At The Curiosity Approach®, the aim is to change the way we educate children and allow them to play FREE from the constraints of predetermined ideas, topics and adult chosen ‘ themes‘.

“UnADULTerated play!” Whose imagination, is it anyway?

Definition – “not spoiled or made weaker by the addition of other substances; pure

Who is in charge of THEIR play and why are we following a THEME?

The play gap

We are living in an age where children’s free time is being dominated by computers, TVs and computer games and iPads.

Where free time is being organised and scheduled with extra classes, dance groups, sports and extracurricular activities.

Where lifestyles are more sedentary and children have less opportunity to get outside, play freely and be unrestricted from rules and directed and adult led learning.

Sadly even outside, we seem to place neatly mowed grass in higher regard than children and play. Parks and open spaces are littered with signs, such as “No ball games” or “Keep off the grass!”

The latest UNICEF Urban Population Report estimates
that by 2050, over 70% of the world’s 9 billion inhabitants will live in cities

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Where toys are becoming so intelligent, children have little or no opportunity to think! The toys entertain with flashing lights and sounds and programmable movements, children are becoming passive learners in their own play. They are watching as toys move and perform, instead of becoming engaged and using their OWN imaginations to think and play!

As parents, we feel a cultural pressure to provide for our children, to give them the most expensive toys and the best opportunities. A wealth of resources that prove we are doing things right!

Over protection of children, in our risk adverse society is deterring opportunities for play.

We need to STOP, we need to halt this culture of monopolising children’s time and play opportunities. Children need the freedom to follow their own critical thinking, ideas and urges.

PLAY is no longer seen as a natural urge of the young and more as light relief from ‘learning!”

With all these constraints on children’s time to PLAY, think, explore and be curious, why is it that we are STILL organising our play spaces and classrooms to fit OUR needs and not that of the children?

As Early Years Educators, we all live and breath childcare and we all love our jobs and want to the best for the children in our care. However, we are in a time loop, a groundhog day of reproducing classrooms from the 1980s. Themes and topics that WE have spent hours to plan, put together and create.

Supermarket Home corner

There is an alternative route, a way that will take all the hard work, stress out of planning topics and themes. Saving you masses of TIME AND MONEY! A way to retip the balance and allow children the freedom to follow their own intrinsic desire to play and learn. To use their OWN imaginations, instead of being bamboozled by play spaces herding them to follow the adult chosen theme, directed activity OR IDEA!

Themes such as -People who help us, Mini Beasts, In the jungle, Dinosaurs or The Hungry Caterpillar and Space, to name but a few. Let’s face it how many children have ever been to space? How can they act out and imagine, being on the moon if they have no comprehension of what it’s like to even be there? Children will revert to the familiar, things that they know, experienced and things they are excited by.

Children’s role play re-enacts real-life scenarios, TV programs and cartoons. So WHY are we removing opportunities for children to practice skills, enhancing play and imagination, restrictions put in place by our predetermined ideas and meticulously created, themed areas and planned activities? LET THEM BE PILOTS IN THEIR OWN PLAY. LET THEM BE IN CHARGE OF THEIR OWN IMAGINATIONS!

Who chooses the theme, who decided to plan 6 weeks in advance with every week relating to the chosen theme? Every activity, or corner of room and tuff tray, meeting the theme. Isn’t it time to trust our children and to let go of the reigns, allow them the freedom to take their play to a whole new level of discovery, imagination, critical thinking, a collaboration of play opportunities with peers and the joy of free play?

Who has decided that an area in the nursery, Early Educational setting should overnight or one weekend be miraculously transformed? Creating spaces such as a hairdressers, shop, underwater theme or hospital?

The Curiosity Approach - Online Safety
The Curiosity Approach - Online Safety

The hospital theme

At Curiosity Approach® settings, we believe a child’s environment should replicate “an extension of the home and not a watered down version of school!” Our children are babies, toddlers and 3-year-olds and spend long periods of time in our settings, therefore we should ensure that they feel comfortable, safe, secure and nurtured in environments that feel as much like home as possible.

