At home this morning, Leo (13 months) finished eating his (2nd) breakfast and wanted to get down off his highchair. I wiped it with a cloth and got out the broom to sweep. Leo watched me and then tried to grab the handle to sweep with me. We swept the crumbs together to the side of the kitchen and I opened the cupboard to fetch the dustpan and brush. I swept the crumbs up while Leo tried to drive his train over them and I brushed them away into the rubbish bin. I gave Leo his own small dust pan and brush. I stood up and continued to tidy away the breakfast food. Leo must have taken his dust pan and brush outside, because when I next saw him, he was out there, sweeping the fallen leaves and tiny gumnuts into his pan. He was squatting out there and chatting to himself. He turned to look for me and saw me watching him. He gestured and called out to me and I spoke to him saying he was doing a fine job tidying up the balcony. He responded and carried on for a short while.
It struck me then, what children can learn by being at home and in the presence of family who are simply completing the mundane tasks of keeping the home in order. Leo was imitating me to simply achieve those ends and through his concentration he was absorbed by the activity.
Some play settings simply contain abstract toys in an abstract environment. There isn’t a context for playing, or if there is, it is seldom genuine. The toys may be investigated physically, but the question occurred to me, despite their bells and whistles, are they actually played with?
The fundamental question of what play actually is, then got me thinking. There is a noticeable difference to the “physical investigation” level of play, than to what I’m going to call “transcendental play” which is when the child is definitely humming in flow. Leo was really playing with his dust pan and brush. And when he is in this state of play, well, I am not even going to guess what little or big imaginations are sweeping before his mind’s eye, whether they be the results of inner processes, of memories, moods, or external stimuli. The focus with which he “practised” his sweeping became like a transcendental mood. It seemed his infantile imaginative world opened during this moment spent playing.
This is the most precious time. These moments should never be interrupted. The young child doesn’t always need his parent as a playmate, that assistance may become interference. I am present with Leo when he plays, preparing food, folding laundry, figuring a new recipe, straightening or cleaning. It suits me to leave him to play, so I can do these things! Of course he’s not always humming in flow or in a state of ‘transcendental creative free play’, but when he is, I marvel at his inner processes at work and let him be.
So what is the significance of these moments of play?
To me, these must be times of self integration, of processing whatever it is that needs to be. Ever heard of flow? It’s a buzzword of the moment. Google it to find all sorts of interesting articles. Without these moments of flow, the possibility of creativity is denied. What is lost if children are not given the opportunity to play, to bask in the flow, to nourish their own rich inner life?
As adults we need moments of flow, to clear space and to process. Flow is recognised as being a transcendental state, essential for wellbeing. Flow is when we integrate what is “in here” with what is “out there”. It is the state of creation, the golden time, the hum. Time spent in flow manifests ideas for us as adults, for without these windows of inspiration, where would we be? How would we know what creative endeavour to take on next?
To conscientiously cultivate space for a child to play freely, suddenly seems an essential responsibility.
This is different terminology to what we are used to, but describes the exact same thing we have always known in the Steiner community. When children are in play, they are in the flow. This is exactly what differentiates a Steiner kindergarten to many of the others. This is what is actually being cultivated through this idea of free play.
The Steiner kindy teacher completes household jobs around the place, she mends, prepares food, waters the garden, prunes and rakes, washes dishes, dusts and sweeps to maintain the space. The children are not directed in their activity, they are free to play. The less they are interfered with the more likely they are to be in the flow. As kindy children are much older than my small Leo, they are already familiar with the objects and environs and begin to play as soon as they are inspired to. The kindergarten provides the space, the teachers provide the mood and the simple and truthful ‘tools of the trade’ provide the stimuli from which imaginations may leap and soar. This is not to say the Steiner kindy fosters a void between the adults’ activity and that of the children’s. The outward gesture of free play is what exists between the inward moments of circle time, the preparation and eating of food and story time. This rhythm itself creates a particular flow for the larger picture of the kindergartener’s day.
So, considering such things, what could we surmise? Do our children experience true free play every day? Are their toys and environment conducive to this transcendental experience?
Some toys are objects of distraction or shall I say in the least, curiosity. They may move, squeak, flash lights or make noise. They may be so clever as to hold a little one’s attention long enough to receive an injection, or lie still for a nappy change, but is it an object a youngster could pick up over and over, day after day, and actually play with? Some may hone skills of dexterity or logic, or create anticipation and surprise, and these might provide interesting challenges for the child or may simply amuse him. But to appreciate the value of moments in-flow means to understand something essential of the actual foundation of the developing person.
Children should be experiencing flow as often as possible. It becomes clear it is at the apex of their natural state once you learn to observe their activity.
Every thing in life will be explored by the child. Some he will have the pleasure of investigating and then setting aside, and others, he will have the pleasure of using it, to play.
How do you know when your child is ‘humming in flow’?
Do you consciously strive to achieve moments of flow, day to day or week to week, for yourself?
Do you notice any difference in your household after your family members have experienced flow? How does that compare with days when they have not?
Some links to articles that develop and validate this nugget: