Adult Influence on Children’s Creative Play



Last fall, my daughter made this turkey (pictured right) in school. She was quite proud of it, and very specifically explained which parts she did and which parts her teacher did. She happily indicated where her teacher placed a few feathers and adjusted the eyes. Although I was slightly bummed that what my daughter perceived as her own work wasn’t really hers, I shrugged off the experience.


Recently, Greysen wanted a “bird” that she could perch on her finger. I offered watercolor paper (for its rigidity), and she chose a dark-colored marker to draw it. I also suggested pipe cleaners as a possible way to hold the bird in place atop her fingers.  Again, my daughter perceived the work entirely as her own and was proud of the way the bird looked in the end.


Two very different creatures, both made with care, intention, and pride. What’s the difference to the child?


The Turkey Takeover Versus the Helpful Resource
Ok, the turkey project was not taken over, but it was entirely teacher directed. Greysen’s project was, in part, done for her, with materials not chosen by her. The adult gave instruction on where aesthetic pieces should be placed, influencing the overall appearance of this craft.  Aside from its distinct beak, her turkey was nearly identical to the rafter of turkeys it dried alongside atop the kitchen table.


In the second scenario, my intention was to serve as a resource to my daughter. Having knowledge of materials that she was unfamiliar with, I suggested the use of pipe cleaners, as well as stiff paper to support her ideas. All other aesthetic choices were hers.


I refrained from suggesting the use of additional colors or materials, even though we have potentially “bird-ish” materials such as faux feathers and yellow pipe cleaners.


In the end, it is irrelevant whether it looks like a bird to anyone else to her. After all, she was the one who was going to use it.


Product versus process and craft versus open-ended conversations aside, an adult’s role during the creative process can teach children something about adults’ roles in their lives. Children will learn that adults can and should direct them at times. However, we also need opportunities for adults to prove themselves to be resources too. We can show children that we believe in their ideas just as they are and do not need to “fix” or outline their play step-by-step.


Play is the place for children to try out their ideas, to make two-dimensional black birds with unattached claws, or towers that will tumble, or marble runs that won’t work. The pride they feel when their bird is done, or their tower stacked, will persist rather than diminish as it may as they age and come to realize the adult’s role in their work. By supporting a child as they create, we also have a chance to support a child’s self-satisfaction and promote feelings of competence.




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