Play, Reflect, Represent

At Numala Kinder Nature Play I encourage children to participate in the reflection and documentation of their own play, whether that be in family day care, playgroup or at Nature Day Camps. Even my own children at home create visual representations of their thinking and creating! It seems natural for us to reach for paper and art materials when we have an idea, and in this way the visual arts become an integral part of our thinking processes.

I’d like to share with you a visual representation and creative plan created by my son when he was 8 years old. At this stage my son was reading and writing a little, however with his hearing loss this learning had been slow and he still preferred to communicate visually.

He’d been sick for a week, though I knew he was starting to feel better when he was lying on the couch looking at a pile of felt circles I had been cutting out.  He asked me what they were for and I replied that I wasn’t sure yet – I just didn’t want to waste my scraps and they were too bulky to store so I was cutting them into shapes that I could use later. He was staring at them so intently, and about 10 minutes later he got up to do some drawing. About half an hour later he came back with a big grin on his face, and two pages of visual instructions:

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I was so impressed with his conceptual layout of the process. This is the kind of stuff we did in high school art classes: visualise the concept, plan it out and then create it. Can you work it out?

1) Tie a knot on the end of your thread

2) Thread the needle

3 – 9) add circles of varying diameters

10) use your (left-handed) scissors to cut the thread

11) tie a knot on the end

12) your finished item should be a stack of circles from largest to smallest.

His threaded stack of felt circles isn’t a new idea at all of course – I had intended to use them for threading eventually. He didn’t know that, however, and his plan was completely his own: an accurate representation of his thinking processes. At another time I might have helped him add written instructions or labels to his plan, however as he was feeling unwell and his plan was already so clear, we didn’t do that this time.


In the Numala Kinder Nature Play playgroup and family day care programs I like to support the young children I work with in a similar way. At 3 – 5 years of age, however, we might use visual representation in a less formal way to explore the idea of visually representing play. We reflect on their play or creations, rather than to plan their play. In this way we begin to practice logic, order, sequencing, as well as reflecting on successes, unplanned events, surprise discoveries and mistakes that may have occurred along the way. The children eventually become ready to begin planning their play and creations, and with my older family day care jarjums I might challenge them to create a plan before they play now and then. We occasionally begin our day by reviewing our previous journal entries, making a new decisions based upon our discussion.


2016-06-05-12.51.50.jpg.jpegWhen reflecting on play, and creating a visual representation of their play process we tend to gather together before lunch with our journals. We do not reflect this way every single day (sometimes we just play and play and play) but if it has been a game, theme or creation the children have been revisiting, it is good to spend some time looking at how it has developed. I might have an informal conversation with children while we look back at photos and other entries in their book. I might demonstrate a way they could record their play while we talk – such as a flow chart, cartoon sequence, or a collection of images and thoughts that we collate. I might ask questions like “what was your first idea? what did you need? how did that go? did you have to make some changes?”. Together we will all use a variety of art materials in our journals to record the happenings of the mornings play. I always encourage children to add their own words, thoughts and images and I record children’s comments for them if they don’t feel like they are able to do it for themselves.2016-06-05-12.44.21.jpg.jpeg

For my older Numala Nature Day Camp children, we may plan a process such as this together if we are going to work together on a project such as building a raft or a shelter. At other times we’ll just dig in and see what emerges and reflect on it later. Either way, visual representation is almost always a part of our play experiences.

With lots of opportunities to frame thinking in this way, it can become second nature to create a visual representation. My son still often reaches for paper and pens to represent his thinking or to reflect upon how things went. He was still feeling unwell when he created this plan and was too tired to test out his instructions. The next day, however he was very keen, and here is the result.


His 4 year old sister thought it was pretty awesome, and perhaps in a gesture of appreciation he then continued to make her a felt story mat, and his littlest sister a little felt kite. Felt scrap craft turns out to be a great way to convalesce (and it solves the problem of what to do with all those little pieces I was hoarding).

Jennifer McCormack offers professional development for early childhood services to encourage critical thinking and skills for practical approaches to a variety of arts-based and playful topics. Jennifer if also available for conferences and special events. See the PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT page for details.