Hello, and welcome to the second in my third series of Advocates For Play. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Grace Dunning, mother to Margo and Wilbur, and founder of Made on the Chalk. Thank you for sharing your perspective on play.
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
My name is Grace, my husband is Marcus and our two children are Margo, who is 2, and Wilbur, who is 10 weeks old. My husband is German, so we are aiming to bring the children up bilingually, and we live in the Hampshire countryside. I am a stay at home mum, though I am working to start a business from home this year so fitting that into our schedules will be creative. We also home school - even though both my children are below school age so it feels a bit odd to say it, they don’t go to nursery and I believe education starts from birth and it is something we knew we wanted to do very early on.
Can you share some of your own experiences of play as a child? Do you have an earliest play memory, or a story to share about play that was particularly meaningful?
I don’t have a lot of memories from my early childhood, but when I was 7, we moved to New York. My school was right opposite the metropolitan museum and central park, so many, many hours after school were spent exploring those magical places.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
I had wanted to be a mother for such a long time, but we struggled with infertility to begin with, and over that time (I guess to distract myself, but also to engage with the world of motherhood) I started to read books and articles and watch videos about parenting, and so begun to get an idea of the type of childhood I wanted to give my children. Open ended and child led play, with beautiful quality materials, was the fabulous rabbit hole I fell down.
How would you describe your play philosophy?
I try to have a simplified rhythm so there is lots of time for unstructured play. We try and get outside everyday as I feel that is so important for our mental health. We aim to follow a daily rhythm so Margo knows what to expect from the week. I also believe in following our in and out breaths in regards to our activities and play so this might look like some crazy dancing, to cosy book reading, then a walk outside, then some art work. I am constantly reading and following different people and am open to new ideas but it always comes back to the core of open ended, child led and unstructured.
Who or what has influenced your perspective on play? Are there any books, blogs, Instagram accounts that you would recommend?
The philosophies of Magda Gerba, Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason, heuristic and loose parts play.
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
I practice toy rotation to keep everything fresh and also to have an organized and calm look to the toys, a prepared environment as you’d say (though that is the ideal and not achieved everyday). I also try and observe Margo to see if she is working through any particular schemas so that I can put out the toys that facilitate that play. We read lots of books with rich vocabulary and beautiful illustrations which I am sure will fuel her imagination in time - as she is just at the cusp on diving into imaginative play, I think. We also spend a lot of time in nature – wild swimming in the summer and going for walks in the fields around our house in summer, plus we grow a lot of vegetables and keep chickens so through playing in the garden she still has a connection to where her food comes from. I am planning on trying to set up more invitations to play this year as it is not something I have done much of in practice, however I love the idea of it and know it would work well for Margo. We are also starting to go to a home school group forest school one morning a week which will facilitate outside play. I foster independence by having a work surface at Margo’s height and all the toys and books currently out on rotation accessible so she doesn’t need to ask me to play with anything. The only thing I need more bravery with is art materials. I don’t currently have those as open access but will normally get them out whenever she asks. Finally, I prioritize open ended toys which I feel fuels play.
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
Toy rotation I think is my best tip. Independent play is always at its peak for the few days after I have done it. Also linked to that I really prioritise open ended toys preferably made of natural materials, though I do make some exceptions for things like magnetic tiles. I find even though flashy battery toys may seem exciting to begin with the open-ended toys are what lasts the course and are played with over and over again.
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
Play dough and painting are asked for on daily basis so object play as well as socio dramatic play- with the play fabrics being put to a range of uses and the teddy bear is often on the potty, in a sling or breastfeeding.
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
Oh, that’s a hard one but I think I would choose building blocks, assortment of fabrics/play silks, unstructured time in nature- can I cheekily include nature finds with that one too?!
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
To have a childhood that is filled with magic, wonder, autonomy, beauty, simple pleasures and unstructured time.
If you would like to contribute to my next Advocates For Play Series, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.