Any mama grew up with LEGO blocks and now starting their kids on their first sets? Amidst the many innovative new toys of the 21st century, LEGOs are often still a classic staple in many homes today- and there are good reasons why! LEGO has its roots in inspiring (the ever-important) creative play that has been known to develop crucial life skills such as confidence, self-expression, and resilience.
This month, makchic joined the LEGO Group in an intimate and insightful session hosted by Paediatric Psychologist, Amanda Abel, who shared her advice on how to celebrate creativity and mistakes during play time with our children (and of course, how to use LEGO sets in this journey).
Here are the key takeaways:
1. Creative play helps with brain development
The brain grows a whopping 90 to 95% between birth and 5 years old, which is why the types of opportunities we provide our children at this point of time holds quite a bit of weight!
Needless to say, creative play is certainly not time-wasting, with play being a child’s greatest (and most fun!) teacher. Amanda explains that problem-solving, language development, and the building of confidence through trial and error are some of the many benefits of creative play, as it helps the brain grow and develop.
Brain development can also be fostered when children have a secure relationship with their parents, where they can feel safe to make mistakes, ask questions, have their emotions supported, and where they are given the chance to engage in play and explore the world.
2. Playtime does not have to be elaborate
Of course, the million dollar question for all of us busy parents – how on earth do we make time for creative play? Well, here’s the good news- such play doesn’t need to be scheduled. We just need to embed it into our daily routine.
Find “little incidental opportunities to play and teach your child throughout the day”, suggests Amanda. All that’s needed from us parents is just a sprinkle of creativity. By building creative play into routines such as meal time or bath time, it can become a natural part of our day. We can use materials easily found around us, and leverage on the interest our child may have, such as using a DUPLO block as a train to ‘drive’ and deliver breakfast to our train-loving child.
And of course, cognitive skills and education can be incorporated into play by talking about colours, prepositions and spelling (LEGO DUPLO blocks with alphabets on them are great for this)! An example of a simple cognitive game could be to simply describe an item using child-rich vocabulary and to get our child to guess the item described.
3. We need to celebrate our child’s creative mistakes
The traditional view of mistakes being seen as something ‘bad’ holds us back from taking creative risks. We can actually learn so much (plus, build our grit and perseverance) by embracing and celebrating mistakes instead.
Reframe the negative associations with mistakes by:
Changing our language and tone around mistakes
When we talk about play, there is no such thing as a mistake.
For example, if our child’s toy is built differently from how they intended, we can reply with a positive tone by showing that we learnt something from the situation e.g. “Now we’ve discovered that we can build a baby fish from something that previously was supposed to be a mummy fish!’
Modelling through self talk
Allow our child to see how we handle making mistakes by verbalising healthy thought processes.
For example, we can pretend we are building something, and then lose a piece. “Oh no! I lost the slide, I was going to put it there. How is the polar bear going to go down? I feel a bit silly because I made a mistake. But that’s okay. I’m going to look at the positive side and find another way to help the polar bear come down!”
4. Creative role playing can help with scary situations
Creative play can also be used to reduce anxiety in both past and impending stressful situations. Parents can role play with toys to reenact and work through difficult situations that have already occurred, or act out upcoming stressful situations (such as the first day of daycare, a visit to the clinic, or a new baby) to help mentally prepare their children.
Amanda encourages parents to be flexible and creative when choosing play materials, so that children can use their imagination and engage in symbolic play. For example, a simple LEGO DUPLO brick can represent a plane, instead of an actual toy airplane.
The session ended with questions and answers from the floor, with useful tips being shared:
How can I get my (4 year old) child to retain focus?
Amanda: It’s important to acknowledge that kids do not have a big attention span, so we can’t expect them to sit at things for an extended period of time. You start simple and meet them where they are at, and then gradually increase the level of complexity. Maybe they are able to get a few things together the first time, maybe 20 seconds. Then increase a few seconds or by one more block. It’s important not to overwhelm them- because that’s going to make them feel unsuccessful and unmotivated.
What can I do if my kids are addicted to smart tablets?
Amanda: [By] putting in boundaries and being okay with your child getting upset at you when you tell them it’s time to put it away. A good tip: rather than just going and taking the device away, sit with them and play with them for a while. You’re engaging in their world, joining them then. Warn them that it’s time to put it away, and then when it’s time to put it away, redirect them to something else that is also motivating for them too.
Any good conversation tips to facilitate creative play and help our kids learn from mistakes?
Amanda: I love giving leading statements to children. I might be playing together and I might say, you will never guess where the elephant went today! And I’ll just put it out there and wait to see what the child may say. By being open-ended and just making a statement thats not a question I’m not being directive, and I’m letting the child explore their imagination rather than directing the play in a certain way.
So the next time you’re engaging in LEGO play (or any other type of play, really) with your child, remember to encourage creativity and a growth mindset! Elisabeth Kahl- Backes, the design director of the LEGO Group, reminds us there’s no right or wrong when it comes to building and creation. Blocks are great tools for free play too- simply see what your child comes up with, how they play and what they end up carving out. The possibilities are endless, with no limits to their imagination!
[*The contents above have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.]
Designed for children between the ages of 1.5 to 5 years old, LEGO DUPLO are large, easy-to-handle building blocks to help provide a BIG start for little ones. Let’s begin their journey into creativity and tap into our children’s world of imagination by encouraging creative play and the celebration of mistakes, #makchicmumsquad!