Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Development of Creative Play

We are well into our fifth month together in the infant room, and many exciting developmental
changes have taken place since Cohort 7 first started at Tumbleweed.  LT is crawling! CS & LC are saying words and standing freely on occasion! AJ is scooting all over the place and getting close to crawling & getting herself into a sitting position!  And ACW, who just joined us in the past month, is pulling himself up on everything!  Infancy is such an exciting time - every month (week, even!) brings a new area of focus for each individual child, and it is truly amazing to watch the concentration and determination with which the babies engage in all of this hard work.

I've been thinking lately about how the developmental trajectory I've observed all summer ties in nicely with a quote I really like from Ruth Anne Hammond's Respecting Babies:

"A constantly changing play environment promotes dabbling rather than deep engagement - the goal of RIE is to promote the creativity needed to make the present objects interesting rather than the consumerism of needing new objects all the time." (p. 51)

The babies' physical development has profoundly impacted their creative development (& vice versa, most likely!) over the last several months.  I've intentionally maintained a fairly constant play environment in the infant room - most toys have been available since June when I started, with only a few exceptions.  If/when I introduce new materials, I generally make a point to remove something that seems less inherently interesting to the kids, so as not to overwhelm the space with too many play options.  I've watched as our materials have elicited completely different patterns of play over the course of the summer.  In June, I had three infants ranging from four months - ten months.  Now I have five ranging from eight months - fourteen months.  Here are some observations documenting the shift in playing habits with some of our most well-loved materials (these are presented somewhat chronologically, though of course with our age range, most/all of these types of play are still occurring!):

Metal Strainer (outdoors, often to be found on the porch):

-Held high above head, rolled on ground, look closely through the holes
-Used primarily for drumming
-Used to explore nesting/containing - what fits inside, and what doesn't?  How do you remove other large metal bowls that fit quite snugly inside?
-Used as a base for magnet play
-Something to pull up on & then drum on from a standing position (full circle!)

Rocks (indoors, contained in a fairly shallow wooden bowl):

-Often tasted & looked at closely, before moving onto something else
-Sliding across the floor (learning that they don't slide on the rugs)
-Lifting (some are heavier than others! this correlates with size! whoa!)
-Spinning - this particular habit has been inspired by CS, who loves anything that spins (particularly wheels on bikes/trucks).  He experiments with spinning rocks like they are tops.  Again, this works better w/ some rocks than it does with others (small, irregularly shaped rocks are good spinners), which offers a great opportunity to explore the properties of rocks and what makes them similar/dissimilar from each other.

Small Metal Bowls (indoors, held in a very shallow basket):

-Tasted, looked at closely
-Banged on the ground
-Slid on the ground
-2 bowls banged against each other
-Spun like a top (again, CS-inspired)
-Stacked/nested
-Loaded into wooden trucks, driven around the room


These observations encompass just a few of the babies' favorite materials, but hopefully they capture the beauty of what I've observed these last five months.  Because of the stability of their play environment (as well as their physical development, which has enabled them to try many new things), the babies have been able to play in increasingly complex and demanding ways with the same materials we started with.  I find this really powerful when I reflect on how some of these materials were likely brand new for the kids when they first started in the infant room - now they exhibit such familiarity and understanding of their various properties.  I don't know if this would have been possible had there been a rapid turnover of materials; for each set of observations, you'll notice that the very first ways of engaging with materials was by carefully examining them: tasting, touching, and looking at them very closely.  During this stage, the infants were building a sense of familiarity with the materials, which set the foundation for their increasingly creative play as the summer progressed.

The best thing is that this process is never-ending!  New materials will make their way into our room, and the kids will start all over again: tasting, touching, examining, and then moving forward with new ideas for play and exploration.  At the same time, old materials will take on increasingly complex functions.  It is truly amazing to observe this progression, and a joy to reflect on it - creative play is so worthy of our celebration and respect!




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