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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.


This week:

Aiming for one idea to last all week!

This week we are going to consolidate your child’s CIA skills. The aim is to identify their starting point and progress from there. As with all activities, the more guidance/ prompts needed from you the more practice they need.

As your child’s independence, initiative and creativity improve they will find it easier to develop their CIA without too much adult guidance.

With young children it is vital that the adults continually assess which level the child is working at. You must go from here and build on this knowledge and skills. If you rush your child on, they may appear to understand but this is short term.

Therefore, if your child is still flitting from one toy / activity to another only spending 5/10 minutes at each, you must begin here and encourage them by playing alongside them thinking your ideas aloud which they can mimic.

If your child is at the stage where they play similar games every day, you have to play something completely different next to them, with lots of “wow!” and “brilliant” murmurs from yourself. This will peak their interest and they may choose to join you or choose this the next time, especially if you can rope someone else in to play along and tell you how amazing it is, impressed they are!

Please note: If your child plays similar games, they will only practice similar skills and thinking. It helps to think about the learning that is happening, not the game, to see if this is occurring. For example; building Lego kits, board games, jigsaws, craft kits, games on tablets where the pieces are provided, all follow similar patterns. Your child has to follow steps / instructions to complete the game, there is a finish point. All of these are practising following instructions, sequences. There are very few opportunities for your child to evaluate, reassess.

It is the same if your child dresses up and then re- enacts a story/ episode they know. Or dresses up, announces “I’m Snow White/ Elsa/ Spiderman” and then goes about their usual play that has nothing to do with the character!

Begin at the point your child is naturally at, independently without your suggestions, and go from here. Children progress at different points and speeds, some need lots of practice at one point and not another.

So..... If your child has successfully gone through all of these developmental milestones they should be able to play and develop a game using a mixture of toys and resources. It should evolve and change and move through several parts (chapters). It may need another environment; a shop, police station, modes of transport. These adaptations take several days, with lots of trial and error.


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.