Children playing on toy train

Riding the Child-Led Play Train

Kennedy Kincaid picture About the Author
Kennedy Kincaid is our Talent Training Manager. Prior to joining Great Kids as a Trainer in 2022, she worked as a home visitor using the Growing Great Kids Curriculum. Outside of work, she enjoys visiting local shops, playing board games, and baking!

“Choo! Choo!” my nephew Scotty* called out, “Auntie, come get on the train!” As I made my way into the family room, I saw Scotty instructing my sister where the ticketing line started, eager for us to hop aboard the train. As we each sat in our assigned seats, our train grew longer and longer as we all joined in on the fun! 

The best part of this train adventure was that it was entirely child-led. As Scotty led our imaginative journey, it highlighted the enchanting quality of child-led play: spontaneity. It does not follow any scripts, nor is it pre-determined; instead, it is driven by the child’s imagination. During our train expedition, Scotty took the lead with his enthusiastic invitation, and we found ourselves on a voyage, exploring his creative twists and turns.

Child-led play allows kids to explore their interests and make choices. In the case of our train adventure, Scotty wasn’t just playing- he was the conductor and the creative director of our theatrical performance. He decided who got on the train, where it was headed, and even what sound effects accompanied our journey. This empowered him, boosted his confidence, and built stronger relationships with his caregivers!

The beauty of child-led play lies in its ability to foster crucial skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. As we chugged along on our imaginary train, we encountered various scenarios that required Scotty to put on a thinking cap. Should we go through the tunnel made of draped blankets or take the scenic route around the couch? Scotty’s decisions shaped our adventure and encouraged him to think critically and collaboratively.

Child-led play is a powerful tool for social and emotional development. In our train escapade, roles naturally emerged, and cooperation became the key to a successful journey. Scotty was learning to communicate effectively, share his ideas, and consider the feelings of his fellow passengers (aka, his aunts and uncles). These social interactions can greatly benefit him in the future by improving empathy, teamwork, and interpersonal skills.

Beyond the immediate joy and laughter, child-led play lays the foundation for a love of learning. When we give children the autonomy to explore their interests and express their creativity, we support them to develop a passion for learning that will last a lifetime. Our train adventure was a journey with an unknown destination and endless possibilities, fueled by imagination, cooperation, and problem-solving, all wrapped up in the delightful package of play. In these moments of child-led play, we discover the ticket to a brighter and more imaginative future! All aboard the train to endless possibilities!

Check out our Next Generation Preschool curriculum, with engaging child-led play ideas to inspire and foster a child’s natural curiosity and creativity.

*Name has been changed for privacy purposes

Sources:

https://www.seattlechildrens.org/health-safety/keeping-kids-healthy/development/child-directed-play/

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/follow_the_leader_child_led_play

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