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Child initiated

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:

Week 3 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.


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.


The real skill of the adult is to know when to step in and help.

Help too quickly and you will teach them ‘I get a little stuck = I ask for help and hey presto it’s done! I cannot do this without adult help.’  Perseverance, problem solving, resilience, initiative, independence, assessing, evaluating, analysing, critical thinking and many, many more invisible learning opportunities are all lost.


Help too slowly and you will end up with frustration, lack of enjoyment and a loss of interest, ‘I am never going to be able to do this, it’s too hard for me. I have to stick with what I know.’ The same learning opportunities as above are lost.

The key is to offer assistance (if they refuse your help, resist the urge to take over, but offer again in a couple of minutes) and help with just that step. Enough help to get them over the hurdle. Demonstrate a technique or teach a skill and then retract again, letting your child practice and refine the technique.


You may have to ‘helicopter’ in help several times during the game, activity and then leave your child to it. If you sit next to them narrating, immediately fixing problems or making suggestions you’re reaffirming your child needs you to be successful. Even statements such as; “oh look, that’s not sticking properly”, “how many wheels do you need? That’s right, 4” (pointing to their position as you count), “is that bridge going to be strong enough?” you are scaffolding their thinking and drawing their attention to what they should be focusing on. They have not independently tested their ideas and tried to come up with their own solutions. 


If you only praise, photograph, share the finished article - the outcome- your child learns that this is what you consider important. You believe this is good, correct, what you value. In this way they are less likely to experiment, explore, and push out of their comfort zone for fear of not getting it right, and not getting the recognition they have come to crave /look for.

Generally speaking, the more perfect something looks, the more adult assistance has taken place.

As adults we must make sure we are praising, recognising and valuing the process, effort, independent thought that has taken place. Ask your child if they are happy with it, what they would like to alter, change next time.


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.