Why are we ‘high jacking’ children’s play to meet our own ideas and thinking of what their play should look like?

Who is in charge of their imaginations, them or US?

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Traditional Ice Cream Parlour…

We need to remember our children are NOT school-age children and that we need to recognise them as capable confident learners in the HERE AND NOW! Why are we bombarding play environments with text and laminated signs, squeezing educational outcomes into every aspect of the environment, once again hijacking play to meet the academic culture of learning and ticking the boxes to ensure children LEARN! “Play is order making and order breaking. It both honours rules and encourages breaking them in order to advance play.

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Little Bears Cottage …

In play, children land on an idea and develop it, try out suggestions, and transform it along the way. Working with THEIR OWN imaginations before acting on ideas. PLAY IS A PARADOX and we must understand it as a powerful force in children’s development and the clues to unleashing it.

When will we remember play IS ‘learning?’


We need to respond to their play cues and interests, in the present moment, because tomorrow, next week and in 3 weeks time, these interests may have altered, changed, moved on and evolved. “Children are pilots in their own play.” We are not crystal ball readers and therefore cannot predict or foresee how children will play, so WHY are we continuously spending precious hours transforming classrooms and play spaces to look like a scene from a beach or ‘under the sea?

Children’s REAL PLAY is fluid and ever-evolving and they should be in charge of how they navigate through time and not be cajoled into following what WE feel looks like a great place to play.

“The wider the range of opportunities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.” – Loris Malaguzzi

I understand the reasoning behind the excitement, as educators, we want to do the best for children. To demonstrate our passion and love for Early Years. To be organised and to document how we are going to help children LEARN! To showcase our creativity and create an environment that would win prizes at the most famous of ‘ Theme parks’!

Yes! Children WILL enjoy playing in the ‘themed’ space, yes they will use their imaginations, but to what extent?

Will it be used as YOU PREDICTED? Do you get disconcerted that they play differentlythanYOUplanned?

Will the carefully themed paper, bunting and fabric, hold up to lively and boisterous play? Do you get disheartened that all your beautifully prepared area is ripped to shreds and all pulled from the walls?

Why might this be? The areas are so bright and so powerful in colour, text and hanging resources, children become over stimulated and behaviour starts to change.

Your play space is no longer a calm and tranquil environment allowing children to settle down, tinker, potter and explore. To become engaged in deeply meaningful and Undirected opportunities to PLAY. Children become overexcited, overstimulated and as adults, you are left scratching your head why is it so noisy and why did MY environment not stand up to the test of time. WHY are the children NOT playing with it in the desired way?

Let’s be reminded- It’s NOT ‘YOUR‘ play space. Its the CHILDRENS.

It is their PLAY and THEY need to be in charge of THEIR OWN IMAGINATION

Recycled materials and open end resources, ideal for a deconstructed role play area

Yes! We most certainly we need to be fully aware and reactive to the interests of the child and be proactive in our responses. However, ‘REAL’ play is driven by natural curiosity. The Real Play Coalition talks about it as the “rocket fuel for skills development”.

Provocations to learning are that, which is ‘provoked’ from the interest of a child! Again we must becareful we are not leading or directing play to suit our own thinking and predetermined ideas. Provide a wealth of loose parts, open-ended resources which once again allow that fluidity and disequilibrium to evolve, change and to follow the CHILD’S chosen path ideas and creative thinking.

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Frozen, provocation small world.

A deconstructed role play also allows children to initiate their own learning and to follow their own critical thinking, to solve problems work things out and follow their own interests and ideas. A deconstructed role play can be anything a child whats it to be; whether it’s an aeroplane, home corner, construction site or racing car. Children are in charge of their own Imaginations. Alistair Bryce Clegg says “create a space that is full of things that can be anything”. It is like that old saying about children getting expensive toys for Christmas and then playing with the box! There is a good reason for that. A toy is a toy, but a box has a million possibilities (at least)!

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So let us reflect and consider our own current practice, who is in charge of children’s play and imaginations? Them or us?

What does your environment look like?

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The Curiosity Approach - Online Safety