Don’t get Stressy, Just get Messy!

Have you ever thought about how much creative play we do as adults? Many of the activities we think of as work or daily chores could easily be seen as adult creative play. We cook, bake, do the garden, arrange flowers, decorate our homes, dress up for special occasions, write, paint, knit, sew … the list is endless. Have you ever caught yourself day dreaming or imagining a trip to an exotic place? All these activities and many more, can be categorised as creative play. These activities can be hard and involve a lot of work but are also fun, satisfying and provide a sense of personal achievement. We also continually learn and develop through our adult experiences of creative play. We may not recognise or acknowledge that we are playing but our internal working can drive us to help children to also experience creative play opportunities. Parents and carers of children strive to give children the best opportunities to learn, develop and express themselves and creative play is certainly one way to provide profitable opportunities.

Creative play covers many activities from arts and crafts to dressing up and dance and can be done individually or as part of a group. It also involves learning to be appreciative of the creative work of others. This can involve listening to music, attending concerts and plays, visiting museums, libraries or art galleries, or simply admiring other children’s craft work displayed on the classroom wall. Encountering the creative work of others enables children to discover the perspective of others while also expanding their own self awareness. Children can become aware of what interests them, what they like or dislike, how their perspective differs from other people and to imagine or plan what they would do if they were using the same materials. Expanding children’s self awareness is an important element of supporting their overall development.

As well as being FUN, being directly involved in craft activities has many advantages for children. The precise nature of many activities really enhances a child’s fine motor development. Cutting out, sticking and pasting, threading beads, using crayons, all involve little fingers learning to work more effectively. Think of all the skills a small child needs to draw with a crayon. They need to be able to pick up, hold and move the crayon over the paper with enough pressure to get a result! This is a huge step for a little person but is an important step on the road to writing, reading and ultimately school readiness. If you want to see just how big a step this is try writing your name with a crayon held between your toes! Maths skills can also benefit from creative play with opportunities to learn about size, shape, volume and capacity.

Helping children learn how to problem solve is an important element of a child’s development. Playing creatively can involve learning to problem solve. Imagine a small child thinking what happens if I put my finger in the paint? As children get older creative play involves more complex problem solving skills and a child may think so how much blue paint do I need to add to my yellow paint to get green for the grass? They learn to experiment and to discover the cause and effect of what there are experiencing. These are skills that  can be used throughout life.

The level of freedom of choice that children experience with creative play is usually much more than in everyday life. They may not be able to choose what time they go to bed but they may decide that the people in their drawing sleep on clouds! Being self directed and having control in creative play can result in children being more cooperative when the adult needs to make the decisions. When children have control over the activity and if the adults follow the child’s lead during play then the child is more likely to follow our lead in non play activities.

Apart from the learning and development elements of creative play there is also the emotional satisfaction of enjoying the sensation. The satisfaction of making or creating something can carry an immense sensation of personal achievement and we all want our children’s lives to be full of feel good emotions.

So what do the adults need to do so children can benefit from creative play? Well to start with don’t worry if you aren’t creative. Your role is to provide the opportunity. You can of course join in and children love spending time with and having adult attention. The important thing is that your child leads the play. They decide what and how they are going to be creative and if that means that Dad has to have his hair put in pony tails so be it! You will support rather than control their activity.

Also remember that the end product is not important. It is the process, the experience and the fun that will have the impact. Avoid passing judgements and think about commenting on how you enjoy joining in with the activity rather than saying you think the child’s picture is good. Remember that it will really enhance the feel good emotions to have their work displayed and shown to others. Think about having a space on your wall that is specifically for your child’s work and label the space such as Jacks Wall.

Make sure you allow plenty of time for the activity and include clean up time because creative play can be messy. Also think ahead to how you will manage your child waiting for their piece to be completed and this is particularly important when baking. It can be really difficult for a child to wait for their buns to cool before they put on the icing!

Have a box of craft material on hand and you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Always think of the child age and stage of development, keeping safety in mind particularly with young children. Add household items to your kit such as empty kitchen roll tubes, magazines, empty envelopes, used Christmas paper, yogurt cartons and egg boxes. Craft materials do not need to be expensive and many local discount stores have a fab range of low cost craft items.

Build your collection over time and think of including:

  • Crayons
  • Paints
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Pens & Pencils
  • Glue
  • Cellotape
  • Brushes & Sponges
  • Play dough
  • Buttons & Beads
  • Wool, Ribbon & Fabric Scraps
  • Old clothing for dress up
  • Aprons
  • Protective Table Covering (bin bags or old papers work great)

Remember that play in general and creative play in particular is serious work for children and is invaluable to their learning and development. It is often free, usually messy and always fun! So decide to have fun and adopt Love Parenting’s creative play motto.


Written by Sue Mc Glone, Manager Parent Support Programme