Positive Parenting – Teaching Through Play

Positive Parenting Part Two – Teaching Through Play

We are covering Positive Parenting in a Five Part Series.

Part One, being the era of ‘helicopter parenting’ and micro-managing your children. I touched on ways to loosen one’s grip and allow children the freedom to self-regulate their own decisions and be given certain leeway of sorts, all within suitable boundaries.

The feedback I have received from this post has been incredible!

Thank you so much to everyone who responded with stories of their own and also re-shared the blog piece, personally.
I am very humbled by your responses, both publicly and through private messages.

Moving forward, today’s post is on Teaching your Child Through Play.

This quote is a poignant beginning:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning”
– Mr Rogers.

When I was a new mother at only 23, I remember being so excited at the prospect of decorating our first-born’s nursery. We didn’t know what we were having, so the palate of choice was a lovely soft buttercream and pastel lemon.
We also didn’t have a lot of money at the time, having just purchased and built our first home, however as I love to recycle furniture and household items, this part I found to be wonderfully therapeutic for a first-time, constantly ill mummy.
Many, many hours were spent painting side tables, drawers and walls. And nipping to the toilet to be sick in between!

Our first experience of visiting a baby and toddler boutique, had a remarkable affect on my blood pressure!
Excitement and overwhelming loveliness surrounded me.
So. Many. Cute. Things.
Gorgeous hand-made wooden skittles, delicately crocheted baby rugs, knitted dolls, adorable baby play-gyms, pastel coloured bouncers.
You name it, I wanted it all.

And actually throughout the first few years of being a parent, I somehow acquired what seemed like all of everything.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by baby and toddler paraphernalia and it felt like all I ever did each day was chase my tail, picking up toys, sorting toys, retrieving toys from behind the sofa or in the dog’s bowl.
All through the day I was shifting stuff from one place to another.

Which meant I bought more stuff. To hold the stuff.
Trips to Ikea were taken (we all know how dangerous these plastic-fuelled outings can be) and home I came with clever storage options (or so I thought).
Tall chests of drawers, mesh baskets (lots of them), shoe holders, sock organisers and large fabric bags that hung from the ceiling to hold the enormous amounts of soft toys that somehow multiplied by the day.
But even though I thought I was being very clever in finding places for our hoard, my house, my entire house, always looked messy, and my children never seemed to focus on any one thing.

One weary afternoon, when my toddler and baby both woke early from their naps and I felt that familiar crushing feeling of the walls closing in, I realised that my two charges were suddenly very quiet. This usually meant they were up to something, so I went to investigate.
What I found on that long afternoon, many years ago, literally changed the way I parented and forged a new freedom for myself and the children.

They were both sitting in a huge cardboard box that my husband had left in our front room. He was planning on flattening it and adding it the recycling bit by bit.
However, for the children, that box represented so much more.
They told me it was a rocket ship and played for hours and hours together – just that box and their imaginations.
The following day, I gave them crayons and they made it into a car. We stuck paper plates on the sides and again, hours of imaginative and free play ensued. 

I soon realised that the copious amounts of toys were more for my heart than theirs. Yes, the initial excitement of something new was evident and scant attention was given. But that never lasted – often not even until the end of that day.

They didn’t actually play with anything, rather chucked bits around the room.
So began, my daily task of putting aside toys.
After a month, we had four huge black garbage bags full to the brim of stuff. And guess what? The kids never once asked after them or wanted to see them. Ever again.

I hung onto those bags of toys for two more years. More were added. It was an experiment in minimalism before it became popular many years later. And finally the day came, when I took them to the charity store. The weight of all of those hours of sorting stuff, finally evaporated.
It was unbelievably freeing.
For the children but also dramatically for me.

Many years and six children later, child-rearing of today is even more messy and cluttered.
Trending research indicates that parenting practices today, can cause deep stress and anxiety, overwhelming both children and parents alike. There is so much going on for parents and children, that the norm is to convenience parent.
If your kids won’t sit down for a meal, there is a device for that. If they won’t ride quietly in the car, there’s many an app to assist.
The problem with constantly stepping in and providing everything, all the time, is that we end up with providing too much.
And actually, I have found, that too much doesn’t foster happiness in children.

Again, please hear my heart in this, I have been that parent. There is no condemnation in this space, only my desire that you would learn from my copious and many mistakes and maybe take a few tips away to implement into your own family.

So what does child-led learning actually mean?
For me, it obviously started with less stuff, which then led to me being a lot more hands-off in relation to their play time.
I let them become bored, without instantly jumping in to provide a solution.
Boredom kick-starts imagination and the wonderful and unique adventures that flow from periods of being still. 

We went back to the basics of play.

