Browsing: Play

Boredom Improves Creativity

My mom used to tell me that, “Only boring people get bored”.  And now as a parent, grandparent, and clinician I find myself quoting this often. I believe that this is one of the most important life skills a child can learn. When we spend all our time entertaining our children, they never have to learn how to entertain themselves.

Research suggests that people are more creative when they’re bored – and that’s true for our kids, too. It’s just how the human mind works. When our kids have nothing to do, they exercise their imaginations and that just might be the most important skill they can develop. I love it when a kid tells me they are bored – this is a perfect opportunity to hand them a bunch of materials and say, “figure out how to make something from these that isn’t boring!”.

It’s our responsibility as parents to build the skills of imagination and creativity. The way we do it, in large part, is by giving these skills (that are in seed form when our children are young), the chance to play, evolve, do their work, and become. Boredom is water for these seeds.  When we’re supplying all the goods for our kids’ attention, we’re actually discouraging our children’s imaginations and creative capacities.

When children are left to their own devices, they’re forced to be more creative and imaginative in finding ways to amuse themselves. Giving them opportunities to try things of their own volition builds their sense of discovery and curiosity and helps them explore what brings them joy.

“Resilence” has become a buzzword in schools, referring to children developing a flexible attitude and the ability to adjust when things are tough. Being bored – or having to think of ways to amuse themselves – is an important way to develop this ‘grit.’ Having free time to try things out without the fear of failure is essential if a child is to develop grit and resilience.

In a world where children are constantly stimulated, they can feel uncomfortable if they don’t have anything to do. But this encourages initiative and problem-solving, as they have to rely on themselves to tackle the ‘problem’ of being bored.’

Your child may argue that being bored is, well, boring, but actually, it could make their childhood happier overall.

When adults talk about their childhood memories, no one ever mentions anything material. It’s always the simple things they remember: connections, laughter and nature.

All the activities that we think are making childhood richer may be getting in the way of a simple but contented life. If your child is used to having their time scheduled, making the shift to a way of life where they’re responsible for amusing themselves some of the time can be tricky. For some kids this will be something that requires adult support. It will be difficult at first because they don’t know how to do it, and you’ll have to be their imagination coach, but once the spark has ignited, it will get better.

Try these techniques for encouraging children to entertain themselves:

  • Have a weekly imagination activity. Pick one day a week where there are no structured activities and provide kids with materials to play with – let them make it up as you go along.  Create a dinosaur park, a construction site, a fort, whatever sounds like fun!
  • Give them a creative, open-ended task like building an obstacle course in the backyard or setting up a treasure hunt. This will inspire them to think up the clues, plan a surprise, try a new “trick” etc.
  • Provide low-tech toys. If you have the space, collecting things like blocks, paper tubes, pipe cleaners, legos, straws, chalk, a long roll of paper, markers, boxes, modeling clay, masking tape, plastic water bottles, and yarn can provide kids with endless opportunities to create. You don’t need to buy an expensive marble run when your child can make an even better one from things you have lying around the house.
  • Don’t mind the mess. Everything can be put away, and you can make it a condition that your child has to help clean up after the creating is finished.
  • Get outdoors. Take your child to open spaces and resist the urge to jump in.  Let them climb on the monkey bars, walk up and down a slide, jump off steps and allow them to take risks.
  • Be a good role model. Hold off on technology as a play opportunity for as long as possible.  Try to model healthy attitudes to technology yourself: you can’t insist that your child puts their phone down if you’re always on yours. 
  • Become an “IMAGINATION COACH”.  Think of it as an opportunity to provide materials, support developing ideas and facilitate problem-solving.  Sometimes the role of the coach will be to sit beside the player and wait and watch what unfolds. And, other times you will take a more active role by asking the questions: “what if?”, “how can you?”, “what about tying this?” 

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Assessing Play at DPK

Most children have a strong desire to play with peers and keep peers engaged in playing with them.  This desire underlies children’s developing capacity to self-regulate in a group and be flexible as they take perspective of their own and other’s needs.  The more they practice this self-control, the better they get at it.

Neurotypical learners at age four are able to share in the imagination of others.  They can collaborate on play schemes, adding and building on the ideas of others, and combine them with their own ideas to come up with group play activity.  They can flexibly incorporate a peer’s ideas into their own play scheme to allow a new and different  collaborative play idea to emerge.

