In the zone

As adults we sometimes enthusiastically share our experiences of being “in the zone” or “in flow” – it’s a real blessing when we can say that those times are during our work time. We become unaware of time passing and the people around us, instead we feel really alive, loose ends seem to fall into place, and things are right in our world. When we come up for air, we feel we have achieved something really meaningful. When did you first feel this way – do you remember what you were doing?

I think one of the greatest learning opportunities for pre-schoolers happens when they are “in the zone”, so absorbed in playing that they become unaware of  their surroundings. As they become immersed in the activity in front of them, they inadvertently learn about size, colour, shapes, textures, differences & similarities, that objects fit into holes, what the world they inhabit feels like to their touch (and whether they like it or not), what effect they can have on their environment, how things fit together and don’t. On top of this, their brains have the opportunity to order their other daily experiences, and to assign some meaning to them.(Something we can all benefit from at this time!) Different kids have this experience with different activities. It can happen when children play with water, sand, mud, play dough, Lego, cars, dolls, building blocks, beads, crayons, books, paint, dress-up clothes, musical instruments, stones, kitchen utensils…It usually involves a child being drawn to a specific activity, and playing for some time on their own.

As parents we can feel pressurised to provide just the right kind of stimulation for our children to develop their perceptual skills, to read the right books to develop their language skills, to spend quality time with them to develop their emotional and relational skills…and all of these things are important. But sometimes our kids just need to be and not do something productive; to learn to entertain themselves, and not be entertained by us or a screen. How can we facilitate this?

I believe the key is in providing the kind of safe environment where there are a few options to explore, and no pressure to keep things tidy and in their place for now. Today, there may be a pile of small rocks in one corner, some home-made play dough on a table, a soft toy on a cuddly blanket on the floor. Tomorrow it may be a bowl of luke-warm water with plastic cups outside, crayons and paper on the table, and some toy cars on the blanket on the floor. Some children will try out all possibilities, some will repeatedly make the same choices. There is no wrong or right, or expectation by an adult. (In fact, it is probably a good idea for the parent to be busy with their own activity nearby.) It’s about the opportunity for your child to discover – our amazing world, their own interests, their ability to do something on their own. Oh, and just a tip, give your children a ten minute heads-up that this time is going to end, before expecting them to move on positively to the next activity, even if it is something as appealing as lunch!

While you facilitate this process for them, you may rediscover a doorway into experiencing “the zone” for yourself too…What gives you that experience now?

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