Where Have All The Playrooms Gone?
A few years ago I had one of those aha moments when visiting a close friend’s home. She was one of the few people I know whose children had the luxury of a playroom – a room that constantly has toys all over the floor that you have to tip-toe carefully in between – games, thoughts and ideas in various stages of progress, from building sets to train or car racing tracks, to doll’s houses and puzzles.
There were always many things on the go and her children loved to show visitors what they were up to. They were particularly creative in terms of mixing games together or adding waste materials to extend their games. They had the privilege of uninterrupted creative time as their games, constructions and works of art could spill over from one day to the next without having to be tidied up and packed away at the end of a day.
This was a room that got tidied up every couple of weeks, while their bedrooms had to be tidied daily. The advantage of such a situation is that every day children can continue to develop the ideas they started on the day before.
- With smaller living spaces becoming more popular (and economically viable) there are fewer opportunities for creative spaces for children at home.
- Children have less time for free play as they are enrolled in more and more extra-mural activities which keep them ultra-busy.
- Busy parents do not want “mess” in their homes – they don’t have time for it.
- Mess and style do not go together – we sacrifice creative spaces for our children at the altar of tasteful interior décor.
- Children are doing more and more supervised activities so they are becoming reliant on an adult telling them what to do and using the adult’s ideas as opposed to discovering their own fountain of creativity.
- Children who are allowed to play at home generally have to pack up and tidy up at a certain time, trashing their creative ideas in their formative stages, most of them never really reaching creative maturity. The sense of accomplishment is fleeting at best and disappointing most of the time.
In a way, this is much like the opportunity we have as adults when we are developing our ideas in various programmes on our computers. We can start something, save it and come back to it anytime we like, as long as we stick to our deadlines, of course. We can revisit our creative ideas constantly, and yet our children do not have this luxury. They are hamstrung in the area of creativity due to a number of factors (and this is not an exhaustive list):
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for packing up and tidying up – it’s all part of the game and is a life skill that is essential to learn. It also teaches children to respect their possessions and stops pieces from getting lost and broken. However, what I am lobbying for here is TIME and SPACE.
It is up to parents to create spaces for creativity to develop and to provide ample time for its uninterrupted development. And as much as I bang on about the importance of developing creativity in our children I am guilty as charged on a number of the points listed above. Creativity needs to flow.
Children need to try things this way and that. They need to get stuck and be able to come back to revisit the problem/challenge another time – an hour or even a day later. In that time they will have shifted and grown in some way as they allow their brains to work it out for them (while they are at school or even sleeping) and the next time they work on their project, something new will be possible.
“The Wright brothers invented the airplane because they were willing to fly off a cliff hundreds of times. Edison invented the light bulb because he played around with all those different filaments. The truly creative person has an insane devotion to an idea, banging away at it from all sorts of angles in all sorts of ways….” (Colouring Outside the Lines by Roger Schank, 2001)
We need to give our children time and space to bang away at their ideas. When my son was 12 years old, that meant chucking out half the contents of one of our garages that was crammed full of “stuff”, to create a permanent play space for his various constructions and other creative projects. He needed a place where he could continue with his creative thought process on a daily basis. Not only was it good for his creativity and imagination, but it was a fantastic stress reliever too.
Do you have an unused corner somewhere that can become a creative space where your child can experience their imagination, uninterrupted? It could be on a patio, in a garage or in an unused formal lounge. And if this is impossible on a permanent basis perhaps, just during the school holidays, you could sacrifice some space for a week to allow your child’s creativity to “flow”.
Parenting expert and toy judge
Author of Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and Beyond (Penguin Random House, 2019)