When we talk about making, we often talk about the things that people make, but the process of how people make things is just as important. Regardless of what it is that you make, making anything involves exploring new ideas, taking risks, making independent choices, and even making mistakes!

Here at Boston Children’s Museum, we encourage all of these activities through our philosophy of self-directed play. Supporting self-directed play means empowering children to learn by exploring their own interests and deciding for themselves what those interests are. For us adults, that often means taking a difficult step back and allowing children to do things differently than how we would do them. Within a safe environment, taking risks is a healthy exercise for children and helps them grow, build their confidence, and make informed choices. Doing all of these things often means making mistakes, which can be difficult for both adults and children to accept, but by making mistakes we learn to chart new paths forward. Supporting self-directed play can be really hard (!) and really uncomfortable (!) but it also leads to amazing bursts of creativity and innovation, and lots and lots of fun.

BCM isn’t the only place you can find self-directed play in action. On a recent trip to New York City, I visited Governor’s Island and discovered play:ground – an adventure playground where children create, design, and interpret “a world of their own making.”

To adult eyes, the space may appear as a just junkyard, complete with old tires, slabs of wood, and tools. But to children, the area is a safe space (monitored by trained adults but away from parents, guardians, and caregivers) where they can engineer their own adventures.

This often means that children need to negotiate the physical space, including unfamiliar tools and materials, and also negotiate with each other in order to work together and solve problems. They can build anything from obstacle courses to slides to climbing walls, and everything in between! Children who visit play:ground – and other adventure playgrounds – have the freedom to make their own choices instead of relying on adults to supply answers or solutions.

We’re looking forward to facilitating more self-directed play and making opportunities here at BCM as we approach our 2nd Annual Mini Maker Faire in September. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about play:ground, visit their website here!  To learn more about the history of the adventure play movement, here are some additional resources:

Play:ground: A Brief History of Adventure Playgrounds

NPR: The Value of Wild, Risky Play: Fire, Mud, Hammers, and Nails

The Atlantic: Europe’s Adventure Playgrounds Look Way More Fun