Extensive research has shown that the two most powerful factors of home environments that promote learning are:
Moreover, the impact of these two factors increases as children mature.
That's why the Interact, Understand, and Expand buttons next to each activity in this site offer ideas for parental involvement with children's play. You will find ideas for interacting with your child as he or she plays with the activity, information on how the activity can stimulate creative thinking, and suggestions for continuing the activity's learning with books, field trips, home projects, and more.
In addition to interaction with you, children need adequate time to think their own thoughts. Often, a private space can encourage such thinking. For additional inspiration, consider providing a space for your child outdoors, when and where safety allow.
Contemporary play materials often take electronic form through computers or television. In both cases, interaction with adults is critical for helping children make sense of their electronic experiences. A 2003 study of computer use in schools found computers are misused or ineffective when teachers fail to assist children with the technology. Other recent reports show that children who watch television alone in their rooms do worse in school than those who view programs in areas shared with family members.
Here are some general principles for helping your family get the most from electronic media:
For further information, the PBS TeacherSource Web site has an excellent Media Literacy resource.
Play materials need not be expensive. Most parents are familiar with stories of children receiving elaborate toy presents and having just as much fun playing with the box the toy came in. One mother saved a large but shallow round cookie tin and filled it with beach sand to have a sand table in her apartment.
Try to find ways to say yes to messy explorations when you can. Mrs. Spielberg apparently cooked cherries for her eleven-year-old son Steven to make ooze from her kitchen cabinets for a horror movie he wanted to make. Still, respect your own temperament and know your own limits regarding mess because happy parents are also good for kids.
As you engage in your child's creative explorations, you will learn a great deal, not only about the topic at hand but also about your child. And when it comes to perceptual flexibility (seeing things differently), you will get a fresh look at anything if you follow your child's point of view.
For more information about ways parents can provide for creative development, see the related articles:
Goleman, D., Kaufman, P. & Ray, M. (1992) The Creative Spirit: Companion to the PBS Television Series. New York: Dutton.
Gottfried, A. W. & Brown, C. C., editors. (1986) Play Interaction: The Contributions of Play Materials and Parental Involvement to Children's Development. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Howard, P. J. (2000) The Owner's Manual for the Brain. Austin, TX: Bard Press.
Oppenheimer, T. (2003) The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning can be Saved.
Singer, D. G. & Singer, J. L. (2005) Imagination and Play in the Electronic Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Smith, S. M., Ward, T. B. & Finke, R. A. (1997) The Creative Cognition Approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.