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Child Initiated Activities

A child initiated activity is something that your child chooses to do independently. Please note; an adult saying go and play in the garden, or, let’s do some painting, is adult initiated!

It is during child initiated activities that we get to see in the windows of our children’s brains, because concepts and knowledge that they have understood from all subjects gets acted out in their play. It is also a chance for your child to demonstrate and practice the Characteristics of Effective Learning. These are the crucial learning behaviours and attitudes people need to be successful learners.

As their imagination and creativity develops they will be able to construct more complex situations and stories, requiring more resources to be combined.

Listen to the story they are narrating as they play. Does it make sense? Are they mispronouncing words? Do they have all the necessary vocabulary in their repertoire? This is where you need to join in with their play to model what it should look like. If your child chooses a craft / model idea for their CIA, encourage them to play with it once it’s made, or find and prepare the resources independently. This helps them deconstruct an idea to individual parts so they can recognise the stages that are needed. Playing with it helps the review and evaluation process, where flaws in their design are highlighted and rectified. If you present them with all of the resources perfectly cut out the activity becomes an instruction following one or a jigsaw to fit together. This activity is the same as providing your child with pages of sums to do.

This will not help them practice the vital critical thinking skills needed to solve maths questions. They do not need to sift through their ideas or knowledge and choose the most appropriate for the task in hand, they have all the components handed to them. If all pieces are perfect, they never feel the frustration of not cutting accurately in order for the pieces fit together, therefore importance of accuracy is not practised, vital for science and maths. They will not ‘feel’ mistakes, perseverance, satisfaction etc. It is this ‘feeling’ that they will remember and learn from.

This type of play takes self-confidence, imagination, problem solving, initiative and creativity. All essential skills for traditional subjects such as English, Maths, Science and Art.

Week 4 of Aiming for one idea to last all week!

By now your child should be able to adapt and change their play so that it keeps their interest over 3-5 days.

As always if they are finding this difficult, work from the level they are at and build slowly.

If your child is sticking to the same sorts of activities you really need to begin to encourage them how they could work in a different way. The more varied and diverse their thinking is the better. This demonstrates good creativity and imaginative skills.

If your child always looks to you to provide ideas, examples or fixes, encourage them to think for themselves and try their own idea first. Step in and help after they have tried. This encourages problem solving and perseverance.


CIA is different to your child relaxing, having ‘down time’. CIA should be a deep level of play, displaying levels of concentration, immersion in the activity, not easily distracted, providing opportunities of challenge. Working and thinking at a level just above them.

Relaxing play is at a lower, less demanding level.

Your child needs periods of both. The more accomplished they become, the more the elements of their CIA play transfer to their relaxing play.

A summary of the learning stages of CIA:

Flitting from one thing to another

Repetitive play, over reliance on something they feel confident with.

Rigid/ structured play, unwilling to compromise, change tact. Desperate to explain why their way is the best / right way.

Play with a variety of toys / situations, but in isolation; only the trains, only the kitchen, only the bike/scooter etc.

Combine resources naturally and independently beginning afresh each day.

Revisit a previous game / scenario and repeat it.

Play with same game, adapting and evolving over several days using a range of toys.

Make / improvise resources or props to play with. The satisfaction and pride coming from within, I have made something I need to help me play my game. (Rather than the satisfaction coming from the praise received for the outcome, I have made something, maybe unrelated to any game, now tell me how good it is/clever I am!) Adults should always try and praise the process / effort / thinking involved, not just the finished product / outcome.