Hello, and welcome to the fourth and final interview in my second series of Advocates of Play. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Katie Adams, mother to Annie and Maggie. Thank you for sharing an insight into your home education journey with your daughters.
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
Hello! My name is Katie. I live in a rural area of Missouri in the central part of the US. I am a stay at home mama to two sweet girls, Annie (3) and Maggie (1). My husband works as the Vice President for Student Life at Cottey College, an all-women, liberal arts college in our area. Before babies, I was a hospice and palliative care nurse and, who knows, someday I might go back to that. At this point in my life, my primary focus is home educating my children and doing my best to give them a slow, deliberate childhood where they are free to grow.
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?
My happiest memories of playing as a child were weekends spent at my grandparents' farm. My siblings and I had days of unstructured time and miles of land to roam and explore. Outside of the necessary rules for safety, we were free to do what we pleased. We made mud pies, built forts, and invented secret lands. We got lost, and found our way home again. We swam in the river, rode our bikes, and climbed the trees. There was no place where I felt braver, stronger, and more adventurous.
After my husband and I got married, we renovated and moved into my great-grandparents' old house on that very same farm. Now my girls will be able to grow up in the same place that had such a great impact on my childhood and who I am today.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
My passion for play really developed over the first couple of years in my journey as a parent. I slowly joined Facebook groups where I learned about different teaching philosophies and parenting styles. I devoured parenting books and blogs every night after my daughter went to bed. I became certain that I wanted to home educate and spent many hours exploring all of the homeschooling resources I could find.
Eventually, I became certain that fostering an environment where my daughters could learn through play was one of the most important things I could do for them. I am also a huge advocate for nature-based play. I believe that getting children outside everyday is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. The joy of my life is being home with my girls and watching them play and learn.
How would you describe your play philosophy?
Like Maria Montessori, I believe play is the work of the child. I feel that we should respect and protect the time that our children spend at play. I also believe that we, as parents and educators, have a responsibility to cultivate a play environment that is conducive to the needs of our individual children.
Who or what has influenced your perspective on play? Are there any books, blogs, Instagram accounts that you would recommend?
When I was first developing my perspective on play, I found a Facebook group called Wildschooling that made a huge impact on the way I viewed education. This was where I first heard of unschooling and it was my first exposure to a home educating community. Having been educated in a traditional public school setting, the idea was so incredibly new and foreign. However, there was something about the concept that really connected with me.
One day, someone in the Wildschooling group mentioned a curriculum that they used for nature study called Exploring Nature with Children. I researched and eventually purchased the curriculum and became a part of the associated online community. I learned about Invitations to Play and began following Rowan and her work. I also began to learn more about Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori. I was inspired by forest schools, Wildschooling, and gentle parenting. Bits and pieces of each of these philosophies have provided the foundation for my perspective on play and education.
Some of the most impactful books that I have read:
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
Creating an environment where my daughters are free to explore and play is always my number one goal when it comes to fostering quality play. For my one-year-old, this is basically creating a safe place for her to play independently. Janet Lansbury, one of my favorite authors on gentle parenting, talks about creating a “yes space” for our kids. One where they can play safely by themselves while you are not in the room. My daughter has safe, age-appropriate, open-ended toys that she can play with however she likes in her yes space.
My three-year-old also has a designated play space that provides her independence, as well as safety. I am very conscientious about the toys and materials that are available to her at any given time. She always has access to books, play dough, art supplies, and a home living imaginative play area. We also utilize a toy rotation system in our home. This past summer I took Invitation to Play’s online toy rotation course and it was wonderful in helping me refine our system.
Over the last couple of years, I have also been learning how to be an observer as my children play. I only insert myself if they ask me to participate or ask for my help. Even then, I try to be as minimal as I can so as not to interrupt the amazing places their minds are going.
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
My top tip for encouraging children to play independently is believing they can and believing that they should. When my first daughter was very young, I felt that it was my job to play with her and entertain her. It took me a long time to get over the feeling that I was somehow being neglectful if I wasn’t right there beside her every moment. Now I realize what a disservice that was to her! Children need the freedom to explore and learn without the ever-present watchful eye of an adult. Another more practical tip would be creating a yes space so they are able to play safely without worry.
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
I’ve noticed that my three-year-old’s play has been shifting a bit over the last few months. She is very interested in recreating experiences and role-playing. For instance, we recently went to the aquarium. In the week following the visit, she built aquariums, talked about fish, and pretended to be a person that works at an aquarium. It is an amazing thing to watch a child process life through play!
Over the last several weeks, I have also noticed that she has been wanting to look at books independently much more frequently. She will make up her own storylines based on the pictures as she’s a pre-reader. I always make sure to offer a different selection of books based on what she’s interested in at the time.
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
We have a set of large foam blocks for climbing and building that I purchased secondhand about a year ago. They have been, by far, our most played with toy ever! My three-year-old uses them to build castles, cars, hotels, whatever her mind dreams up. She stacks them, jumps off of them, climbs all over them. My one-year-old has used them as she’s learned to pull up, cruise, and walk. She is now able to climb on top of some of the smaller ones. I would definitely recommend trying to find these secondhand as they can be quite expensive new.
We love our outdoor mud kitchen! It gets used every single day no matter the season. My dad actually built ours with leftover materials that we had lying around our farm so it is extra special to us.
I am also a huge fan of play dough. We have a cart full of play dough and dough tools that my daughter can access anytime throughout the day. I love to watch her work as she creates things.
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
I wish all children had the time to grow and bloom organically with the freedom to really learn about themselves and what they love.
If you would like to contribute to my next Advocates of 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.