My favourite pastime is watching children play, and my very favourite is their open-ended play. For a number of years my office overlooked a nursery garden, and it was endlessly inspiring to observe the children outside. By open-ended play, I mean play in which the children themselves – not adults – decide what to do, how to do it, and what to use. Such play is particularly fascinating because it gives a glimpse into children’s personalities and genius.
In the course of open-ended play, children will portray objects, act out stories or express ideas. This is so powerful. I don’t think we fully appreciate how significant it is! The confidence established as children represent ideas in concrete ways builds a strong foundation for the abstract forms of representation they will need in the future.
If you think about it, written language is a very abstract way of representing ideas. It’s quite a leap to grasp that little squiggles on paper symbolise words. We must not expect children to come to terms with this concept until they have had abundant experience of concrete representation in their play. The foundation must come first!
For more on open-ended play, see our I made a unicorn! training booklet