The best preschool teachers know there’s a huge difference between choice time and, say, free play and planned instruction. Reason: “Kids derive big benefits from self-directed creative play—when they can choose not only what kind of play to engage in (blocks, water, housekeeping), but how to engage with the materials their teachers provide,” says Renée Dinnerstein, who has recently published the book Choice Time.
Help your child tap into her own creativity. Check out these tips to learn what to do—and not do—at home.
1. Don’t: Instruct how to interact with the materials at hand
Because: A child’s goal is likely different from yours.
Instead, do: Model a new technique (how to get lots of color on a watercolor brush) and then leave him to it.
2. Don’t: Take over when your child is working on a project
Because: She’ll gain more confidence if she fully owns her work.
Instead, do: Save the join-in instinct for a project you can take on together, like cooking.
3. Don’t: Draw or create something first for your child to copy
Because: Creativity is a process, not an event.
Instead, do: Praise ingenuity. Together, look at books for inspiration.
4. Don’t: Name his project
Because: It may look like a drum to you, but if that’s not what your child intended, he’ll feel as though he’s failed.
Instead, do: Ask him to tell you about his creation, or say, “Interesting! I wonder what you’ll do next.”
5. Don’t: Coach
Because: Self-directed play is about exploration, not following the rules.
Instead, do: Provide time in your child’s life for this kind of play even if, ironically, you have to schedule it.
6. Don’t: Have expectations about her play
Because: There doesn’t have to be any end goal for learning to take place.
Instead, do: Give her time, space, and materials.
7. Don’t: Constantly praise
Because: “Excellent,” “Good job,” and “It’s beautiful” imply the project was done to please.
Instead, do: Recognize positive attributes and ask questions about the work.
8. Don’t: Give answers
Because: Modeling curiosity will serve him better.
Instead, do: Suggest alternative strategies and stay close so you can help if frustration mounts.