play tent

Bag the Plan and Let the Creativity Begin!

I have been an OT treating children for (gulp!) 25+ years and still enjoy thinking about my clients and planning the “perfect” session. Sometimes, it seems that the best sessions are the ones that happen if I am willing to let go of MY play. Yesterday was one of those days in our Social Adventures group.

Karen and I planned to continue working on the skills we emphasized the previous week with our 5 and 6 year olds. However, when 2 of the 6 children were out sick, the make up of the group changed. In addition, one girl spontaneously began crying and couldn’t tell us why and another tents boy explained that he was tired while a third child suddenly had to leave to go to the bathroom. Karen and I decided to let the kids have “buddy play” time in the gym rather than follow through with our plan since the kids all seemed to need to experience some freedom and success.

I don’t know how, but a camping theme emerged as each child began creating their “tent”. When the girls chose the play tent, the boys began finding items around the room to build their tents. Cardboard blocks, blankets, furniture, and mats all magically became. The kids found items to use for a campfire ring, fishing rods, butterfly nets, and a lake for swimming. They picked berries and cooked, swam and climbed. They worked alone or in pairs at times but always called the others over to share a meal or activity. When it was time to sleep, they made sure everyone was ready to sleep at the same time and to wake up together. The planning, organizing, sequencing, and sharing of all these actions, and using their bodies in space while moving constantly around each other was fantastic! Practice using objects representationally and
sometimes miming as in charades was so helpful to these kids who struggle with visualization and imitation.

Conflicts arose as they usually do when kids play together, however, these conflicts gave us the perfect opportunity to work on all of their goals. We worked with the kids on initiating interactions, helping them ask to join another child’s activity if they didn’t know what to do. We worked with them on advocating and compromising when 2 kids wanted to use the same materials or tent space. The kids practiced negotiating space, as their swim noodles became fishing poles. Throughout the session, each child seemed to need some time alone. We worked with the others in respecting their friend’s need assuring them that the friend would come back when he or she was ready… and they always did! Theory of mind was tackled often from both the cognitive and emotional perspectives. Why is that child mad? Why do you think that friend went to be alone? What do you think that friend wants? We frequently heard, “But I was just going to use that!” and
needed to talk about how other people don’t know what you are thinking.

We could not have planned this activity. The kids generated and executed the plan, which resulted in a tremendous amount of creativity, collaborative play, and feelings of competence. There is nothing like pretend play! Without planning too much, I hope we can do it again next week!

submitted by:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

*Like the ideas in this post? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.

Photo by: Lars Plougmann 

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