Hello, and welcome to the third interview in my second series of Advocates of Play. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Victoria Maus, mother to Eleanor and Phoebe. Thank you for sharing an insight into your home education journey with your daughters.
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
I’m Victoria, a former primary school teacher. I’m married to Andy and together we have two daughters, Eleanor and Phoebe. Eleanor is 8, Phoebe is 6 and we began our journey of home education together last September.
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?
Sadly, I can’t actually think of any positive play memories. I remember certain toys that I loved, but my experience of play as a child was that it shouldn’t be loud or messy. Most of my memories involve being scolded after playing for making too much mess and even having toys thrown away as a result of that.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
At college I did a nursery nurse qualification and then went to university to train to be a teacher, so I learned a great deal of theory about play. Once in the classroom however, I realised that we don’t actually give children all that many opportunities for play once they are out of the Foundation Stage. There isn’t time when tests are such a feature of the education system.
With my own children I wanted this to be different. I wanted to encourage play no matter what age they are. Now that our daughters are home educated there’s more time then ever for play and I’ve been fascinated to watch first-hand how much they learn through “just playing”.
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
We actually rearranged the house a little so that the girls could have a dedicated playroom, although we’re very lucky to be able to do that. Of course, play happens all over the house (and garden) anyway but it’s lovely to have that space.
Mostly play is encouraged by having resources and toys somewhere accessible. Everything is either kept in the girls’ bedroom or their playroom and it’s somewhere they can access it without having to ask.
Sometimes I think of an activity they might like to do, or maybe I’ll have bought something new, and in that case, I’ll set up an invitation to play. Sometimes they’ll join in, sometimes they won’t but I think giving them that choice is important.
Whenever the girls are using something in an unexpected way, I resist the urge to tell them the “correct” way to play with it. Instead I take an interest in what they’re doing and praise their creativity. Exploring is a huge part of play!
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
Let your child take the lead. Sit back and observe; don’t tell them how to play with something or suggest better ways of playing a game. If an adult constantly dominates play, I don’t think the child will want to play independently which is sad because they’re missing out on so many opportunities to learn through exploration.
Taking a step back and letting them play independently isn’t the same as ignoring them either. Quite often I’m in the same room as my girls, maybe working on the laptop or reading a book, but I check in with them and take an interest in what they’re playing.
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
Imaginative role play and small world acitivites seem to be a real hit at the moment. I love that because they’re both at an age right now where school would be encouraging them to stop.
At the moment, the girls have rediscovered their love for their IKEA kitchen. Every day they’re setting up a café, writing menus on their blackboard and inviting their cuddly toys to come and eat with them. What I love about this is that they’re taking real life scenarios and making sense of them through play; they even held job interviews for cuddly toys who wished to become the head chef!
Another favourite is their Grimm’s Rainbow. I wish I’d bought one years ago because I’m amazed at how it’s contributed to their imaginative play and it’s so open-ended. Currently it’s set up as dinosaur house, but later on it could become a spaceship, a park, or an obstacle course.
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
A Grimm’s Rainbow, play dough and art supplies.
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
I wish for my children to have a lifelong love of play, no matter what their age.
If you would like to contribute to my next Advocates of Play Series, please send me a message at email@example.com