**This post was originally written in 2018 and has been updated.
In early 2018 we launched the first Australian TimberNook program. This amazing program, which is the brainchild of US Paediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, has a strong focus on children getting outdoors, strengthening physical skills, building resilience and getting back to play! The facilitators of the program play a really important role, yet there is a very hands-off, stand back type of approach… and for good reason. I have written about the concept of Interaction vs interference before and while many educators agree in theory, putting it into practice can be a little tougher. Which is why we have put together some practical tips for educators to “back off out of children’s play!”
3 Questions NOT to ask Children at Play:
- What are you doing?
If a child wants you to know what they are doing… they will tell you! While this question is often well-intentioned, with educators wanting to know more about the child’s play and thought processes, it can lead children to question if they are doing the right thing, to wonder if their play is appropriate or “normal.” We also need to think about what we hope to garner from asking this question, that we wouldn’t be able to learn from simply observing.
- Can I play?
If a child wants you to play… they will ask you! When we ask a child to play, we send the message “you need me.” In fact, children don’t need us, yet it has become an ingrained belief that they do and many feel that they need an adult to drive or guide the play. So why do children feel that they need us to play? Because from birth, we have “entertained” them. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t engage with infants or young children (this is very important for language development and strengthening bonds) but we do need to make time for all children to be “left to their own devices” so that they feel confident in their ability to play.
- Can I write that down/take your photo?
I am all about consent. Children have a right to decide if they are photographed or have their personal words and ideas recorded. But, we need to be mindful about how we do this. Recently I watched a child working with pipes and water, connecting them on a hill to make a water run. He worked carefully and thoughtfully and silently. Had I stopped him to ask “can I take a photograph?” I would have interrupted his thought process and ultimately, his play. Instead, I took a few photographs from a distance (the benefit of a DSLR and a long lens!) and after he had finished I showed him the photographs and asked if I could keep them and use them or if he wanted to delete them. Most children are indeed delighted to have their ideas and voices recorded, yet others prefer not to, so it is important to find a way to seek consent, yet not disrupt the play. In your own setting, you may have the opportunity to ask children prior to play what they would prefer, giving them the option to say “please don’t take photos of me.”
It’s not always easy to step back and let children play. As early childhood educators we are usually taught to engage, to question, to play. There is definitely a time for this, but children also need a LOT of time to play. They need long, uninterrupted blocks of play. They need time and space to think and create. They need opportunities to make decisions and choices in their play. They need freedom to play how they want to play. They need to feel like they are not under the watchful eye of adults!
While not asking questions might seem counter-intuitive or may leave you wondering “but how will I know what is happening, how can I document the learning, how will people know that I am doing my job?” staying quiet and tuning in to your observational skills (looking and listening) can actually reveal even more about children and their play.