What does child directed play look like?

A variety of toys are available in the market today. Each one is designed to fulfill some role in keeping the child engaged.


Some toys are sensory – playdoh, kinetic sand, water toys etc.

Some fuel imagination – kitchen sets, cars, blackboard, colours etc.

Some are entertaining – soft toys, animals that move and make sounds.

And, of course, there are many more categories here!


We marvel at the toys, and of course, can’t bring all of that wonder home!


Yet, when we do buy some of these toys, we find that the child engages with it briefly, before giving us an indication of boredom. We, then, nudge and push the child saying ‘go play with your toys’. 


Do we wonder why children get bored with toys especially as they are designed with them in mind?


Every child is born intelligent – with the ability to create a new response to a new situation, and this is what we know as creativity. 


We see this very intelligence in children thriving when they direct their own play. They might feel limited when their intelligence and creativity is directed by an adult. For growing children, exposure to a new environment, every new person they meet sparks imagination and enthusiasm. This helps them make sense their environment and impacts the way they interact with situations and people around.


Adults design building blocks. Children use it as pretend food, straw, or even rain!


Adults design beads that can be woven into shoe laces to improve hand eye coordination. Children make currency, dog biscuits or even gravel out of it.


Even crayons sometimes get used as injections!


As they grow older and we get them more complex toys or games like, a carom board, it is   also put to different uses before being ready to be used for what it is. 


I caught myself getting impatient with my daughter, wanting to show her ‘the right way to do it’, before realizing that the carom board is for her to play with. Why do I need to sap the joy out of it for her with my instructions? I observed that whenever I sought to correct her, she lost all interest in playing the game. The next time, I would be tested again, till the time I learnt to tune in to her creativity.


Of course, I wouldn’t let her use the board as a trampoline!


After almost a year, now my 4 year old is ready to play carom the way it’s usually played. Though after five minutes into it, we do find ourselves playing her own version of the game. 


How natural it is for children to find creative ways to use things when given unstructured play time!


As the children grow up, they will eventually learn to play the game by the rules. Until then, can we create the space to keep this creativity alive in them? It is important to promote unstructured play as it fuels their imagination. 


As an adult, the things we see as waste are often used by our children in many different ways. Some examples:

Cardboard flaps are used as tickets, to make masks, skateboard etc.

Empty water bottles are used to make music, as props to use with play doh/ sand

Apple / fruit covers are used as mittens.

Drinking straws are used make a shapes by inserting one into the other.

Shoe laces are used as a leash for a soft toy or even a pretend snake!


We parents can nurture this creativity in our children. Even at personality development workshops for grownups, this very technique is used to fire their imagination. For example, they could be given a pen or any other object and asked to use it in ten different ways.


 After all, creative solutions are needed to turn things around in the world! 


Author: Manasi Dandeker is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.