Google child-led play and you will see a plethora of articles indicating the benefits. But what is child-led play, really?

As a parent who practices both RIE and Montessori to my son, this has been a key principle in our chosen way of raising our child. For me, it simply means allowing my son to explore and observe with non-judgmental eyes because I respect him and the person he is becoming. It means watching to see what he discovers (and letting him own the discovery), biting my tongue and squeezing my hand before they move to correct him, and allowing natural consequences to guide him in making better decisions.

Of course, when safety is becoming an issue, I step in and tell him that my primary job is to keep him safe, but to avoid this (and consequently stop him from exploring), preparing his environment is important.

What is called a prepared environment in Montessori may be called a “YES! Space” in RIE, and it may be called other things by other pedagogies, but really, it’s simply a space an adult has prepared beforehand – a space that is safe for the child to explore – to experiment, to discover, to make and create.

Like I mentioned, giving this freedom to lead his exploration has been key in the way we raise our son in most aspects, but I have to be honest and say I did not realize what child-led play really meant in terms of art.

I have become to used to art being taught as a class or as a fun activity with children virtually everywhere including children’s parties hat I didn’t really think there is another way or point of view. I am glad to have read more about it from Maria Montessori’s eyes.

In the book, “The Joyful Child” by Susan Stephenson, the author shared this about art:

“Art is more than drawing. Art is a way of approaching life, of moving and speaking, of decorating a home and school and oneself, of selecting toys and books. It cannot be separated from other elements of life. We cannot teach a child to be an artist, but as Dr. Montessori says, we can help develop an eye that sees, a hand that obeys, a soul that feels.”

And it hit me – that is so true. Sometimes, we are so focused on the product that we do everything to hasten the process. But the truth is, with children, it is ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS.

In terms of art for example, children are not after creating an artwork that can match that of Van Gogh or Renoir, but they are after the process of creating – the work involved: of dipping a brush in a tub of paint, of mixing colors and watching it transform, of putting the brush on a piece of paper and seeing what happens when their hand moves. Doing that work for them to attain “better” results robs them off the opportunity to learn and express themselves.

It is often done out of love, I know, as I would have done it with that intention had I not learned another point of view, but now that I do, what I see is that when you help them even just to straighten out their lines or follow the curves, the authenticity of their work is lost, and it undermines all the effort they put. I can see how this action can even attribute to loss of a child’s confidence in his/ her ability and capability.

This point of view reminded me to focus on the process, look after the development (as it is – not as slow or fast, just that it naturally progresses as the child explores more) and celebrate the child-led product: the product that was created by a child’s own thinking, an artwork the child can really claim to be his own!

Stephenson added, “It is important that we do not provide adult-made models, coloring books, or sheets, or prepared “color-in” papers. Never show a child how to draw or paint something – like a flower or a house; the child will often simply repeat and repeat what you have shown. The best we can do for our children is prepared a beautiful environment, provide the best materials, and get out of the way.”

I would have to agree.

It feels quite weird not to show them how we do things, but I can see how this would really allow creativity to flourish on their part. They won’t do it because they saw us do it, but because they can put into writing what they see or observe – they do an abstraction of the concrete, a skill worth celebrating in itself!

Like Stephenson wrote in her book, I fully agree — the best we can do is simply to expose our children to beauty in our everyday lives – in the way we choose our clothes, or our books, or our plants and decoration at home. In the way we speak, the way we act, and the way we do things. A rich environment is enough to help them create their own work and express their own thoughts.

We just have to patient and trust our child and the process.

Before we left, I wanted to try out the jumbo brushes I got from Ogalala World. I didn’t want to tell my son what to do – but I just wanted to see if it’s something he’d be interested in.

So, I prepared the environment – and what better venue than my mom’s house? She painted her gate white – the gate I used to love playing with so much! It used to be dark green or black, and I spent so many days just pretending to be a teacher there with my chalk and eraser. Painting while standing up is actually a good thing, because it encourages gross motor work, which, even though not as obvious as fine motor work, is also very important in developing your hands and arms’ strength for writing. Standing is great for building your posture, too! Did you know that your back exerts the most effort when you’re sitting? I learned this when I had a back problem, so I find it fascinating that children hardly want to sit! Their body truly knows what is best for them.

Anyway, so we left it there for him to explore…a tub (actually, a tabo — was working with what mom had) of paint and three jumbo brushes. Instead of painting the gate, he went to another spot with a bed, and that’s where he painted. We just let him.

After a while, my friend happened to pass by with her and her sister’s children — so they all noticed the tub of paint I left out with the jumbo brushes. Without prompting, the older ones started working on the tools. My son stood and watched.

After a while, he got a brush and dipped it in the tub. I learned something from Simone Davies from her book The Montessori Toddler: she advised to start with only one color when painting. Children tend to keep mixing, so after a while, it will all just be brown. So that’s what I did – I picked one primary color (well, it should technically be magenta, but the usual primary colors in merchandises happen to be red, so that’s what I worked with) so they can also fully work with that color.

Then, he started working on his own work.

And then he moved to another gate and doodled some more.

They all had fun just doing their thing, until it was time to go for the other children, so we put out a tub of water so they can clean the brushes and their hands. My son was watching them as usual.

And when they left and my son was done working on the walls, my husband showed him that we can also clean the washable paint up! All we needed was water and a rag.

We found that he loved doing the cleaning, too, because of…water!

And when we were done cleaning my mom’s gate, we did more water play with the brushes and paint in my mom’s garage:

So there. This was a day of child-led art for us. We left tools for exploration, but let him do the rest. If I didn’t learn about this point-of-view (which I agree with more), I would have stepped in many times to create fun shapes with him: a square with a triangle that becomes a house, or a flower, or a car!

We obviously don’t have any of those – but what we had was a child who was allowed to work according to his abilities at that time, a child who was not rushed to learn shapes or drawing, a child who did not feel any pressure to do more than what he is capable of, and a child who was not asked anything – but to do what his body and mind were telling him, while being watched from a safe distance.


This blogpost is in partnership with one of my most favorite stores in Manila, OGALALA WORLD. What I love about Ogalala World is that they built their company with learning as their top goal, so they carry a lot of educational tools. Just a fun fact: I learned that their CEO sent her kids to an authentic Montessori school when they were younger, and she totally loved their experience. Anyway, if you are looking for open-ended materials for your child, they have a lot of those. If you are looking for toys that teach specific things (I know some parents really don’t have time for DIY and these could be substitutes), they have those, too. I recommend that you visit their shop at Shangrila Mall or Ayala the 30th, but if you don’t have time, you can also shop at their website. Click THIS so you may be redirected to their online store. As a partner of Ogalala, I can pass off a discount to you, too! Woohoo! For a minimum of PHP 1000, you get 20% of any of their regular items! This is valid until May 30, 2018. Just use my code in the store or online: PAULAP20F 🙂

Just for reference: We used the JUMBO Brushes of My First Crayola, and the washable paint of Crayola (I just transferred it to a hotel shampoo container since the original container is big!)

Happy shopping!


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