The Benefits of Playing From Scratch
Joyce’s background in and expertise on play comes from two sides - a personal side as the parent of two sons, now grown, and the professional side as a professor of child development. The mom side was fascinated by the ways her sons learned about their world and gained an understanding of who they were through their various adventures in play. As a parent advocate of play she worked with her sons and their classmates in their efforts to reinstate morning recess.
Her professional side of holds a doctorate in developmental psychology and almost 30 years of college classroom experience teaching infant-child development, cognition, and learning. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she developed and taught a course on the Importance of Play in Child Development which included a service learning component of a student sponsored community “PlayDay”. In 2015 she co-authored The Power of Playful Learning (Capstone Publishing) which highlights the various benefits children receive from the making of and playing with games and play props. Currently she writes monthly “Playing from Scratch” columns for national and local organizations, guest blogs for the Madison Children’s Museum, and gives workshops on ways to create playful learning activities from recyclable and low cost materials.
- Get creative! Use safe recyclables and low-cost materials found around your home during playtime.
- Bring out the markers, paints, and old magazines and let your child create their own masterpiece for play!
- Prompt your child to ask questions about what is happening during play time. For example, when using building blocks, ask ‘Why did the tower fall down? Was it too heavy?‘
A child wads up a sheet of newspaper and wraps masking tape around it a couple times to create a ball. They then place a bucket on the floor, step back a few feet, and toss the newspaper ball into the bucket to create a game. The child is challenging themselves to see how many baskets in a row they can make, and then challenges you to see if you can beat their record.
The creation of a simple tossing game like this utilizes: bilateral coordination, communication skills, decision making, eye-hand coordination, fine-motor skills, large-motor skills, patience, an understanding of spatial relationships, turn-taking, and summation. When a basket is made, the child gains confidence and increased self-esteem. When a basket is missed, it provides the opportunity to learn how to handle frustration and how to reflect, evaluate, and adjust.
“Expand your child’s experience by making available the chance to explore the world of color, texture, and pattern…”
But, the learning and benefits don’t stop there. Play is a natural venue for hands-on learning using the methods of scientific inquiry. Parents can show their kids their inner curiosity by wondering out loud, “Does the size of the newspaper ball make a difference? Does the weight of the newspaper ball make a difference? Does how tightly it is wadded make a difference? Does it have to be a sphere? What if the newspaper was wadded into a cube shape?” Talk to your child about ways in which one might go about testing such differences and engage with them by tossing newspaper balls of different sizes, weights, and shapes into the bucket. Was it easier or more difficult? Why?
Once the ball playing is over, expand your child’s experience with the newspaper ball by making available the chance to explore the world of color, texture, and pattern by bringing out paints, markers, old magazines, yarn, and other materials for embellishment. Let the newspaper ball be a blank canvas for their creative expression and exploration. Be sure to allow children to take their time and to create some mess – the creative process requires both.
Creating games and play props from things found around the home – such as safe recyclables and low-cost materials -- also teaches important social messages. For example, turning a newspaper into a ball illustrates that the practice of reusing and repurposing applies to play. It also demonstrates that it doesn’t have to cost money to have fun.
When children create and play they exercise their creativity, develop problem solving skills, experience a world of discovery, and express their sense of self. Providing children the opportunity to ‘play from scratch’ affords opportunities for building a range of competences which will serve them well throughout their life.