Whether it’s a toddler making a trail of handprints across a piece of paper, or a seven-year-old repurposing a cardboard tube to make a marble run, play empowers children to become creative. When children create, they experience the joy of interacting with the world and of changing it and being changed by it.
“Born into an age of rapid innovation, our children need a creative mindset more than ever,” says Garrett Jaeger, a developmental psychologist and research specialist at the LEGO Foundation, an organisation that advocates for learning through play. “Play-based learning is the best way to help children develop these skills and set them on the path to becoming future innovators and flexible thinkers.”
Add a responsive caregiver into the mix and the creativity of the child can be taken to the next level. “We need to let the child lead, so they can take ownership,” says Jaeger. “But we can enhance their experience by adding constraints and challenging them to select high-quality ideas.”
Parenting expert and GP Clare Bailey says playing alongside your child is also vital to improving their social and emotional development. “Play is the golden key to building a better relationship with your child. They will feel closer to you, and will be more likely to cooperate and do what you ask. Even 10 minutes of play together a day makes a difference.” Joining a child in play not only helps them develop their creativity, but it teaches them about sharing, negotiating, cooperating, and being kind and humorous.
Creativity can be fostered by all sorts of games and activities, not just the obviously creative ones, such as painting and drawing.
“We wanted to help parents find new ways of engaging creatively with their children and so have developed a ‘playlist’ of activities that caregivers can choose from when they are stuck for ideas,” says Jaeger. “Very few of these activities actually involve LEGO bricks, we have tried to use things that are readily available not just in Boston, but in Bangladesh.”
Using household objects, such as toilet rolls, paper plates and old cloth, allows children to reimagine what objects are. “So the next time they see that paper plate they are going to be dreaming about what it might become. That is the kernel of creativity we want to plant.”
Here are five activities from the playlist for you to try at home.
Build a bridge
Build a bridge using LEGO or DUPLO bricks and make sure a minifigure can walk over it and a toy boat can go under it.
“Don’t be afraid of rules with creativity. There is a lot of power in just putting a few constraints on a task and watching children push up against them and even try to break those rules,” explains Jaeger, who says children instinctively know that a bridge has to start on one piece of land and end on another. If the bridge collapses they learn one of the fundamental rules of creativity: if things go wrong, you can choose to start over.
“When they start to walk that little man over it, the creation becomes meaningful for them because they have begun to play with it,” he says.
Take a piece of plain paper and fold it into three sections. The first participant draws a head on the top section and then marks the neckline on the middle section. The second participant draws the torso and marks the leg lines on the final section and the third participant (or back to the first, if just two players) draws in the legs.
This is an old creativity activity known as “exquisite corpse” or “exquisite cadaver”, and it can also be done with text. There is room for elaboration by drawing imaginary beasts, or changing the number of folds. This sparks the imagination and provides a lesson about a different way of collaborating. Also, the results are often hilarious. “I spent a whole afternoon during lockdown doing this with my two children aged three and five,” says Nicola Moss, from Stroud. “We stuck all the crazy drawings up on the wall and then began to tell each other stories about them.”
Flip the blanket
Can you flip a blanket over with people standing, lying or sitting on it?
This may not seem like a creative activity, as it feels more like a game of Twister with people getting tangled up and often falling over. However, the game helps you to see a flat piece of material in a different way. It changes your perspective. It is a game that exercises physical and mental flexibility.
Make a parachute that gets a LEGO minifigure or small toy safely to the ground.
This is a physics experiment made fun. Working with a paper plate or a piece of tissue paper and some string, work out how many points of contact you need to have with your string, and how short or long those points need to be so the character doesn’t tip. The fact it is, a parachute engages the imagination and children begin to tell stories with it.
Marbles on the run
Can you build a racetrack and let your marbles run?
“This encourages children to reimagine materials in their home, [such as] old cardboard tubes, or bits of guttering,” says Jaeger. “It’s a favourite of ours at the LEGO Foundation. You can look at what others have created with the hashtag #chainreaction, some are really phenomenal.”
Having fun with your child will not only increase your bond and boost their creative thinking, you may actually find you have fewer interruptions. “Once a child knows that you will join them when you can, they are more likely to be accommodating to your schedule,” says Bailey. Meaning you may just have enough time to work on your own creative contribution to society.
Find out more about learning through play at: legofoundation.com