When children have difficulty with social communication and social interactions they have difficulty with shared collaborative play.  They can have challenges interacting as part of a group, difficulty with social thinking concepts and have difficulty with self -regulation and impulse control.  Peer play may need facilitation by an adult to scaffold interactions and problem solve, assist with idea generation,  help with social communication and facilitate conflict resolution.

The goal of the Integrated Playgroup program is to help children become collaborative players by giving them the skills sets that will propel them throughout their lives. Through facilitated peer play we help children learn to develop collaborative play skills: social executive functioning, self-esteem,  perspective taking, social problem solving, and resilience.

What is the IPG program based on?

The ability to share toys, ideas and space requires social executive functioning.  It is the knowledge that I have thoughts and feelings, other people have thoughts, what I do can change other’s thoughts and feelings and what they do can change mine.  It is basically knowing that I can do things that will influence you, make you think about me the way I want you to and knowing that how you think about me will impact how you feel about me. Even at the preschool and early learner stage of  social development, kids can tie the pieces together to understand that thoughts and feelings that we all have will impact your decision (and mine!) about whether or not you want to play and interact with me.

This wonderful ability to think about oneself in relation to others and keep interactions moving with minor hiccups is more complex than it seems.

On the playground, at the snack table, in the dress up area and in the reading corner it is social thinking and social cognitive knowledge that gives children the ability to:

  • Observe
  • Act
  • React

In a baseline playgroup we are looking at the building blocks of typical preschool social development (see diagram on Page 3).  Once the basic building blocks are in place and the child can be part of a “group” and participate effectively, we move onto  more complex aspects of social settings by learning to  make smart guesses, flexibly shift thoughts and behaviors so they work through social decisions, and self-adjust when inevitable conflicts arise.

Shared Collaborative Imaginative Play (SCIP) is the pinnacle of social development for early learners.

SCIP play requires:

  • Social Executive Functioning: Social Executive functioning includes 3 parts:

1. The ability to self-regulate and demonstrate impulse control.  Self -regulation of sensory input as well as the ability to self-regulate around feelings. Regulation is context driven; it depends on where you are.

2. Impulse control is  the behavioral result of good self-regulation.

3. Self -Esteem:  having confidence in your abilities and respect for yourself.

  • Social Problem Solving:  perspective taking (the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”).  The ability to assess the situation, define the problem, generate solutions, make accurate if-then statements about the different choices, and ultimately select the right one.

Teaching children to become better problem solvers and perspective takers builds resilience.  Resilience is a powerful tool that impacts many areas of our lives.  Learning how to be a good problem solver helps kids bounce back after adversity, push through difficult moments, or do things that are important but may make us feel uncomfortable or unhappy.  Resilience is also not only about pushing forward, it’s also the ability to let go, to know when the available solutions are not optimal and appreciate that you will have to get through whatever it is and move on.

Resilience follows a developmental timeline and is dependent on other social developmental abilities such as perspective taking, executive functioning, and concept/situational awareness.

This is the goal of the Integrated Playgroup program.  Through facilitated peer play we help children learn to develop collaborative play skills: social executive functioning, self-esteem,  perspective taking, social problem solving, and resilience.

Rebecca Berry, MS, PT, Clinic Director
Becky has been an active pediatric physical therapist on the mid-peninsula since 1985, most recently as cofounder of Developmental Pathways for Kids in 1997. She received her Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. For over thirty years, she has provided physical therapy evaluation and treatment for infants and children with mild to severe developmental delays. In addition to direct patient services, Becky has served as coordinator of a multidisciplinary pediatric team at Mills-Peninsula Hospitals and provided consultative services to schools throughout the Bay Area. Her expertise and areas of interest include Autism Spectrum and Sensory Processing Disorders as they relate to peer socialization and play. She has completed research on the DPK Model Combining Sensory Integration and Integrated Playgroups and is a conference presenter throughout the United States. 

In her practice, she combines advanced training in NDT and Sensory Integration Theory and Practice as well as expertise in Integrated Playgroups, the ALERT Program, DIR/Floortime® and Thereapeutic Listening Program® and Social Thinking concepts. She has co-authored the book, Pathways to Play! Combining Sensory Integration and Integrated Playgroups and is the author of Hearts and Hands Together a story of inclusion

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