Imagine with me:
Hear ridiculous babble of a preschooler as she moves characters and shapes around. She's got a wooden train carrying nativity-scene-baby-Jesus to San Diego to visit Maya. Better stop for Penelope! Your turn. Not your turn. I SAID you can't do that. You hold hands. Ok - down the slide!
She narrates this world into existence and, for a few moments, enters into it.
When my daughter does this, she is sorting her experiences to make sense of reality and she is rehearsing for future events. She's adding, deleting, stretching, and making meaning in her brain. It is a marvel; it is how we learn.
Here's the thing: she needs to have blank space to do this. Like all of us, she experiences pleasure from watching a screen. She also LOVES the noise that her battery-operated toys make. The handful of minutes that it takes for her to transition from "going" mode to this sweet place of productive play has many names, but most people call it boredom.
Boredom is that blank space that needs to stay blank while the playful brain warms up.
We as parents often short-circuit the play process because boredom is uncomfortable. Usually a mildly destructive or whiny behavior pops up around boredom. It is easy to jump in and entertain here with a screen, task, or the next activity of the day. I've been amazed at the results of simply saying "No, now is the time to play quietly by yourself."
What do you do to create the conditions for creative play? What kind of blank space do you make for the little ones in your world?