PLAY. MAKE. BELIEVE.

Let them lead the way…

Child self esteem, positive self-image, confidence, child-led play

We all know the importance of maintaining a child’s self esteem. How a positive self-image and confidence impacts on learning. That children with high self esteem generally feel loved, competent, happy and are therefore productive. If children acquire this self-esteem as a result of successful experiences, surely play opportunities are ideal for building success? How does child led play also influence this? I have always felt that independent play adds to a child’s sense of well being and worth. But is it just a feeling, or is this ‘feeling’ supported by research? Letting them lead the way in play, becoming truly child-centered can have surprisingly positive results in more ways than you may realise. An article on the American Academy of Pediatrics looks at ways to develop a healthy sense of self esteem, outlining key characteristics.

What will be discussed here…

I thought it would be interesting to look at 5 aspects in more depth. I would also like to explore how each characteristic relates to child led play.

1) A sense of purpose

Child led play tends to be more purposeful, with meaningful direction built in. Children have full ownership and as such are more likely to channel their energy towards their own achievement. Play that is imposed with an adult intention in mind can feel boring, aimless even, leading to disengagement and even resentment. How often have you played with your own children (where they feel safer to moan!) and been told off for how you have directed some of the play. They don’t like to be pushed in a different direction! The building and negotiating that evolves from a self build provides a wonderful sense of purpose and direction.

2) A sense of personal competence and pride

“Your child should feel confident in her ability to meet the challenges in her life. This sense of personal power evolves from having successful life experiences in solving problems independently, being creative and getting results for her efforts”. By us allowing children to lead the way we are trusting them to take control, giving the message that they are competent and thus building confidence. Adults over directing the play can create a sense of dependency, or worse, set higher expectations resulting in a feeling of powerlessness. Self initiated play puts the control into the hands of the child. Child led play therefore equals a genuine sense of pride in achievements.

3) A sense of responsibility

Again, allowing the children a chance to show what they are really capable of doing, trusting them to plan, build and play without being checked on or supervised too closely. “Children who grow in responsibility also grow in self esteem, a prerequisite for achievement in the real world.”(Cline & Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic, 2006). Our role, as parents and educators is to send messages that tell children they have the skills to be successful. They need to know that they have the skills to be successful and to do this, our messages need to be very subtle, yet empowering. Something as simple as allowing them the responsibilty to play freely, construct and build, is one way to send such a
message.

4) A sense of contribution

Being left to play and interact as a group naturally provides a situation whereby all children can contribute their own ideas. They can participate in a meaningful way. How wonderful for a child’s self esteem and sense of importance that they see their suggestions unfold within the play and a tangible way.

5) A sense of making real choices and decisions.

This links to the above point. How empowered must a child feel when left to make or influence the decision making. To feel truly in control. Mind.org suggests that with a low self esteem you may feel, amongst other things, unable to make decisions. You may also find it difficult to assert yourself and feel low in confidence. To flip this we could argue then that to not feel in control and make decisions can create a sense of low self esteem. Playing with Kitcamp, involving children in the decision making process provides a wonderful opportunity for play opportunities which allow them to be active contributers. Playing alongside children as they built dens for an outdoors day, we could observe first hand the choices and decisions the groups made. They discussed, negotiated, bartered and ultimately took full responsibility for their constructions.

So where does this leave the adult?

Through play we see first hand how children practise skills already mastered and take on new challenges. We observe how they communicate and negotiate with others, and try out new roles. We know that play supports many areas of development and learning. And so need to strive to set up meaningful and purposeful opportunities. Our role when playing needs to be alongside, as a facilitator suggesting occasional new ideas, ensuring safety. But even better it is to play. Let them lead the way and take control! An interesting article – Putting Children First, from the magazine of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) If we can genuinely play and simultaneously reflect upon these, I think we are on track!

The article asks…

Do all children, including the youngest, have meaningful choices? Are there too many choices, which may interfere with children ‘settling’ and focusing on their play? How does the organisation of the physical environment support children to make choices? What are some examples of occasions when adults decide to intervene to guide children’s
choices? How are children involved in deciding what choices are available in the program?

Useful sites and books for further reference and reading :

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