What is Child-Led Play? Or why we take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges.

Humans, like all mammals are born with the natural urge to play. It is the way in which they learn about their world and about how to live alongside the other humans that inhabit it. Children are play experts. They instinctively know what they need to achieve the next step in their learning and when given the space and freedom to do so, will naturally gravitate towards the type of play and experiences to move themselves forward.
The role of the adult is to offer a safe learning environment and allow children to follow their own play urges whilst being a 'supportive presence' for the child who is deeply engrossed in play. It is necessary to take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges, allowing as much time as it takes.

Learning to interact with the world
We learn through the use of our senses and the more senses that are engaged at the moment of learning, the more beneficial that learning is. Children need to be immersed in the world in order for them to learn about it. Child-led play means allowing the time and space to smell, look and listen without interruption, to feel the elements and sometimes to taste too. Through child-led play in a natural environment, there are endless opportunities for children to use their senses simultaneously and to do so when they themselves feel ready.

Children gradually become more competent at engaging with their world and assessing risk through child-led play. As adults we do not rush them to take on physical challenges that they may not be ready for but instead take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges in their play. Given time and space a child will only attempt what they are ready for and they are very aware of their own capabilities when they are used to deciding for themselves and taking on physical challenges without adult 'help'. As the adult has spent time observing the child, they have the confidence to see what unfolds or to give verbal support if needed

Learning to interact with others

During play which is controlled by an adult, the children rely on the adult to get everyone involved, assign roles and decide what is to happen. Child-led play means allowing the child to play at what they want and with whomever they want. They are responsible for engaging others, for keeping the play going and collaborating to decide what will happen. They learn how to build relationships and see others’ points of view, whilst get their point across and stand up for their own beliefs. At times this may lead to conflict and as adults, we may feel uncomfortable watching conflicts happen, especially as we often think that we could offer a solution and quickly restore peace. Child-led learning means that, as long as no violence is involved, we take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges. We allow space for the children to negotiate for themselves. It may take some time for a solution to be reached, but the children learn a powerful lesson in trusting themselves to work things out rather than the lesson that adults always have all of the answers anyway and that they don’t need to consider these issues for themselves.

Many adults feel that children can only learn if someone with more knowledge than them shows them and teaches them about the world. By teaching in this way, power is taken away from the child and what the child actually learns is that they are not competent, that they don't know enough and that they should rely on others for what they need.

We all know how gratifying is when we feel we have mastered something new, particularly if that something was especially challenging. It is important not to take that feeling of fulfilment away from children by rushing in with the answers or solutions to problems. Even if the conclusion that the child comes to is not the universally accepted 'correct' one, they will get a buzz from having made a discovery or mastered something for themselves. That buzz is pattern forming, and is the way in which children 'learn to learn', empowering them to master whatever they aspire to master as they go through life.


by Zoe Purkis on 7.9.17