At a free festival last weekend a wealth of activities were available to tempt children to explore. As we shaped balls of mud, filled with a mix of plant seeds, an angelically-dressed toddler sat smearing thick layers of vibrant paint with a large brush, totally absorbed in the process. Miraculously her pretty white dress escaped re-decoration, although judging by her paint-smeared lips and hands later, her painting had been a full bodied experience!

Another tent offered a range of recycled and craft materials which children were using for unfettered creativity, like the 2 – 3 year old scooping handful after handful of red glitter. Watching this child burying their glue-daubed paper beneath a pile of glitter, before his mother tipped it back into the pot, made me question how often we really give agency to children in their use of resources like this. I for one know I’ve been guilty of occasionally rationing the glitter!

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In this tent, sheets of plasticised foam (the type you clad pipes with) were being cut into strips to create crowns, before being embellished and adorned with an array of materials, beads, sequins and feathers. As my 9 year old explored paint effects before creating her own crown it would have been easy to criticise my 6 year old who was busy cutting up one such strip of foam into small squares for no apparent reason. In fact, allowing him to continue revealed that far from wanton or aimless destruction the product of his toil was a set of foam squares each with a foam hand stuck on one side, real mastery of fine motor skills! He proudly showed me the set of foam paint stamps that he’d created from the wealth of resources. Not only was this an inspired and innovative use of the resources available but it vividly revealed the importance of giving children agency over their own creative explorations.

Yes some gorgeous and very individual crowns for princesses (and even an archbishop’s mitre) were made that day but, left to their own devices, children’s creativity and sense of adventure will often shine through in surprising ways.

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