Encouraging inventive play

I reckon being by the seaside is inspiring in itself, and it seems that my two year old feels the same way. He loves the freedom to be able to sprint all over the place, busily speeding from moat to the water’s edge and back; to clamber over rocky outcrops and examine the pools shimmering within them, and then to jump off with a satisfying THUD onto the sand. There are tidal estuaries to explore, sand dunes to hide in, and little meandering pathways leading to other sandy coves nearby. Flowers to pick. Mangrove seeds to study. Cutty grass to avoid. There’s just so much scope for imaginative play – and there’s nothing quite like playing a game you made up yourself!

Children flourish when they feel empowered to make decisions for themselves. When we’re at the beach I consciously try not to use the word ‘don’t’ so much – I’m a shocker at home. “Don’t touch!” “Don’t run!” “Eeeeeeek, don’t climb on the bookshelf!” “DON’T throw your cars out the window!” I think part of the reason that I enjoy spending time with Little outside is that in trying to give him some freedom, I feel some of that freedom myself. And he revels in it. I can see his confidence growing right in front of me as he picks his own path, scoops up sand, or balances on a rock plinth ‘like a statue, Mummy.’

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In this environment, being inventive just comes naturally. Last week I saw Nate make up a game that he called ‘Pancake Kitchen’. It was a steaming summer’s day, and the black rocks at the edge of the bay drew in the heat and held it close. Nate delved into the sand and then slapped a damp handful of it onto the rocks to bake, sometimes patting it gently, and other times throwing it on, just to see if it would stick. He declared he was making pancakes, would I like one? May as well make myself comfortable, I thought, folding up my towel to make a seat on the hot rocks, grinning as I watched him at his busy little endeavour. Over the next while, he must have made nearly 100 pancakes, naming each one for somebody who is a part of his life. I couldn’t believe some of the names that came out – how did he remember THAT person?! It was very entertaining, and he was having a blast.

It made me think, how can I harness some of those relaxed feelings when he is playing unencumbered and try to build some more of those freedoms into his life ‘at home’, to avoid tantrums and flare-ups, and to build his confidence every day? Maybe I could start with finding an alternative to that dreaded ‘DON’T’!

Have you enjoyed watching your child make up their own game outdoors recently? Tell us about it!

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