One day in the art room, one child was playing with a toy car and began “driving” the car through the paint. Soon after, the rest of the class followed his lead and began “driving” their toy cars through the paint as well. The result was a beautiful collaborative art piece with vertical tracks across the page.
Instead of scolding the child for getting is toy car dirty with paint, the teachers continued to observe the interaction between the child and the paint, and eventually the other children joining in. The Reggio Emilia encourages children to learn from one another and freely explore material items in the world. So, instead of restricting children to “play” a certain way, we allow them to develop and play however they would like to, even if it means creating art by using a car as a paintbrush. Unstructured play for children is essential for development and learning. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, unstructured play gives children time to adjust to a new school setting and allows them to use their creativity, find out what they really like, acquire and practice their social skills, and solve problems.
According to the same report, play is so important to optimal child development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized play as a right of every child. We aren’t talking about soccer practice or playing a video game on an iPad… we’re talking about free and unstructured play where children can use toy cars in paint, make mud pies, splash in puddles, and allowing your child to play however with whatever they want!
During this activity, the children had some control over the direction of their learning, they were able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing, they were able to build a relationship with other children in the process, and the children had endless ways and opportunities to express themselves! When children are this young, you can’t ask them to get in groups to work on an art project. This activity was a completely organic and collaborative learning experience that gave the children an opportunity to play, learn, and create together!