The three Ps – Play, Possibility and Performativity

In this first of a three-part series of posts relating to creativity, I look at how closely the process of Play is related to creative thought.

The process of PLAY
Our understanding of early childhood and the way in which children learn originates from the theories behind research, described by Penn (2004) as being “the organising ideas that bring a number of facts together, and suggest which facts are relevant and should be included and which are irrelevant and should be left out”. By exploring theories of child development, it becomes evident that developmental psychology historically dictated, through positivist scientific methods, the way in which we viewed the capacity and the capabilities of children and how, an ‘ages and stages’ approach, has gradually been replaced with theories embedded in context and collaboration.

More recently, research in developmental neuroscience has revolutionised our ideas about childhood; how children’s brains are different to those of adults and “how the transformation from early play-based learning to later, more focused goal-directed planning takes place neurologically” (Gopnik, 2016). One of the greatest discoveries reported by Alison Gopnik (2016), an American Professor of Psychology, has been that “even very young children can imagine new possibilities and consider new ways they themselves, or the world around them, could be”. The concept of playing to a child is spontaneous and natural; it is “what you do when you’re not trying to do anything” (Gopnik, 2016). Through play, children investigate and explore the world, testing their own theories and co-constructing knowledge with others, creatively using tools for thinking and learning.

This emphasis on the importance of creativity and imagination is not new however. Even as far back as the 19th century, Friedrich Froebel, a German educationalist, recognised that children learn best when they are provided with opportunities to interact with physical objects and their environment, signalling a shift in focus from a “broadcast model of education to an interactive model” (Resnick, 2017). Early childhood is therefore considered to be a crucial time for the development of creativity and imagination. Being creative, does not purely mean acting artistically, it means analysing and arranging information obtained through experience, and, making for the first time, a connection which that person has not previously made. Creativity utilises a child’s imagination to explore the possibilities and is a practical as well as a conceptual process, whilst being imaginative is inextricably linked to being able to think and act in a creative way and is arguably the basis for critical thought.

By taking a social constructivist view of the way in which children learn, we see that through the process of play, taking risks and making mistakes, a child becomes an active participant in the learning process and is therefore more likely to be intrinsically motivated to persevere, to think for themselves and to be creative.

Gopnik, A. (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. London: The Bodley Head.

Penn, H. (2004). Understanding Early Childhood. (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Resnick, M. (2017). Lifelong Kindergarten. London: The MIT Press.


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