This began by taking away dvd’s in the car and teaching the children to sit quietly and just ‘be’, without the necessity of constant entertainment.
What a gift we can impart to our children in the form of being aware of their surroundings, immersed in the rhythms of life that are all around them.

When I was a child, I used to play eye-spy. For hours.
After that I coloured in. Again for hours.

And I loved to simply look out of the window and make up stories of wild ponies running alongside our car, being chased by a wicked, evil witch, ready to ensnare them, before a beautiful, reigning Queen of the Universe, rescued them and transformed their form into unicorns.

Oh the stories I told in my mind!

I want my children to be lost within their own limitless imaginations and journeys and they won’t do that if I am constantly feeding them with other things.
Things that stop them from going to those places of freedom and magic.

We reverted to the traditional methods of play that children across the years all enjoy. Lots of crayons, felt-tip pens, water colour pencils, paints, play doh, plasticine.
Old newspapers and magazines are brilliant for making paper mache shapes or animals, or creating collages, using different forms and shapes, overlapping these cut-out images on paper.

The children love nature, so a lot of their play and learning is through what they see with their eyes and feel with their hands. 

We incorporate outside play which always results in learning. On average the kids spend at least three hours outside in the daytime, despite the weather.

Our garden is a rich learning environment!
Bikes are ridden, trees are climbed, flowers and fruits are picked, the dog is walked, the horses fed and patted.
Learning is a natural flow following these encounters.

Many times after discovering something outside, the children will want to know more.
I don’t pressure them to do this, but I am also not absent. I let them lead and provide the right kind of support when they desire to know more. I direct them to the appropriate learning places and encourage them always, but I don’t do it for them.
I allow them the freedoms to dip in and out, as their curiosity and natural learning desire journeys them onwards.

It is kind of like a beautiful and slow dance that I have the pleasure of being a partner in.

We ride bikes, we run and skip and hop (don’t laugh – skipping and hopping for adults is totally under-rated!)
Even in the winter (and in the UK we have plenty of cold and wet days), we cherish these outdoor times.
Embracing the fresh and chilly air is wonderfully invigorating.
In fact, in Sweden, children play outside all year round, regardless of the weather. And letting babies nap outside in freezing temperatures is not only common, but recommended by physicians for better immunity and deeper sleep patterns.

We love books!
Weekly trips to the Library ensure that there is always a plentiful stock of rich literature for the kids to curl up on a sofa or under their duvet and escape to magical places and have new adventures. The treasure that flows from reading is – you guessed it – more play.
Our eight year old twins and their 11 year old sister, love to sing, dance and create a story, through drama.
Creative writing and the use of words is such a gift from moments of solitude with a nose in a book.

So much learning happens in these spaces and it frees me up to enjoy the children as well. There is nothing more satisfying than experiencing their joy and growth organically. It enables their unique gifts to shine and their own personalities to guide them in their own learning journeys.

Olive and Martha are twins.
Olive loves to read and do sums. I dislike maths very much but she can’t study enough of the subject.
Martha, is the polar opposite. She adores drama, art and creating her own stories through play. Her idea of heaven is to be outside the entire day, surrounded by butterflies, ladybirds and worms. Even better if there is a picnic rug, some food and lots of space to explore and find treasures.

I have literally just touched the tip of the iceberg with this subject.
It is my desire that you will discover your own freedom of allowing your children to learn through play.
Enabling them the space to have adventures, without the constraints of too much stuff or an adult directing their every step.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this often controversial area of parenting.

My love always.

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  1. I love this and your cardboard box story – so similar to my little Rose. This is fantastic, I so enjoy reading about other parent’s approaches to free play. Amy x

    1. Thanks for stopping by Amy. I love reading your blog and the photos of your sweet Rose. Really enjoy following your journey 🧡
      It’s wet and grey today. The children are keen to play outside, catch bugs and make homes for them. So precious! Love to you. Catherine x

  2. Really great Catherine, so many wise words. All too often the simple and crucial part of childhood (and adulthood) like freedom to explore, being aware of and enjoying your environment, getting out in the fresh air, walks and getting your hands dirty fall by the wayside, in favour of tech devices and easy distractions. Amber used to adore being outside and digging around for bugs or finding interesting things, but she’s more about staring at a screen these days. She still loves her books and playing outside with friends, but if she goes the way of her siblings then the screen will become her entertainment of choice. Justine and I are aware of it at least and do put rules in place to minimise their device usage, but it still feels like a war against technology sometimes. And when they do all get out, to the beach or a forest, then they have a whale of a time, so there is hope!

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely reply Toby!
      I so appreciate the struggle between tech and nature! It is very real with our tweens and teens (adults too).
      We still have to monitor and restrict the older ones usage. But as you said, when we manage to draw the older kids outside, they do love it.
      Your Amber is so lovely. I know you and Justine have the right balance of love and freedom. Hugs to you all x