The Playful Parents

Love at Play

Playful Dialogues 1: A Children’s Play Museum Expert Shares


As part of The Playful 16 journey, I will be featuring regular chats with children play experts from various fields. My first Playful Dialogue is with Jennifer, Director and Co-founder of Playeum. Playeum has won  the Drawing Inspiration Award (UK) and the Trailblazer Award (UK) for its Big Draw Events in previous years.

I first encountered and experienced their work through Play Dome at the National Museum of Singapore in 2010. Since then, I have been rather intrigued by the Playeum’s efforts in trying to encourage and nurture the creative spirits of  children.

So as you read this short dialogue, I hope will you find Jennifer’s inputs helpful and thought-provoking as you play with your children.

What does ‘PLAY’ mean to you and your child?

TPP: Our Prime Minister in the recent National Day rally talked about the importance of play and playful learning. But regarding creativity and play, many parents say : We aren’t creative enough. We don’t have time. Eek! Too much mess! So much homework, where got time to play? What would you like us parents to know about creativity and play?

Jennifer:  We come from a culture where play is thought to be an activity that happens separately from work. A simple change in perception of what play needs to be can already open up many opportunities to do so in our daily lives. However, play is such an important part of each child (and adult’s!) life that play has been acknowledged as a right of all children by the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

Thus, it is crucial that time is set aside regularly for a child to be involved in unstructured play.

There are many types of play. Play which allows for most creative expression, and social and emotional development comes in the form of child-directed play. This form of play essentially is driven by the child’s interest, reasoning and the resources available to him.

By resources, we do not mean that a parent needs to provide a child with many material things for play to happen. Resources could take the form of time, space and the availability of an adult or child companion(s). This is opposed to adult-defined, adult-led play.

TPP:  Other than taking children to quality art programmes, how we can play and get creative with our children on a regular basis? How can we encourage our children to be playful learners?

Play comes very naturally with children. They often find play opportunities in things that adults sometimes do not. A child can take a piece of paper and create a world of soldiers and castles by tearing it into little pieces.

 IF they were allowed to tear the paper and make piles of scraps in the first place. If parents recognise that children have the ability to create their own play, without intervening because they are afraid of mess or that they think it needs to happen only at certain times or with certain outcomes, they will notice that there are many opportunities for children to engage in play. (Play Chief Sarah says: This just reinforces my conviction about the Power of The Magic If, which I recently wrote about.)

Adults can partake in that play together with the child, for example, by asking the child if there is a role he can take on in the activity, and then allow the child to decide on the outcomes and direction of the play.

Children naturally learn as they play. Most of the times, this is not measurable, such as social skills. Sometimes, it is learning particular engineering feat as how blocks need to be stacked up for the structure to stay stable or how twigs can be propped up against each other to create tepees. So the most important thing to do to encourage playful learning is simply to allow for space and time for play!

TPP: Complete this sentence - The best creative material we can give our children are…


Space! By space, we mean an environment where a child can feel free to create his own hypotheses and experiment without feeling like he will be judged. This is important, especially since our children are already exposed to so many adult-directed environments where the children are simply told what to do and fed information.

Other than space, odds and ends of everyday materials are great for creative projects. The less the object can be identified with a particular use, the more it takes for a child to imagine what the object can be used for, thus it opens a whole new set of possibilities for a single “odd or end”!

TPP: Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing your passion about bringing play back into our children’s lives!

Play Chief Sarah reflects:

I don’t know about you, but I feel challenged myself to relook at my daily rhythm in my home with my children to see if I’m being a hindrance or an encourager of their freeplay.

Like I’ve said many times before, while I’m no neat-freak, I also have a rather low threshold of paint. I have had NOT had any painting sessions in the past few months until last Saturday, preparing for a new Playful Challenge, that I mustered up the courage to ‘face mess’ and brought out the paints!

I also sometimes get ‘Kiasu-Mom’ attacks where I go ‘ What’s the learning point in this activity? How can I make sure he learns Math or Science here? How can I incorporate meaningful learning here?’ when all my kids want, and need, is the freedom to explore, to play. Isn’t all play meaningful and purposeful in itself?

Let’s Hear Your Thoughts!

  • Do you have specific fears about allowing your children to have free and unstructured play?
  • What are the greatest obstacles you face in yourself in engaging in free play with your children?
  • What do you think of Jennifer’s suggestion to give our children ‘space’ to experiment and form their own theories to test, and to refrain from interfering with our comments and judgements? For example, when we know that the paste is NOT going to be strong enough to do the sticking job he wants. Do we say, “NO! That’s the wrong glue.(Point out error) Use this! (solve his problem for him) “, or do we allow him to try, fail and rethink strategies?”

I would love to hear your challenges and strategies in including regular play in your family life.


  1. Feel so vindicated of my bo-chupness in letting her free play hours on end. Like.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for putting together this article!

    My reflection on the questions you posted:

    No, I have no fear on allowing my kids for unstructured and free play
    Maybe they are still young (4.5yo and 3yo), till now, all we do with them are unstructured play and child-led activities. Hope we can go on for as long as possible.

    Initially, I did worry if they have learnt enough and also suffer from peer pressure. Now we have got over that. For now, my problem is i don’t have enough energy after a full working day to play with them or to prepare materials and tools for them, which i used to do often. I really should do something.

    We have read a wonderful book written by a famous Japanese author and early childhood educator (translated chinese version). That book influenced us a lot. Yes, we give them the “space” , we do not point out thier “mistake” and let them do or draw or paint whatever tjey want to.

    To me, parents involvement is very important, as in be there by their side when they are playing. They would want to share something or they might have questions to ask, and that’s how they learn.

    • Hi Kam! Thanks for sharing your reflection. I totally identify with the parental pressure bit. Just being there with your children is already very important, especially since your time with them is so precious. I am sure your children feel very loved when you spend those hours after work with them in spite of your tiredness. You’re doing great Mummy!

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