The Importance of Open-Ended Play: Fostering Creativity through Coding

The following is adapted from First Time Coders.

As our world moves from the analog to the digital, open-ended play during childhood is disappearing. Parents are rightfully concerned and often point to screens as the problem. Computers, smartphones, and iPads certainly have a role in this disappearance of play, but they also provide a potential solution: coding education.

When people think about coding, they often think about lines of mind-numbing code on a computer screen, where a single typo can make everything stop working. Coding certainly requires logical, detail-oriented thinking, but far more than people realize, it requires and builds creativity. 

In this article, I’ll explain why open-ended play is so important and how you can encourage play and creativity in your child’s life using coding.


An Increasingly Digital Childhood

For most parents, their childhood was spent tinkering with various elements, like blocks or a paintbrush. Children in the analog age explored and expressed their creativity with pencils and crayons and a blank sheet of canvas. Their minds developed through open-ended exploration. Computers existed, but they were bulky, slow, and mostly out of reach for children.

Today, mobile devices are changing childhood. Instead of being handed a crayon or paintbrush, children are now given an iPad to explore their creativity.

Kids under the age of nine years old spend more than two hours a day on screens, according to a report by Common Sense Media released in 2017. The report shared that 42 percent of children eight years and younger have their own tablet devices, a steep increase from 7 percent in 2013 and less than 1 percent in 2011.

While there are many benefits that come with technology and access to it, a huge part of a child’s free time is now taken up by the passive consumption of technology—playing games on the iPad or watching YouTube videos.


Importance of Open-Ended Play and Cultivating Creativity

While playing, children develop their thinking, learning, and problem-solving skills. They also engage in social interaction and creativity. Different toys and games impact a child’s development in different ways. Research from Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, of the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, has demonstrated that open-ended toys (blocks, paint easels, toy cars, doctor kits, etc.) lend themselves to developing thinking skills, social interaction, creativity, and verbalization more than complex or narrowly focused toys.

Open-ended play materials allow children to make choices, express their creativity, and support their independence. Open-ended materials by definition do not have a predetermined use. A block can be a car, phone, doll’s chair, ice cream bar, or any number of other things in play. It is through these experiences that children are able to learn best.

This creativity and open-ended learning is critical today and will be even more so in the future. Many skills are becoming more automated, and the future will require that people think outside the box, with creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving.


The Solution: Coding

If you feel that your child is engaging with passive content and it is starting to impact them negatively, you have two possible choices. One is to limit their screen time, the other is to introduce them to coding. Coding allows you to give creativity back to your child by allowing them to create a game or an app or anything that they imagine. The sky’s the limit when it comes to coding, and this is empowering for children when they’re at an age where their imagination is running wild. They are always exploring and imagining stories. 

Childhood encompasses the most creative years of one’s life. In the analog age, it was easier to engage in a creative childhood because most toys, given their analog nature, were more open-ended. In today’s world, digital toys and games are typically more restrictive and close-ended. In this type of digital childhood, coding is a fantastic way to foster open-ended play and creativity, giving children the opportunity to create with a blank canvas, only with a computer instead of with paper.

For more advice on how to incorporate play into coding education for kids, you can find First Time Coders on Amazon.

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