Free Play has been a large topic of child development in recent years. There’s lots of research on how free play is really valuable for children’s development and children in general in terms of their creativity. Free play (as defined by ‘Play and Playground Expedia’) is ‘unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. It is the spontaneous play that comes naturally from children's natural curiosity, love of discovery, and enthusiasm.’ ‘Play and Playground Expedia’ continues to state, “The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Clinical Report on The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds lists many benefits of free play for children. They include: healthy cognitive development, use of creativity and expansion of imagination, interaction with the world around them, development of social skills in learning to share and resolve conflicts, practice in decision-making skills, and confidence building.” Boredom is invited and can be particularly useful for children. As it encourages creativity, a developed imagination, and independent learning.
Space has had the opportunity to bring these experiences to the table. With roots in Playcentre, Space’s vision surrounding free play is to encourage and set up the opportunities for play to be further discovered in a Playcentre environment. “In the first 20 weeks of the Space programme, there is a curriculum based around parenting and child development topics which are really centred around the parent. Having the baby with us enables us to share the repetition of music and stories - core components of the Space programme. Then as the babies become more mobile and can sit up, Treasure Baskets are introduced.” Treasure Baskets are a really special component to the Space programme, they are the ultimate free play experience. In the basket, there are up to 20 or 30 items of all kind of natural findings as well as metal. The first item for your babies Treasure Basket will be made in the Space group, encouraging parents to get creative with the tools and supplies they have in their own homes and see the world through their babies eyes to gain ideas of what to bring to the basket. The idea is for the basket to be a sensory experience for the child, so perhaps including leaves, pinecones, perhaps a lemon. “What we know about babies is that they love to pick things up and put them in their mouths, and that’s encouraged. We teach our parents about letting the child choose, and supporting the baby to do so. The basket is low, and the baby is within reach of multiple items encouraging them to pick the one they are most interested in.” Treasure Baskets are a really important component of this first play experience that the babies will receive.
The babies then move into heuristic play, which is all about giving the baby the opportunity to ‘post’ things - which is picking something up and putting it in something. Post 20 weeks, the baby is introduced to a new play area. This may include, sand play, water play, paint, play dough, messy play, and physically active play environments. This is all about introducing the baby into environments which they will explore further in other early childhood settings. This process is really important for the parents, as it really reveals to them what it must be like to be experiencing the world for the first time and discovering the areas of play which we have grown so accustomed to understanding. Space creates an environment where learning, exploration, and mess are invited - it’s no wonder that they thrive! For parents, it’s an amazing way for their babies to experience all areas of play in a safe environment without having to deal with the cleanup process at the end of it. Parents are able to recognise the areas of play in which their child seems to enjoy, and then bring this experience home for the child to continue experiencing.
In the final 10 weeks of the year, Space sessions are mostly entirely parent-run, with the assistance of the facilitators only when required. In this environment, parents are encouraged and empowered to take the lead with their child’s development and learning experiences.
The key here is that free play is child-led learning. The baby has the opportunity to grab, experiment and explore whatever they choose and the parent discovers this wonderful awareness of what their child is interested in and where their skills lie. It’s a beautiful process of learning, discovery and a lovely understanding between parent and child.
For more about Space and the wonderful people behind the programme here in the Waikato, be sure to check out our article on Catherine Polglase.
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