Playing, creating, building, scribbling, splashing...all of these activities are part of a child's day at some point, whether at home or in a childcare setting. Regardless of where it happens, unstructured playtime, and the freedom to 'make a mess' are essential elements in the development of many important skills in a young child.
Sadly, parents and caregivers often seem to feel that they need to organize the play-time of children, and that there should be some measurable 'proof' of skill at the end of the exercise. Questions like 'Is that a house you made?' (of blocks for instance), or 'What is your picture of...?' suggest to young children that their activities must result in something that their adults can recognize and label. This is often the first time children get the implied, incorrect idea that there are 'right' or 'wrong' ways to be creative and exploratory.
The next time you are tempted to ask your preschooler what they made today, stop a moment. Did your child learn how to manipulate felt pens, paintbrushes, or crayons to explore an idea of his own, or did he draw something for you to label a house, a flower, a dinosaur. ... Did she learn about gravity, shapes and balance, or did she build a replica of the CN Tower?
Adults are often so eager to see more in a child's work, to see the 'product', that we overlook that the 'process' is where the learning takes place, the 'process' is the important aspect of any activity a child undertakes. It takes time, and more time, for children to practice the skills they are learning. At the same time, it takes understanding on the part of the parent to appreciate the value of unstructured playtime. It is important that we as caregivers try not to label the 'products' that result from the children's work, and instead applaud the process by which they have learned something new. So, what have you learned today?