The hungry caterpillar: a cautionary tale (aka “How to destructure structured play”)

There seems to be a bit of a theme going on, both in my mind and in things I’m reading and things my friends are saying, about structured play and parental control. As it seems to affect many of us, I thought I’d post about it – it’s always good to know you’re not the only one!

The other day we made a caterpillar. Here is Dustyfeet adding some stickers to the caterpillar.

It looks like a fun craft but it was actually a complete failure for us. The problem was that I started out with an idea of what a caterpillar should look like, whereas Dustyfeet started out with glue and some circles (cut out of her old artwork – she quite likes using old paintings to make new things) and an inclination to spread them both around the place (and not necessarily even on the paper). When she realised I had my own ideas about how the circles should be glued, she switched off – she wasn’t interested in my agenda. I tried to involve her in colouring the caterpillar but she didn’t want to do that either.

Later, I gave Dustyfeet some stickers. She stuck a whole packet of stickers on the caterpillar picture, and then she peeled them all off and stuck them on the fridge. Then she peeled them all off the fridge and stuck them to her clothes and in her pockets. Dustyfeet’s ideas about what to do with stickers are different from mine, too – and having learnt my lesson about the caterpillar, I let her follow her own agenda with the stickers.

Today I came across this post and this one from No Time For Flashcards. It reminded me of our caterpillar, and that it really isn’t important if a craft or activity takes a completely different direction from the one anticipated. It’s much more important to enjoy the journey and to explore all the new avenues of play that open up along the way (within reason, of course, and our own boundaries for mess tolerance). As adults we can be very goal-focussed, whereas children are all about the process, about picking up bits of stick and leaves on the way to the shop rather than getting to the shop quickly to buy whatever it is we need to buy and hurry home again.

The thermometer hit 50 degrees here a couple of days ago and has stayed there. Dustyfeet and I are indoors all the time and everything, even her favourite fingerpainting, is starting to get a bit stale. We need both structured activities and free play to get us through the days, but a structured activity should be a space in which we can both discover new ways of playing, not a series of steps that we have to follow. I’m not quite sure how we’re going to fill the next three weeks before we leave Gulf Town for the summer, but I will aim to post about activities that are child-led rather than would-be-artistic mother-led, and in which Dustyfeet has been able to find her own ways of being creative without me trying to confine her to my own boxes. Wish me luck!

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2 Responses to The hungry caterpillar: a cautionary tale (aka “How to destructure structured play”)

  1. isadori says:

    I was thinking about this the other day after a frustrating crafting session! I must try to chill out a bit more but I get sooooo fed up with drawing train tracks that I really, really wanted to make something different this time! Will be really interested to see what you two end up doing…

    (Issi from BLW forum – hello!)

  2. DaisyMae says:

    I’m just catching up with the posts I missed, and this one struck home. I homeschooled our girls through to graduation and the dilemma you describe was chronic for us. It took me awhile to truly understand “delight-directed learning” and how it works. It didn’t help that my “mess tolerance” is almost zero. lol But we got it right eventually, and the result is lovely, amazing adult girls who think for themselves and who are very creative problem solvers. I believe children think this way naturally, and we adults train them out of it. *sigh*

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