Free Time Stories: Creative Play

Originally published on Plumfield Academy’s blog January 2015.

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It was a full morning for the younger students (who range from age six to nice years old). Math and language arts, when each child worked at their skill level, was followed by half an hour of history when the students heard a whole chapter about Rome in 500 BC. In a very exciting bit of history: King Tarquin is booted from Rome then convinces Brutus the Elder’s two sons to betray him and plan a coup; those same sons are tried and ordered executed for treason by Brutus; one-eyed Horatius defends Rome by holding a bridge bravely until at last he was plunged into the River Tiber and managed to swim to shore safely in his full set of armor; and Cincinnatus heroically staves off attackers from Rome and nobly returns to his wife and farm, refusing to keep the power of a dictator. After the students had given a group narration, it was well-deserved free time. I had the pleasure of witnessing two very different groups of children, both using an amazing amount of creativity.

The first group was three boys, ages seven. At the end of the history lesson they were all three bouncing on the couch, pure energy radiating from their growing bodies. Once released from the morning’s work, they continued bouncing toward the porch where coats and lunch boxes awaited. “To the outside pizza island!” one cried, and the others caught the cheer. Bundling up took minimal work for each of them, save one who wanted to zip his beloved bear into his jacket. Once that was done, he raced to join his friends. I watched from inside the warm porch as the boys ran from one side of the large yard to the other. They moved as a pack, stopping occasionally to confer, to bolt around the huge pine, to clamber up a rock and be “king of the mountain,” to sprawl on the grass as if stunned, only to rise again and repeat the sequence. Clearly excess energy was released, but more was happening. I braved the brisk air and discovered that this was, in fact, an intense and “awesome” game of superheroes. The one with the bear zipped in his jacket informed me he was “Lightening, and his bear was Thunder, the loyal sidekick. Thunder has an electromagnetic scream that can break buildings, even brick buildings.” Lightening himself could smash things with his powerful lightening bolt. Another boy had “Food Power” – he had various weapons made of food (all imaginary). He told me about his tomato shooter, his pepper sword and apple shield. The last boy had both ice and fire power. He would use his ice power both to freeze things and then shoot ice crystals at the bad guys. When I asked who won the game, they all looked at me blankly, until one boy said, witheringly, “We are on the same team.” These boys used nearly the whole hour up outside, even eating their lunches on the frozen grass, to return to the room with rosy cheeks, ready to fully engage in their afternoon work. Having the hour of free time allowed these boys the opportunity to use their imaginations and engage in healthy play, which in turn prepared them to be focused on their afternoon of work. 


IMG_6714The second group of two girls and one boy remained inside, playing legos. The young boy at first began to read, until one of the girls encouraged him to join the game. “Come on,” she called. “I have a base for you to use, and an extra guy – you can have Obe Wan Kenobe!” He acquiesced and the fun began. There is a huge collection of legos for the younger grades (or anyone wanting to play and willing to keep the legos in one room), with various parts and pieces from a number of different sets. These three students had a large military base of sorts set up, with a variety of sections clearly delineated. “Here is the control center, here is the area that someone keeps watch at, here is a weapons area.” Each child had a pile of legos, and access to the big bin if they wanted more, and each had a section of their own which they could add to. Each also had one or two figures, and a few weapons. The game consisted of each child doing their own thing with their own figures (“pow! take that” or “do-do-do, here we go to visit this guy now.”) for the most part. It was a peaceable game, despite the weapons, and the base alarm which rang shrilly when someone pressed the button. “Oh no, that’s the sign that someone’s attacking the base” was the rally cry and each figure responded to the call of duty. Once the attacker had been put off, the figures and children went back to their own work/play until the next rallying call of the siren. It struck me that the game, which allowed for much creativity as scenarios presented themselves, were enacted and resolved, involved a fair amount of negotiation. The young girl invited the young boy to join the game; the figures and weapons were distributed; each child could lead a scene of action or respond to one according to their own desire; and clean up at the end went quickly and smoothly. All of this happened without adult direction (save for the announcement that free time was over). These constant interactions and negotiations are an integral part of the creative experience. Today went smoothly, and when it does not, adults can step in if needed to model solutions and provide advice and guidance on how to solve the problem that has arisen. But the opportunity to engage in social negotiations, to learn how to assert and to acquiesce, to use one’s own imagination and be stimulated by another’s comes as a result of having an hour of free time each day.

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Plumfield Academy offers students an hour of free time each day. This is an important part of our philosophy and methodology; there is much learning and development that happens during this hour of child-driven play. These two example of some of the creative play that happens during that time, when children are free to let their imaginations roam, illustrate the kind of creativity that comes when children are given time to develop their own games and stories. This creativity flourishes both as a response to the fairly intense academic work that the morning usually brings, and as a result of having an extended amount of time that is not directed by the adults. Allowing students imaginations and creativity to develop and flourish is part of having a well-balanced child who is emotionally, physically and academically ready to engage in the pursuits of life, both now and in the future. See what else the American Academy of Pediatrics says about the importance of play.

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