Example of how children learn through play

by Mary Ann on April 29, 2011

creation box picture

Our Creation Box

I have often said that you should have a junk box; actually, in our house, we call it a creation box. In that box goes anything that you might otherwise discard or put in your kitchen junk drawer; (Confess, we all have one!), old keys, toilet paper tubes, tin foil, odd game parts, cast off Legos, pie tins, plastic spoons, empty spools, etc. This is one of my grandchildren’s favorite things.

Sometimes the box is in my Closet and sometimes it is in the regular play area and sometimes it just disappears for a few months. I keep them guessing. They never know when it will appear.

kid with his elephant drawing

Children gain confidence from "working it out"

My daughter Jodie has been gathering stuff in her creation box. Because Maggie has Cerebral Palsy she has never used it and Jodie felt that Jack, at barely three, was still a bit too little. But children have a way of really surprising us.

The other day Jodie was doing some cleaning and had the box sitting out. Without saying anything Jack began to explore the contents. Then he had an idea. He began thinking about elephants. That idea became a plan or picture in his mind as he sorted through the junk. Then without saying anything to his mom he put his plan into action. Here is a picture of what he made all by himself. (He did finally ask his mom for help to tape the nose on.)

Aren’t you amazed? Isn’t this just the most creative thing you have ever seen?

thee year olds elephant drawing

Elephant with circus hat

Now it will hang on the family room wall for a few days. Eventually it will get a tear here and a tear there and will soon be discarded. But for now it is a shining example of the creativity of a child.

Here is the important part; children learn through play, play that may look to adults like meaningless, directionless, frivolous time-wasting. Play that uses resources, tape, glue, paint, paper and so forth. Play that results in items that only last a few days and then are discarded.

However, what has happened in Jack’s brain through the process of creating? He came up with an idea. He turned the idea into a plan. He looked at the available materials and figured which ones fit into his plan. He put the parts together on his own, asking for help only when it was needed.

Can you see all the useful skills that Jack practiced while creating this elephant? Can you see how going through this process over and over again can contribute to building his self confidence in his ability to think and problem solve? Can you see how it would influence his ability to trust himself? Can you see how Jack is maturing as he plays?

Play is an important part of a child’s learning and growth. In fact, children learn best through play.

For more information on the formative aspects of play see Ways of encouraging creativity and creative thinking in children and The power of play and executive functioning skills in children


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ranee Hansen May 2, 2011 at 2:17 am

Hello Mary Ann~

I met you at the Mom’s Retreat here in AZ. (I am the one who has lots of special needs kiddo’s!) I just wanted to say “Hello!” and tell you that I LOVE your blog! :0)


Mary Ann May 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Hi Ranee, I most certainly remember you. How is the course coming? I am very interested in hearing comments from you. Thanks for coming to the blog and for letting me know you were here. : )


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