working together in a creative activity was the highlight of the day. And, as I learned afterwards – for some it was the highlight of the summer.

Every boat designed and assembled that afternoon was the result of collaboration and creativity.

As we continue to nurture the creative skills of our kids at home – let’s also take a lead from Anthony Taddei:

Let’s find more innovative ways to come together in community groups to exercise our creativity and stretch our imagination!

Race

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Best moment of my vacation? Surrendering myself to my boy’s imagination (Play and Imagination)

This weekend I had the opportunity to sort through the massive amount of photos that we took during our recent trip to Europe. Each image gave me an opportunity to reflect on the many wonderful moments that we shared as a family – and perhaps even identify the best moment of it all. Was it the amazing fish restaurant that we found on our last evening at the coast in Southern Italy? How about the delighted faces of three little cousins who found out they’ll be sleeping together in the same room? Taking a paddleboat out to a hidden beach and snorkeling with the fishes was a pretty cool moment as well – but then I found this one random picture that my wife took. It was of my eldest and me in the ocean, with our fingers stretched out towards each other. A giant Tsunami had just ripped him away from our boat, and as he was carried away by the giant wave he shouted back – ‘friends forever’. Obviously we were just playing, and the Tsunami was actually pronounced SirMarmi, but as I looked upon the image I remembered how immersed I had become in his fantasy world. As I slowly surrendered myself to join in with his play and imagination, the other people on the beach began to disappear and at moments I felt a genuine sense of loss for time and reality. I felt a true companion on my son’s adventure and it was by far the best moment of our trip (that and watching my soccer team win!).

Moments after the giant wave ripped us apart.
Moments after the giant wave ripped us apart. As this point I was oblivious to the world around me.

See Also: Play and Creativity: 3 Question Interview with Jeff Smithson

This experience reminded me of the film ‘Hook’ where Robin Williams, who is the grownup Peter Pan, has returned to Never Land and forgotten how to play. The Lost Boys try desperately to engage his imagination, which will help unlock his happy thought and allow him to fly again, but sadly it’s impossible because he’s too serious and unable to take the time off from reality.

There is no reason why fantasy play should be exclusive to young children, and we as parents should take the opportunity to join in the fun and take some brief moments away from our busy lives. Granted we don’t have the time to play ‘everyday’ but we certainly can participate occasionally, and when we do we should surrender ourselves completely to our child’s imagination and just go with whatever they throw our way – adding only elements that compliment their worlds and challenge their imagination further. This is a creative act, it was probably our first creative act as children, and evidence suggests that the more opportunities you have as a young child to be creative, the more likely you are to seek out creative opportunities in life. So next time you’re alone with the kids for a day or weekend and you’re stuck for an activity – just play.


FREE FILM for parents and educators

You can also view the entire film for free by simply commenting on one of our articles. Anyone who shares or contributes content via the comments below* will receive a FREE download to Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.

If you choose to comment via social media be sure to sure to include reference to @dads4creativityor share from our Facebook page. We’ll follow up with details via a private message.

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PLAY and CREATIVITY: 3 Question interview with Play Expert, Jeff Smithson

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‘Play is a space of discovery. It is how we originally approach the unknown: with a sense curiosity and wonder.’

– Jeff Smithson

Our writing on this blog primarily centers on the recognition and celebration of childhood creativity. We look for ways to identify and nurture creative thinking skills at home, and often find that many of these characteristics will manifest when kids play. In this 3 Question Interview with Play Expert Jeff Smithson, we explore what we mean by play, and how we as parents might better create the opportunities where it can flourish.

What do you consider Play? For instance are we talking about rough and tumble play, imaginative play, and the ‘playing’ of video games in the same sentence?

The word Play is similar to the word Love in that it covers an enormous spectrum of possibilities: from the mundane to the sacred. Like the word Love there is great value in a person or a family examining what Play means to them.

Play is a space of discovery. It is how we originally approach the unknown: with a sense curiosity and wonder.

My definition of the word Play changes depending upon who is in the room. Play has an openness that encompasses what and who are present in the moment. While it may be helpful to learn the appropriate developmental (play) stages for a specific age, learning to be in the playful space for one’s self, discovering Play as a state of being is of great benefit; you teach play through sharing your own playfulness and through mirroring what your child shares.

Optimally, Play is a space of freedom, a space of discovery that allows you to both be who you are AND, simultaneously, who you are becoming. In imagining, pretending, stretching and striving kids and adults develop themselves and each other. 

In what ways does play support childhood development and the cultivation of creative thinking skills in your children?

In working with professionals in the field of Early Childhood Education I learned about 3 ways that parents/educators can engage their children in play (in increasing levels of involvement):

  • Observation: Set up a safe play area and allow the child to explore and discover on their own. Self-facilitated play offers opportunities for self-discovery. While they play ask yourself some questions:
    • What if your child is your teacher?
      • What are you able learn from your child?
    • How do they approach new experiences?
    • What have they learned from you? vs. What have they discovered on their own?
  • Direction: Most children appreciate structure and rules. From the sidelines we can offer instructions, suggestions or encouragement. In instances of play, I believe it is important that we share without an insistence upon it being done the “right” way. I once met a poet from Northern Ireland who’s goal as a parent was to pass as few of his own neurosis on to his children.
  • Participation: Be a partner in Play. Take off the “Parent hat” and get on the same level as your kiddo. Shifting your physical perspective to that of the child is not only helpful in bonding it also offers insights into how they see the world.
  • Feigned Ignorance is a fun way to empower your child to be your teacher. Try using an object for something it is not (think banana as a telephone); This can elicit both laughter and learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to be Silly! Play with sounds, facial expressions, repeated gestures.
  • Use “I don’t know. What do you think?” or “Let’s figure it out together.”
  • And, keep in mind, the wonderful “What if…?”.

SEE ALSO: Creativity for Everybody: 3 Question Interview with Kathryn Hayden

How might parents better facilitate and guide the type of play that is particularly conducive for Creativity?

Imagine Play as a state of being accessed by a connection with breath, a deep listening and curiosity without agenda.

  • Alphabet Animals (“the car ride game”):
    • An Angry Ant in Atlanta that Ate Apples at Airplane school.
      • It doesn’t have to make sense!
      • [Structure: adjective, animal, (job?) who verbs in a place]
  • Story structure:
    • Once upon a time there was a _________.
    • Every day ___________.
    • One day ____________.
    • Because of that __________.
    • Because of that __________.
    • Because of that __________.
    • Until finally: ____________.
  • What’s in the Box?

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As parents we are both conscious and unconscious models of behavior for our children. Play allows us to highlight transparency in our own learning process. By sharing both what and how we discover our kids will witness a parallel to their own experience of learning and becoming.

For many years Jeff has worked with kids with chronic and life-threatening illnesses as part of The Big Apple Circus Clown Care program and Paul Newman’s The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp: Hospital Outreach Program. He also teaches in the Physical Theater department at Trinity Rep/Brown University, and founded Proponent of Play in 2011. You can more about Jeff and his work at Proponentofplay.com, or alternatively check out his awesome TEDX talk below.


FREE FILM for parents and educators

You can also view the entire film for free by simply commenting on one of our articles. Anyone who shares or contributes content via the comments below* will receive a FREE download to Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.

If you choose to comment via social media be sure to sure to include reference to @dads4creativityor share from our Facebook page. We’ll follow up with details via a private message.

 

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